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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

After months of closed-door, GOP-only negotiations to draft a health care bill that Republican senators hope will replace Obamacare, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised there would be “ample time to analyze, discuss and provide thoughts” and a “robust debate” over the Better Care Reconciliation Act before that legislation comes to the floor.

In a speech on the Senate floor minutes after the text of the bill was released Thursday, the majority leader touted his office’s ability to write a strong draft during “dozens of meetings open to each and every member of Congress” and that incorporates input from “so many different members who represent so many different constituents who are facing so many different challenges.”

Democrats and multiple Republican senators had expressed frustration this week over being excluded from that drafting process, however. McConnell said in his floor speech that he hopes “every senator” would take part in discussing the bill next week, after outlining the specifics of the legislation that he says will ultimately allow the country to “transition away from Obamacare’s collapsing system entirely so more Americans will not be hurt.”

“We will proceed with a robust debate and open amendment process on the Senate floor, a process I would encourage each of the 100 Senators to participate in,” he said. “When legislation does come to the floor, it will present Senate Democrats with another opportunity to do what’s right for the American people. They can choose to keep standing by as their failing law continues to collapse and hurt more Americans, but I hope they will join us instead to bring relief to the families who struggled under Obamacare for far too long.”

McConnell went on to call the Affordable Care Act a “direct attack on the middle class” and said Americans “deserve better than a failing status quo,” even though Senate Republicans’ draft of the bill would shift more of the burden of the cost of care to patients.

He also said his team was committed to strengthening Medicaid. The Senate’s bill gradually phases out Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and makes steeper cuts to the program overall. Additionally, the number of low-income people who receive subsidies to buy insurance would decrease under the Senate proposal, from those who make up 400 percent of the poverty line under Obamacare to 350 percent.

This post has been updated. 

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Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), who ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) last year, said Thursday it will be difficult for his party to take back control of the House with Pelosi at the helm.

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday, Ryan called the Democratic brand “toxic” and addressed his party’s losses in special elections this week, particularly in the sixth district of Georgia, where Republican candidate Karen Handel and outside groups supporting her bid repeatedly tied her Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff to Pelosi.

“We’re asking candidates in these deep, red districts to battle the Republican Party,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of energy in our base, which is very exciting for a lot of us to see that on the ground, but you’ve got to beat the Republican and you’ve got to carry this very toxic Democratic brand on your back, too. That’s a tough thing to ask a candidate running for Congress.”

Ryan predicted it would be “very hard” for his party to win back control of the House with the constant “commercials that tie these candidates to leader Pelosi week in and week out.” He said Democrats need to work to rebrand themselves and focus more on developing a clear economic message, without losing sight of the party’s historic emphasis on social issues.

Those issues are very important, and I don’t think we should yield any ground at all on those issues because they’re vital to our society when you’re talking about refugees, you’re talking about a woman’s right to choose, when you’re talking about voting rights,” he said. 

“These are really important, but when you’re going to be a national party, you need to have a national message. And what’s the thing that binds all those groups together? It’s an economic message,” he continued. “So, we’ve got to stand for those issues, we’ve got to fight for those issues, but the thrust of our message needs to be an economic one, because no matter who’s hearing you, and you may be with them on the other issues, they know that you’re talking about what they’re thinking about every day at their own kitchen table.”

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A new House Republican, who pleaded guilty to assaulting a reporter last week, was sent an orange jumpsuit from Democrats in his home state on his first day in Congress.

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT), who was sworn into office Wednesday, was recently sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 20 hours of anger management counseling after he body slammed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of his election.

He won last month’s race in Montana to fill the seat of Ryan Zinke, who was named secretary of the interior.

The Montana Democrats group said they had mailed the new congressman a gift to “celebrate” his first day in office.

Everyone knows you need plenty of suits to work on Capitol Hill. While millionaire Gianforte can certainly afford his own, we know he has a lot of legal fees to pay. So, we thought we’d help him out and get him started by mailing a new suit to his office in the Longworth House Office Building in Washington. An orange jumpsuit, that is,” the group said on their website.

“As a convicted criminal, he will be hidden by his leadership and not given any position of influence in Washington,” Montana Democrats spokesman Roy Loewenstein said in a statement. “So, we got Mr. Gianforte a welcome gift to help his new colleagues identify him.”

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Democrats on the House Oversight Committee asked White House chief of staff Reince Priebus Wednesday to produce documents explaining why senior adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance hasn’t been revoked amid reports he’s under investigation for failure to disclose multiple meetings with Russian officials.

In a letter sent to Priebus, House Democrats outlined several instances in which Kushner either failed to disclose meetings or failed to correct public record after White House officials repeatedly denied communication between President Donald Trump’s team and Russia.

For example, on Jan. 13, when White House press secretary Sean Spicer shared a timeline of interactions between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, but failed to share information about an in-person meeting between Kislyak, Flynn and Kushner at Trump Tower in December.

“We do not know who at the White House — other than General Flynn — knew about Mr. Kushner’s multiple contacts with Russian officials before they became public. It would be gravely concerning if Mr. Spicer, Ms. (Hope) Hicks, Ms. (Sarah Huckabee) Sanders or President Trump were aware of Mr. Kushner’s Russian contacts when they made their misleading statements. It would also be concerning if Mr. Kushner concealed his Russian contacts from them and allowed them to continue making misleading and inaccurate public statements while also omitting  these contacts from his security clearance application,” the letter, signed by 18 House Democrats, said.

“In any case, it is unclear why Mr. Kushner continues to have access to classified information while these allegations are being investigated,” they added.

Members defended their request by citing Executive Order 12968, which directs government officials to suspend the security clearance of an employee who has credible allegations against them, at least while an investigation into those allegations is taking place.

“Security clearances are suspended at the beginning of this process rather than at the end because the presumption under the Executive Order is always to protect against threats to national security,” the letter said.

In addition to documents on Kushner, committee members asked for information about the security clearances of Flynn, who was allowed to stay in his position for 18 days after the White House was warned about Flynn’s actions, by July 5, 2017.

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When press briefings are allowed to be on-camera, reporters are more likely to ask “snarky questions,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday.

“Where you see a lot of the sniping coming in, a lot of (reporters) want to become YouTube stars and ask snarky questions that’s been asked eight times and that’s their right, that’s their right to do it, but our job is to make sure we’re providing updates and read outs of what the President is doing,” he said, when Ingraham asked about reporters getting frustrated with his off-camera media briefings.

He said his department has done more briefings off-camera because there were “several” news outlets that were violating the press guidelines his office laid out, like broadcasting audio of the interviews live.

“The nice thing about turning the cameras off sometimes is, and I find this, when it is not performance art, as you call it, you sometimes end up having a more substantive discussion about actual issues because they’re not trying to get their clips, they’re not trying to figure out, ‘How do I get on TV?’ ‘How do I ask some snarky question?’ You can actually focus on the substance of the issues,” he said.

Spicer said he’s made it clear since he was hired that he wanted to do things “better” than previous administrations by giving access to other news outlets that “haven’t had it.”

“The bottom line is the mainstream media had a stranglehold on deciding what information the American people got to see and are in some ways upset that more people are getting the opportunity to get involved and having their questions answered to participate in democracy,” he said, adding that he’s available to every outlet and reiterating his early morning and late night schedule he mentioned in the press briefing on Tuesday.

“I get in, essentially, around 6 a.m. until fairly late at night and we have an entire press staff that’s totally accessible during those hours and on the weekends to the press,” he said.

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Fox News host Sean Hannity touted a conspiracy theory on his show Tuesday — that President Donald Trump may soon be the victim of a “soft coup.” Hannity alleged “sinister forces” are aligning to remove Trump from office.

In his opening monologue, Hannity said he believes the country is facing a “clear and present danger” as key forces unite against the President.

“A soft coup is underway right here in the United States of America, in an attempt to overturn November’s election results and forcibly remove a duly elected President from office,” he said.

He said Americans are facing five “dangers,” including the “destroy Trump media that has been lying to you now, provable lies for 11 months, nonstop” and the “deep state,” which has been selectively leaking information to damage Trump and his administration.

He called special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, into whether the President’s campaign associates worked with Russia to swing results of the 2016 election, “mission creepy” and an “out of control, political witch hunt” that needs to be stopped.

The fourth piece of evidence to back up his theory?

“All the manufactured turmoil putting President Trump’s agenda in jeopardy, which ends up directly impacting everyone of you out there, the American people,” he said.

He also likened efforts to “override the will of the American people” to change the results of the 2016 election to a “national security crisis.”

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A former campaign manager for President Donald Trump says it’s time to “move on” from investigations into whether the President’s campaign associates worked with Russia to swing results of the 2016 election, especially now that one New York Times writer has admitted he’s uncomfortable with the “whole deal.”

Appearing on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, New York Times columnist David Brooks discussed his recent op-ed about special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, saying he thinks “we may be getting ahead of ourselves.”

“I’m bothered by the lack of emerging evidence about the underlying crime that there was actually collusion or coordination with the White House,” Brooks said Sunday.

On “Fox and Friends” Wednesday morning, Corey Lewandowski called the Brooks commentary “amazing” and said “people in Washington” should drop the investigation.

“David Brooks is not a Trump supporter, he is truly a Trump hater. When you have someone as liberal as him from the failing New York Times coming on and telling you there is nothing there, maybe, just maybe, the people in Washington should understand this,” he said. “There is no collusion. There is no obstruction. There was no communication.”

He questioned what Mueller is doing, “now that the Democrats have said there is no collusion.”

“I don’t even understand what his role is anymore. Everyone has said there is nothing here. So this investigation should end immediately.”

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Despite word from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that a draft of the Senate Republicans’ new health care bill will be made public Thursday, top Republican senators say they’re frustrated about being left out of Obamacare repeal discussions.

That includes Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who told reporters Tuesday that he hasn’t seen the bill, “nor have I met any American that has,” according to Bloomberg.

“I’m sure the Russians have been able to hack in and gotten most of it,” he said.

McConnell assured reporters Tuesday that the public will “have plenty of time” to read through the bill before a vote and defended his party’s closed-door approach to crafting it, saying Senate Republicans have been talking about a repeal of the Affordable Care Act “endlessly for seven years.”

H/t The Hill

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In his first on-camera press briefing in eight days, White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged there are vacancies within President Donald Trump’s administration, but seemingly denied that he’d be leaving his post at the podium.

“I’m right here. … Look it’s no secret we’ve had vacancies, including our communications director, he’s been gone for a while. We’ve been seeking input from individuals to see what ideas they have. We’ve been meeting with potential people who may be of service to this administration, I don’t think that should come as a surprise,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to do a better job of articulating the President’s message and his agenda and we’ll continue to have those discussions internally.”

When pressed again about his off-camera press briefings and reports of a potential shakeup within the White House communications department — which have included speculation that Spicer could be moved out of his role as press secretary and into a more senior role — he went on the defensive.

“Sure, I mean, what I’ll tell you is, I’ve said it, look, multiple times prior to actually taking the job in December and January. I think I explained that, you know, we’re doing what we can to communicate our message. We have tremendous respect for the First Amendment,” he said. “We’re here early in the morning and really late at night available to all of your questions whether it’s email or in person. This is one avenue to do that.”

He went on to praise the communications department, saying they’ve had “multiple more opportunities for people to interact with the President, according to several folks that have been here for several administrations.”

“I understand you’ll always have issues. You’ll always want more, and that’s fair, I mean, it’s your right,” he said. “And I think you’ll continue to fight for it. … But I do believe holistically, we have a staff that’s very accommodating.”

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CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta does not think President Donald Trump and his administrative team are “on the same planet.”

In an interview with anchor Anderson Cooper Monday evening, Acosta referred to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s off-camera, no-audio press briefing earlier in the day as “the upside down world we’re living in right now.” He also questioned Trump’s ability to communicate with the people who represent him.

After Cooper played a clip of counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway on “Fox and Friends” Monday morning claiming Trump was being ironic when he tweeted a statement that appeared to confirm he was under investigation, he brought on Acosta to attempt to “clear up any irony there may be.”

“I honestly don’t know what that means. I do not know what that means,” Cooper said. “Jim, this seems to be yet another example of the President and those who represent him, simply, I don’t know, not being on the same page. … Is that what it is?”

“I’m not sure they’re on the same planet,” Acosta said. “Not only have we heard the White House say, ‘Well, the President’s tweets speak for themselves,’ we’ve also heard the President say he likes to use social media because it goes over the filter of the main stream news media.”

“So that would come with the suggestion that you should believe his tweets as they’re written, as they’re posted,” Acosta added.

He said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow’s attempts to “try to explain this away” are a contradiction to “the simple truth, and that is when the President tweets something, the White House believes that is the gospel around here.”

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