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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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Top Senate Republicans have indicated that it’s likely that the Affordable Care Act taxes on high-earners that the initial GOP repeal bill eliminated would be be put back in the latest draft expected this week.

“Well, that’s the current discussion, ” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Senate Republican told reporters Tuesday afternoon, “that they will remain in there and the goal would be to provide more stability funds to help bring premiums down and more flexibility for the governors and legislators to deal with deductibles.”

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The tweaks that GOP leadership is making to its stalled Obamacare repeal legislation will not likely include a major rollback of its cuts to Medicaid, a top Republican told reporters Tuesday.

“What we had in the original bill has not changed with regard to Medicaid,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (pictured above), a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, said after a conference lunch where the revised bill was outlined in broad strokes. The text is set to be released on Thursday, with hopes for a new CBO score on Monday.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tamped down suggestions Tuesday that his announcement that the August congressional recess will be delayed for two weeks was a gambit to buy more time to pass an Obamacare repeal bill.

In a press conference after the delay announcement, McConnell said that the GOP was sticking with its timeline to try to pass the bill in the next two weeks or so.

“We’ll be on health care next week,” McConnell said, adding that the text of their revised bill will be released this Thursday, with hopes for a CBO score by early next week and a motion to proceed vote after that. He said the extra two weeks added to the work calendar in August were to process nominations that Republicans blame Democrats for delaying, as well as to deal with other legislative issues.

“We simply, as a result of all this obstructionism, don’t have enough time to address all of these issues between now and the originally anticipated August recess,” McConnell said.

He was later asked if the extra two weeks were a fallback for health care as well.

“We’re going to do health care next week,” McConnell insisted.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he is making moves on a health care plan and is seeking to work with Democrats. Graham’s new gambit comes as the Senate GOP struggles to break the current intra-conference impasse on its Obamacare repeal legislation.

Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday that he was working on “a new approach to deal with how to replace Obamacare,” according to Politico.

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As Congress enters its final stretch before the August recess—the deadline the Senate has imposed on passing its Obamacare repeal bill—the next round of negotiations appears to be focused a proposal being offered by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would put in jeopardy some of the Affordable Care Act’s protections for pre-existing conditions.

At least one conservative senator, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), has drawn a hard line in support of including the proposal in the final package, and outside groups are amping up the pressure to see it added. However, Republican rank-and-file and even GOP Senate leadership has hinted that tweaks to the amendment may be needed to get the broader conference to swallow it, amidst the other side deals being offered to earn 50 votes in support.

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President Trump’s latest addition to his sketchy elections commission is a former Justice Department official who accused the Obama administration of  “a lawless hostility toward equal enforcement of the law” and has spent the years since resigning in 2010 from the DOJ pushing restrictive elections laws and voter purges across the country.

The White House on Monday evening announced Trump’s appointment of J. Christian Adams, currently the president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Adams was hired to the DOJ’s civil rights division under President George W. Bush, and made a name for himself in his allegations that the Obama administration went too easy on two New Black Panther Party activists who were videotaped loitering outside a Philadelphia polling place during the 2008 election.

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The voting rights community isn’t holding its breath for a “report” expected out of President Trump’s sham election commission that advocates predict will be used as a cudgel for restrictive voting laws. They already have a good idea of how the Trump administration, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will seek to scale back access to the ballot with an approach that has its antecedent in the scandal-plagued Justice Department of George W. Bush.

It was signaled clearly in a under-the-radar letter sent by the DOJ to most states late last month. The letter did not get as much as attention as the wide-reaching data request from the Trump election commission—which is being led by Vice President Mike Pence and hard-right Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R)—but voting rights advocates told TPM they find it just as concerning, if not more so.

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A Senate Republican who, so far, has not been seen as a stick in the mud as the GOP struggles to pass Obamacare repeal legislation said that a proposal currently being pushed by conservatives may be “subterfuge” to gut the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing conditions protections, which many GOP lawmakers have vowed to protect.

“There’s a real feeling that that’s subterfuge to get around pre-existing conditions,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said, according to an Iowa Public Radio story posted Wednesday. “If it is subterfuge and it has the effect of annihilating the pre-existing condition requirement that we have in the existing bill, than obviously I would object to that.”

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In the latest sign that President Trump’s Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is backing off the Obama administration’s aggressive defense of voting rights, the DOJ filed a motion Wednesday standing up for an exemption the Texas legislature recently passed to its 2011 voter ID law, which has been subject of a years-long legal battle.

The private plaintiffs in the case are arguing that the carveout does not go far enough to address court rulings that the law was discriminatory against minority voters. Following up on Texas’ filing late last month that defended the exemption, the DOJ argued that the carveout, coupled with the original law, “both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’s elections.”

Under Obama, the DOJ was originally on the side of the challengers to the voter ID law, and the agency itself sued Texas in 2013 after it was implemented. Texas had previously been blocked from implementing the law by a provision of the Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

A federal district court has ruled that the law was discriminatory both in its effect and its intent. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the most conservative court in the nation, upheld that discriminatory effect ruling, while sending the intent ruling back down for further litigation.

Almost immediately after Trump’s inauguration, the DOJ signaled that the federal government would be switching positions in the case. In February, that reversal manifested in the DOJ backing down from the Obama-era claim that the voter ID law had been passed with the intent of discriminating against minority voters.

Texas and the challengers are now arguing over a law passed by the state’s legislature earlier this year that amended the original law, an amendment that the state had argued codifies the temporary remedy the federal court approved for the 2016 election. As part of the fallout of the appeals court ruling against the original voter ID requirement, the district court greenlit a system in which those without the required photo ID could vote with other forms of identification, such as a bank statement or a utility bill, if they sign an affidavit. The Texas legislature passed legislation outlining a similar system, which Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed.

The challengers now say that since the court has found that the ID law was passed with the intent to discriminate, the latest amendment “fails to eliminate either [the voter ID law’s] racially discriminatory origins or results.”

Furthermore, they object to the stiff penalties, with the potential for jail time, that the Texas carveout imposes on those who use the exemption by signing an affidavit declaring a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one of the required forms of ID. The challengers are asking for the new carveout to be struck down, along with the original law.

The DOJ, meanwhile, argued in its brief for the newly amended law to stand and for the court not to consider any new remedies.

Looming over all of this is the question of whether the district court’s discriminatory intent finding should put Texas back under the so-called “preclearance” process: The federal approval requirement for any changes to a state’s election practices that initially prevented Texas from implementing its ID law before the Shelby decision.

As University of California-Irvine Law School professor Rick Hasen noted on his Election Law Blog, the DOJ said that it “reserves the right” to take a position on whether the state should be placed back under preclearance.

“[P]retty clear from this that the U.S.’s answer will be ‘no,'” Hasen wrote.

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From the outset, voting rights advocates warned that President Trump’s creation of a shady “elections integrity”commission would be used as cover for his bogus claims that 3-5 million people voted illegally and exacerbate overblown allegations for voter fraud.

Trump himself removed any remaining doubt about the commission’s true purpose over the July 4 holiday weekend when he called it the “VOTER FRAUD PANEL.”

Since its unveiling, the commission has also managed to elevate some of the most notorious vote suppressors in the country, put usually under-the-radar state elections officials in political crosshairs and trample over the privacy rights of millions of voters. It’s also living up to and exceeding the expectations by election law experts that the stage was being set for a push for more restrictive voting laws.

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