With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve
THE BIG IDEA:
CHAMBLEE, Ga.—Obamacare has been front and center in Republican campaign commercials for the past four election cycles, but it’s been absent from the airwaves ahead of today’s special election in Georgia’s Sixth District.
Most of the GOP spots have focused on national security. A relentless barrage of attacks ads sought to define Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, 30, as an inexperienced and liberal carpet bagger who will be a puppet of Nancy Pelosi.
This is ironic because the neck-and-neck race to replace Tom Price, who resigned to become secretary of health and human services, has played out against the backdrop of Congress finally considering a repeal of the 2010 law. Senate Republicans are forging ahead with plans to hold a vote next week, and Democrats are now using every procedural trick available to slow the chamber to a crawl so they can draw attention to the secretive process being used to advance the legislation.
Politically, it is sensible for GOP outside groups to steer clear of this issue in their paid media. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found that just one-quarter of likely voters in the costliest House race in U.S. history approve of the American Health Care Act.
But the polling does not capture the full story. In dozens of interviews on the ground over three days, most Republicans and many independents who have concerns about the House bill stressed that they still detest Obamacare. Their expectations might seem unreasonable to anyone who is closely following the debate or is steeped in the complexities of public policy, but they believe Donald Trump can and should enact a replacement plan that will both reduce their costs and improve their quality of care.
No matter where people fall in the debate, virtually everyone cares deeply about the outcome. The Journal-Constitution survey, conducted the week before last, found that 81 percent of likely voters describe health care as an “extremely” or “very” important “priority” to them, larger than any other issue by far.
– One reason a lot of Republicans in the suburbs north of Atlanta are willing to give Trump leeway is Price. After representing the district for 12 years, he is still highly respected by the grassroots. He won reelection by 23 points last November, even as Trump edged out Hillary Clinton by just one point.
Lynda Chapman, a trained pharmacist who has a master’s degree in health-care policy, expressed confidence that any repeal bill will be good so long as Price signs off on it. “I’ve known Tom Price for over 20 years,” she said. “He’s a good man and has a good heart. You have to trust him because he knows what he’s doing.”
She said this after watching Price speak at a rally for Republican candidate Karen Handel. The HHS secretary began his speech in an airplane hangar here on Saturday by noting that he had come in his “personal capacity.” He made just one passing reference to the health debate in his remarks. Even then, it was part of a laundry list. Between calls for lower taxes and stronger national security, he said: “And you all want patient-centered health care.” That was it.
In a six-minute speech peppered with y’all’s, Handel also never mentioned Trump or health care. “We’re going to show up on Tuesday, and we’re going to rock Nancy Pelosi’s world,” she said.
– When asked, Handel says she would have voted for the House bill because it’s better than the status quo. “It is by no means a perfect bill, but it was important to get the process started,” she told me before she held a meet-and-greet at a restaurant. “And the process couldn’t begin until we had a bill that was passed, right? So there’s some good things in it: Being able to keep people on their parents’ plan until they’re 26, I think most people are A-OK with that. A lot of people ask me: Why can’t we fix it? Well, we can’t fix something that had the largest tax increase embedded in it in my lifetime [a reference to the individual mandate]. The only way to fix a tax increase is to repeal it.”
“One thing I trust the Senate will deal with is making sure that states that didn’t expand Medicaid shouldn’t be at a disadvantage versus other states,” Handel added. “So fix that. Make sure that the language on preexisting conditions is exactly right. As I read it, there are richer protections for people with preexisting conditions in the House bill than there were previously. From a practical standpoint, there are things they can do to give it a good solid foundation to keep moving forward.”
– The bill was a flashpoint in the debates, as Ossoff argued that the legislation “guts protections for preexisting conditions.” He told the story of a 7-year-old boy who has a heart condition and might struggle to get insurance if the bill became law. “We need to fix Obamacare, not repeal it,” the former House staffer says in one of his ads.
– The legislation has certainly helped galvanize Democratic energy. Melissa Holloway, 32, is a registered nurse who works with Medicaid recipients. The Democrat wore a “Not My President” T-shirt as she joined two dozen friends for an impromptu protest outside Price’s rally for Handel. “I believe health care is a human right,” she said. “Most of the people who are going to be hurt by Trumpcare are already disadvantaged. … That’s what real terrorism looks like.”
– Republican activist Angie Caswell, 42, wandered outside to engage with these protestors. She earnestly wanted to understand how they could possibly think Obamacare was working. Her deductibles have skyrocketed in recent years, she said, and she’s heard horror stories about doctors going out of business. “I only know one person who has benefited from Obamacare,” she said.
The mental health counselor, a native of Sweden who became a U.S. citizen in 2004, calls herself “ultra-conservative” and strongly supports the president. “Trump wants to put something together that’s actually going to last and work for everybody,” Caswell explained. “To do that, you have to start over. That’s what they’re doing.”
She said the protestors’ concerns about people with preexisting conditions losing coverage are unfounded because, surely, Trump would never allow such a terrible thing to happen to people who need help. “That’s definitely one of the things he’s going to make sure they fix,” she said, referring to the Senate bill. “I’m sure Trump has scratched his head on that one a lot.”
– The Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $7 million to keep this seat in GOP hands, including a field program that has 135 paid door-knockers. For the past two months, the super PAC aligned with Paul Ryan has focused its efforts on mobilizing a universe of about 38,000 Republicans who voted in the 2016 presidential primary but not in the crowded April primary for this election. If these lower-propensity voters show up, the district is red enough that Handel will win.
I joined Chase McGrath, 18, on one of his door-knocking shifts. He just graduated from high school and will attend Georgetown this fall. Walking down streets lined with pine cones and red dirt in Roswell, he urged these targeted voters to take the time to turn out for Handel. Canvassers for CLF had previously knocked on many of these doors twice. This was the final push to drive them to the polls. “There’s a lot of people who are just ready for the election to happen,” McGrath said.
One of the Republicans he connected with was Karen Shandor, a registered nurse, who decided to vote for Handel after watching her promise to cut taxes during one of the televised debates. She thinks having another Republican in Congress will help Trump advance his agenda. “I’m having a really hard time. My money doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said. “We may not see changes right away with what Trump is doing, but I feel like in the long run it will benefit us.”
Shandor used to work in an emergency room and complained that undocumented immigrants from Mexico would always get medical care with no questions asked. She said she resents freeloaders and explained that she supports the House bill because her understanding is that it will make Mexicans pay more for their health care. “I didn’t have a child because I didn’t know if I could afford it,” the 58-year-old said as she took a break from tending to her vegetable garden. “But Mexican kids in the country illegally are automatically covered. Hopefully that changes.”
– L.B. Jamieson, 49, sells cement trucks and hates Obamacare. She considers herself an independent, backs Handel and suggests she will be deeply disillusioned if congressional Republicans do nothing to get rid of the law. “I have to pay a $40 co-pay just to see a doctor,” the Republican said. “It’s not affordable. … I’d rather pay the fine.”
“Donald Trump was not my first choice, but I went with him because he knows what he’s doing, and he’s a successful businessman,” Jamieson explained as she dipped a pita chip into hummus at Marlow’s Tavern in Johns Creek during a date with her boyfriend. “I don’t think he’s always making the best choices, but at the same time he’s done more in his first 100 days than any president ever before.”
I asked what specifically Jamieson was thinking of when she said that. “Just research it,” she said. “I’m not going to get into it, but it’s the truth. It’s factual. Just look it up.”
– Trump tweeted support for the GOP nominee last night, but he spelled her name wrong: “Karen Handle’s opponent in #GA06 can’t even vote in the district he wants to represent….” He deleted that and reposted it with the right spelling. He also acknowledged the wider implications of the race: “The Dems want to stop tax cuts, good healthcare and Border Security. Their ObamaCare is dead with 100% increases in P’s. Vote now for Karen H.” He posted again this morning:
KAREN HANDEL FOR CONGRESS. She will fight for lower taxes, great healthcare strong security-a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2017
– The bottom line: If Handel loses tonight, it will be almost entirely because of moderate unease with Trump and his agenda. The Journal-Constitution poll found that only about one-third of voters in the district approve of the president. Even one in four Republicans give him an unfavorable review.
Demographics are key: While Trump pulled just 48 percent in the district last November, Mitt Romney got 61 percent in 2012. That swing, one of the biggest in the country, is why Democrats aggressively targeted the race early on.
Republicans only represent two of the 15 House districts with the highest percentage of adults who have a college degree. Georgia’s Sixth is one of them. (The other is Virginia’s 10th, which includes tony D.C. suburbs like McLean and is held by Barbara Comstock.)
Obviously, Trump would never acknowledge that his unpopularity is why his party lost an election. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the White House is already telegraphing plans to blame others if Handel goes down. “Inside the West Wing, Trump and his advisers have paid increasing attention to the race and have been briefed regularly on Handel’s standing in private polls, GOP ground efforts and early-vote totals,” Bob Costa reports. “Associates of Trump — who have said he is already furious over the focus on his handling of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — warned that an Ossoff win could spark new rage toward Handel’s campaign and the way the GOP handled the race.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE NATIONAL HEALTH-CARE DEBATE:
– Senate Republican leaders are moving forward with plans to hold a vote next week, even though they still aren’t sure they’ll have the 50 votes to pass anything. The Wall Street Journal reports: “Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is intent on keeping pressure on Senate Republicans to move quickly on the bill rolling back and replacing much of the 2010 health law, lawmakers and GOP aides said. The push for a quick vote before the weeklong July 4 recess could backfire, however, as some conservative and centrist Republicans have expressed concern about the emerging shape of the legislation. … Still, Mr. McConnell has reasons to try for a quick health-care vote. The pressure could force lawmakers to reach a consensus on sticking points that have divided them. And GOP leaders in both chambers want to move on to other legislative items.”
– Senate Democrats ramped up opposition Monday to the emerging bill with a series of mostly symbolic moves, including speeches that went late into last night. “At one point early Monday evening, more than a dozen Democratic senators sat at their desks on the Senate floor and took turns standing and asking for committee hearings on the bill and for the text to be released for greater scrutiny,” Sean Sullivan reports.
– Democrats hope that, if they can block a Senate vote before July 4, the August recess will stifle GOP momentum and make it much harder to get final passage. The New York Times reports: “Lawmakers would have just three weeks to pass a Senate bill and work out differences with the House before the planned August recess (assuming a bill passes the Senate). The Trump administration also wants Congress to raise the government’s statutory borrowing limit before August, another fight that could collide with the Affordable Care Act repeal.”
– One problem: Senate Dems aren’t unified about the approach. Politico reports: “(Leadership) wants to use every procedural tool at their disposal to slow the GOP’s progress, but one of their more arcane options — the power to block committee meetings two hours after the Senate goes into session — risks inviting Republicans to paint them as heedlessly obstructionist.”
– Liberal activist groups are planning a big national “day of action” around health care on July 29, the first day of the congressional summer recess. But if Senate Republicans have their way, Obamacare will already be gone by then, Mike DeBonis notes.
– Some Republicans are beginning to talk publicly about canceling the August congressional recess so that they can get a bill done. The Hill: “A Senate GOP aide expressed doubt, however, that David Perdue, Dan Sullivan and Steve Daines will get very far in convincing McConnell to cancel the recess.”
– The contents of the Senate bill remain tightly under-wraps, which defies tradition but could establish a new norm if it works. Amber Phillips reports: “There are always some kinds of closed-door negotiations on big pieces of legislation. But at this point in the 2009-2010 debate for the Affordable Care Act, there had been months of public committee hearings that you and I could attend or watch online or read about in the news. Senators had been briefed on what was happening and could answer reporters’ questions instead of saying they have no idea what’s in the bill. Amendments were offered by both sides.” But if the bill makes it through despite the secrecy, “that would be a remarkable change in the way legislation is debated and passed. And it would be a very tantalizing path for both sides to take in the future.”
– As the bill’s contents remain unclear, some reports suggest that the Senate may vote to cut Medicaid by even more than the $800 billion that the House approved last month. The Hill reports: “The proposal would start out the growth rate for a new cap on Medicaid spending at the same levels as the House bill, but then drop to a lower growth rate that would cut spending more, known as CPI-U, starting in 2025 … That proposal has been sent to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis, a Senate GOP aide said. The aide said that plan has been described as a ‘consensus option that has been sent to CBO,’ though no final decision has been made yet. Another aide said there are still other options in the mix. Democrats and some more moderate Republicans were already warning about Medicaid cuts in the House-passed bill.”
– New polling released by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows that the House bill is deeply unpopular in three states with GOP senators who could torpedo the legislation: Alaska, Nevada and West Virginia.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
– Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was imprisoned by North Korea for nearly a year and a half before being medically evacuated and returned home in a coma last week, has died. He was 22. Susan Svrluga and Anna Fifield report: “Warmbier had gone to North Korea on his way to Hong Kong for a study-abroad program, but was stopped when he tried to leave the country. He was a much-loved student — a former homecoming king and high-school soccer captain who went on to become a top student at U-Va., where he was awarded a scholarship designed for the most ‘intellectually curious’ students.”
- “Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today,” his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, said in a written statement.
- “There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life,” Trump said in a statement. “Otto’s fate deepens my Administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.”
Warmbier’s death could push lawmakers or the Trump administration to restrict or ban Americans from traveling to North Korea. “[Reps. Adam Schiff and Joe Wilson] have introduced the North Korea Travel Control Act in the House, which would require Americans who want to travel to North Korea to obtain a license. There would be no licenses for tourists. The Senate has been more reluctant to introduce restrictions on Americans — but Warmbier’s death might be the trigger that they need, analysts say. Separately, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has raised the prospect of the administration using an executive order to ban travel to North Korea.”
The group that brought Warmbier to North Korea announced that it will no longer allow Americans to travel on its tours, USA Today’s Melanie Eversley reports.
The U-Va. newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, had some more details about Warmbier’s life: “At the University, Warmbier was a member of the Theta Chi Fraternity and an Echols Scholar. A Commerce student at the time of his imprisonment, Warmbier would have graduated this past spring. Graduates noted his absence with #FreeOtto stickers at Final Exercises in May.”
GET SMART FAST:
- Fairfax County authorities said the killing of a Muslim teenager in Virginia over the weekend appears to have stemmed from road rage, saying their current investigation “in no way indicates” that 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen had been targeted because of her race or religion. (Dana Hedgpeth, Justin Jouvenal and Julie Zauzmer have more.)
- The Navy filed the first criminal charges against an officer in the “Fat Leonard” scandal — a move that sets the stage for the first military trial in the years-long corruption investigation. (Craig Whitlock)
- Barclays was criminally charged for striking financial deals with Qatar to avoid a government bailout. The deals allegedly occurred during the 2008 financial crisis. (The New York Times)
- George W. Bush is almost as popular as Barack Obama in retirement. He now has an approval rating of 59 percent, 24 points higher than when he first left office in 2009. (Gallup)
- More than two-thirds of Americans believe that the civility of the country’s political debate is getting worse, according to a new CBS News poll. (CBS News)
- Megyn Kelly’s interview with Alex Jones attracted a lot of outcry, but not many viewers. The controversial telecast lured 3.5 million viewers, the lowest total since Kelly’s program debuted three weeks ago. (CNNMoney)
- The Mexican government is accused of widespread spying on journalists and anti-corruption activists. Government agents allegedly sent text messages to the targets, which led to links that installed malware on their cellphones, according to a press freedom group and Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. (The Guardian)
- Toshiba has introduced a new planet-friendly printer that allows its users to print with erasable toner, thus permitting a single piece of paper to be reused several times. The only catch? All printouts must be made using blue ink and the device itself costs a very steep $15,000. (Hayley Tsukayama)
- Carrie Fisher’s autopsy showed signs of cocaine, ecstasy, methadone, opiates and alcohol in her system. The coroner’s report was released yesterday, almost six months after the Star Wars actress died of cardiac arrest. (LA Times)
- An intense heat wave hitting the Southwest grounded planes in Arizona. Temperatures are expected to get as high as 120 degrees today. (USA Today)
- A 16-year-old runner was killed while completing a trail race near Anchorage after texting his mother that he was being chased by a bear. Shortly after his family received the text, fellow runners also came sprinting down the trail to report the attack, with one competitor saying he had seen a bear circling the teen. (Cindy Boren)
- Long before they conquered the Internet, cats conquered the world — and now, a new study of DNA from more than 200 ancient felines helps us track just how these wild felines first padded their way into civilization. International researchers believe cats made their way around the world in a two-part journey, first from north Africa and later from Egypt — and that their voyages likely involved traveling on Viking ships. (Still up for debate? Whether the reclusive animals are truly domesticated.) (Karin Brulliard)
- A baby who was born on a Jet Airways flight from Saudi Arabia to India over the weekend has just received the birthday present of a lifetime: free airline tickets for life. And as the infant grows to (hopefully) pursue a lifetime of travel, he’ll also discover a line on passport shared by few others in the world, which reads, “holder born on an aeroplane.” (CNNMoney)
SCOTUS WADES INTO PARTISAN TERRITORY:
– The Supreme Court said it will consider whether partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution, agreeing to hear a Wisconsin case that could portend major changes for future U.S. elections. Robert Barnes has the details:
WHY IT’S BIG: “The justices regularly are called to invalidate state electoral maps that have been illegally drawn to reduce the influence of racial minorities … But the Supreme Court has never found a plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering. If it does, it would have a revolutionary impact on the reapportionment that comes after the 2020 election and could come at the expense of Republicans, who control the process in the majority of states.”
MORE ON THE CASE: “The court accepted a case from Wisconsin, where a divided panel of three federal judges last year ruled that the state’s Republican leadership in 2011 pushed through a plan so partisan that it violated the Constitution’s First Amendment and equal rights protections. And they gave an indication of how divisive the issue might be: after granting the case, the court voted 5 to 4 to stay the lower court’s decision, which had required new districts be drawn this fall.” (The liberal justices each went on record saying they would have denied the stay, meaning the court’s five conservatives granted it.)
WHO STANDS TO GAIN: “[While] both parties draw [district] lines to their own advantage … Republicans have more to lose because they control so many more state legislatures,” Barnes writes. “The RNC and a dozen large Republican states have asked the court to reverse the Wisconsin decision.”
“[Since] the court has never struck down a map for partisan gerrymandering, that ruling could move the needle in a way we have never seen before,” The Fix’s Aaron Blake writes. “Basically any movement in that needle would be in Democrats’ favor. In recent years, Republicans have enjoyed a very large edge when it comes to control of the redistricting process … The GOP won a huge wave election in the 2010 contests, which happened to come just before the once-per-decade census and before state legislatures in most states across the country redrew their congressional and state legislative maps. Republicans used this edge to draw very GOP-friendly maps in big swing states and even some blue-leaning states … And in large part because of those state legislative maps, they retain historic control through today, including complete control of state government in 25 out of 50 states, compared to just seven for Democrats. And that, in turn, would mean they get to draw many of these maps again …” So Democrats, he concludes, should be “cautiously very happy with this.”
MORE FROM THE HIGH COURT:
– SCOTUS ruled that a federal law prohibiting the registration of trademarks that officials consider “disparaging” violates the First Amendment. Bob reports: Justices unanimously sided with the Asian American rock group “the Slants,” which in 2011 was prohibited from registering the band’s name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. The decision is likely to affect the ongoing legal battle of the Washington Redskins, whose trademark registration was revoked in 2014 under the same clause.
– The court also threw out a case from post-Sept. 11 detainees against officials in the George W. Bush administration. The detainees, many of them Muslim, claimed they were abused while being held by New York City’s federal immigration authorities. Bob has more: “Six plaintiffs brought a representative suit … They alleged they were held because of their race, religion, ethnicity, and national heritage and immigration status, and were subjected to verbal and physical abuse, daily strip searches and months in solitary confinement. None of those held at the detention center in Brooklyn were found to have any connection to terrorism. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that the treatment alleged by the men was ‘tragic,’ but that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York was wrong to let the suit proceed. In general, government officials are shielded from civil lawsuits when they have acted in good faith in carrying out their duties.”
WHERE ARE YOUR VOTER FILES?:
– Detailed information on nearly every registered American voter – including information on ethnicity religion, and views on political issues – were left exposed on the Internet for 12 days by a Republican contractor that works for the RNC and other GOP clients. Brian Fung, Craig Timberg and Matea Gold report: “The data offered a strikingly complete picture of the voting histories and political leanings of the American electorate laid out on an easily downloadable format, said cyber-security researcher Chris Vickery. He discovered the unprotected files of 198 million voters in a routine scan of the Internet last week and alerted law enforcement officials. The precision and volume of the information … highlights the rising sophistication of the data-mining efforts that have become central to modern political campaigns. In some cases, that included which voters are suspicious of Wall Street and pharmaceutical firms, or who reluctantly voted for [Clinton] or supports the Affordable Care Act Vickery said. The company also kept information on Americans’ voting histories and their reported enthusiasm for Trump …” “They’re using this information to create political dossiers on individuals that are now available for anyone,” said Jeffrey Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy. “These political data firms might as well be working for the Russians.”
- The voter files found by Vickery could “easily be abused” if placed in the wrong hands, he said: “With this data you can target neighborhoods, individuals, people of all sorts of persuasions … I could give you the home address of every person the RNC believes voted for Trump.”
PERSONNEL IS POLICY:
– It’s finally happening: Sean Spicer is expected to transition from his role as White House press secretary to a more behind-the-scenes role overseeing communications strategy – a move that comes as part of a broader press-shop overhaul and after months of rumors. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “Spicer’s anticipated move away from the briefing-room podium … comes amid weeks of Trump’s frustration with his communications team, and after the White House had made overtures to a range of Republicans about taking jobs within the West Wing press operation. ‘We have sought input from many people as we look to expand our communications operation,’ Sarah Huckabee Sanders [said] in a statement. ‘As he did in the beginning, Sean Spicer is managing both the communications and press office.’ No official announcement has been made about Spicer’s move, and discussions concerning his role are ongoing, including whether he would still occasionally appear from the podium.”
– Meanwhile, the White House — and congressional Republicans — are taking hits for a lack of transparency in Trump’s Washington, with important business increasingly being handled behind closed doors. Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe report: “The federal government’s leaders are hiding from public scrutiny — and their penchant for secrecy represents a stark departure from the campaign promises of Trump and his fellow Republicans to usher in newfound transparency. ‘I was very frustrated the Obama administration held things so close to the vest … but I quite frankly haven’t seen any change with the Trump administration. In some ways I find it worse,’ said Jason Chaffetz, [who until recently led the House Oversight Committee] …‘I see a bureaucracy that doesn’t want documents and the truth out the door … and just flipping the middle finger at Congress,’ Chaffetz said.”
Rep. Chaffetz (R-Utah) is leaving Congress at the end of this month so it’s no surprise perhaps that the House Oversight chairman — whose job it is to hold the administration accountable — is letting loose. But there’s also significant criticism of House Republicans, who are being attacked for writing a major overhaul of the health-care system behind closed doors.
– Energy Secretary Rick Perry denied in an interview Monday that humans are the primary cause of climate change. Steven Mufson reports: “Asked in an interview on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box’ whether he believed that carbon dioxide was ‘the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and for climate,’ Perry said that ‘No, most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.’ Perry added that ‘the fact is this shouldn’t be a debate about, ‘Is the climate changing, is man having an effect on it?’ Yeah, we are. The question should be just how much, and what are the policy changes that we need to make to effect that?’ Perry’s comments fall in line with what [EPA] administrator Scott Pruitt said in a March interview … Both men’s views contradict the conclusions of scientists at Pruitt’s own EPA as well as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
– Mark Corallo, the spokesman for Trump’s personal legal team, was highly critical of the president on Twitter before his hiring – disparaging some of his policy initiatives and, on one occasion, circulating an opinion piece saying Trump had “eroded the credibility” of the office he holds. The New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman report: “In April … [Corallo] used Twitter to suggest — twice — that [Pence], not Mr. Trump, should be the Republican nominee for president in 2020. In May, he posted several remarks disparaging the influence of [Ivanka Trump] and Jared Kushner … [and] later last month, Mr. Corallo lavishly praised Robert Mueller … His posts are a rare instance of a Trump ally publicly venting criticism of a president who prizes loyalty and is known to be averse to dissent. ‘Hey Mr. President, where’s all the ‘winning?’” Mr. Corallo wrote last month, appearing to compare Mr. Trump to Bill Clinton, who hailed from Arkansas, and his famous parsing of words. ‘Or, like the guy from AR, are you going to tell me it depends on the definition of ‘winning?’ … It would be simple to dismiss his comments on Twitter as the personal social media musings of a private citizen. But Mr. Trump, who makes little distinction between his own personal and official utterances, often bristles at mild slights, even in an informal setting.”
– A fuller picture is emerging of Jay Sekulow, Trump’s new lawyer and Sunday-show defender who is not well known among Washington’s criminal attorneys. Sari Horwitz, Devlin Barrett and Tom Hamburger report: “[Sekulow] is, however, a fixture on conservative talk radio and a celebrity among conservative organizations for his high-profile First Amendment court battles over religious rights. He has argued a dozen cases before the Supreme Court. Along with his own widely syndicated daily radio talk show, Jay Sekulow Live! — broadcast on more than 850 radio stations, satellite radio and on his website — Sekulow is also a regular guest on the Fox News Channel, ‘The 700 Club’ and Sean Hannity’s radio show, as well as provides commentary on the Christian Broadcasting Network. In May, Sekulow dismissed the Russia scandal as ‘a fraud on the American people.’”
– Paul Ryan is expected in a speech today to talk up the possibility of overhauling the tax code this year, despite many obstacles. The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin reports: “Mr. Ryan, in a speech to manufacturers in Washington, isn’t expected to delve into the details that divide Republicans or the negotiations between the Trump administration and members of Congress … Mr. Ryan’s speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, sandwiched between cable news appearances, is meant to build momentum and public support for the party’s aims. Republicans face significant obstacles, but many see a tax overhaul as a political necessity that would deliver on one of their core campaign promises. For now, taxes are secondary to health care and other policy issues. But the GOP is planning a busy fall.”
– A Hawaii judge has narrowed the injunction he placed three months ago on the administration’s revised travel ban. Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports: “U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson scaled back the injunction Monday, nullifying its impact on studies and policy reviews ordered under the directive Trump issued in March and billed as an anti-terrorism initiative. In a ruling last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the bulk of Watson’s injunction, but said portions of it that blocked the Trump administration from studying vetting procedures were too broad and should be lifted.”
– The administration has dubbed this to be “Tech Week,” which kicked off with a meeting between Trump and several of the industry’s top CEOs. AP’s Catherine Lucey and Josh Boak report: “Apple CEO Tim Cook and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, were among those attending an afternoon of working groups on issues like technology infrastructure, cybersecurity and visas for foreign workers. Trump has spoken out against illegal immigration and signed an executive order banning travelers from six Muslim-majority countries, a source of tension with technology firms. ‘We’re working very diligently with everybody, including Congress, on immigration so that you can get the people you want in your companies,’ the president said. The administration drew a mix of flattery and policy requests from the assembled technology leaders and university officials.”
– “Trump is taking almost no steps to expand his support and broaden his leadership of the Republican Party,” Annie Linskey reports on the front page of The Boston Globe: “Two-thirds of the president’s domestic travel for public events has been to states that he won, including all of his travel this month … His few trips to blue states seem mostly happenstance, because they are home to government facilities Trump visited, such as Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.” “There are times you think: ‘Does he even want to run for reelection?'” said Peter Barca, a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly and a Democrat.
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
– The endless stream of Russia-related hearings continue today on Capitol Hill. NPR’s Philip Ewing reports: “The marathon of high-profile congressional hearings continues Tuesday with a session scheduled by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on crime and terrorism. It appears aimed squarely at the ongoing imbroglio over Trump associates’ possible connections to last year’s Russian election meddling. Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., titled the session ‘Concurrent congressional and criminal investigations: lessons from history.’ In other words: How can House and Senate committees keep clear of an executive branch process — like that being led by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller?”
Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will also testify tomorrow before the House Intelligence Committee on Russia’s 2016 election interference.
– This doesn’t look good: “While serving as a top campaign aide to [Trump], Michael Flynn made tens of thousands of dollars on the side advising a company that sold surveillance technology that repressive governments used to monitor activists and journalists,” HuffPost’s Paul Blumenthal and Jessica Schulberg report: “[Flynn] earned nearly $1.5 million last year as a consultant, adviser, board member, or speaker for more than three dozen companies and individuals … Two of those entities are directly linked to NSO Group, a secretive Israeli cyberweapons dealer founded by Omri Lavie and Shalev Hulio, who are rumored to have served in Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the National Security Agency. [And] during the time Flynn was working for NSO’s Luxembourg affiliate, one of the company’s main products — a spy software sold exclusively to governments and marketed as a tool for law enforcement officials to monitor suspected criminals and terrorists — was being used to surveil political dissidents, reporters, activists, and government officials.”
– Michael Flynn’s former business partner, Bijan Kian, has come under increased scrutiny as the Russia investigations continue to probe his lobbying work. Reuters’ Nathan Layne and Julia Edwards Ainsley report: “Investigators are also looking at whether payments from foreign clients to Flynn and his company, the now-inactive Flynn Intel Group, were lawful, according to two separate sources with knowledge of the broad inquiry into Flynn’s business activities. That includes payments by three Russian companies and a Netherlands-based company, Inovo, controlled by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin … Kian played a central role in securing and overseeing the Inovo contract, two people with knowledge of that project said. It is not clear whether Kian is a target of the criminal investigation or whether investigators are trying to build a fuller understanding of how Flynn’s company operated.”
– Another of Flynn’s former associates, Kamil Ekim Alptekin, is trying to clear his name in the Russia probes. Buzzfeed News’ Borzou Daragahi reports: “Alptekin said the work Flynn did for him — for which he was paid $530,000, and included research into Erdoğan’s nemesis, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen — had nothing to do with the Turkish government, and challenged anyone to prove it did. ‘I do have ties to those in power, but I’m not a member of the inner circle,’ he said. But Alptekin’s story has raised eyebrows in Washington, where many have been left wondering where he got the money to pay Flynn — and why a relatively obscure businessman in Turkey had hired the former general to dig up dirt on one of Erdoğan’s enemies.”
– Democratic leaders in the House are also pressing for more information on two previously undisclosed trips Flynn made to the Middle East in 2015. Karoun Demirjian reports: “According to the ranking Democrats on the House Oversight and House Foreign Affairs committees — Elijah E. Cummings (Md.) and Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), respectively — Flynn’s security forms and interviews revealed a previously unreported, six-day trip he made to Saudi Arabia in October 2015, in which he claimed to have stayed at a hotel that does not appear to exist, have traveled with a friend who was never named, and have spoken at a conference that none of his handling bureaus were aware of. According to congressional testimony Flynn gave in June 2015, Flynn also made an earlier trip that involved talks about developing nuclear power in the region. But Flynn never documented the trip on his security clearance forms at all.”
– The Trump administration has outlined a new plan for dealing with Russia — but will the president support it? BuzzFeed’s John Hudson reports: “[Rex Tillerson] has crafted a three-point framework for future US-Russia relations that takes a narrow view of what can be achieved between the former Cold War adversaries, but seeks a constructive working relationship with Putin on a limited set of issues. The first pillar of the [still-classified] framework, a US official said, is to convey to Moscow that aggressive actions against the United States are a losing proposition that will be counterproductive for both sides. When Russia takes bold actions against American interests … Washington will push back. [The second pillar is to] engage on issues that are of strategic interest to the United States, including the [war] in Syria, North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear weapons program, and cybersecurity and cyberespionage … The third pillar of the framework emphasizes the importance of ‘strategic stability with Russia, an umbrella term that encompasses a range of long-term mutual geopolitical goals.”
– On the financial front, a bipartisan group of senators signed a letter asking the State and Treasury Departments to review a possible Russian takeover of the petroleum company Citgo. The Hill’s Sylvan Lane reports: “Citgo, owned by the government of Venezuela, risks defaulting on a loan from Rosneft, a Russian state-owned energy company. Rosneft could take control of Citgo upon default, giving a company with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin command of United States infrastructure … ‘Citgo operates across 19 states, with 48 terminals, interstate oil and gas pipelines, and refineries,’ the senators wrote. ‘Serious questions have been raised regarding the national security risk of Rosneft — a company with close ties to President Putin — assuming control of U.S. energy infrastructure.’”
– After the U.S. shot down a Syrian government jet Sunday, Russia warned that further action would result in its military treating U.S. forces as “targets.” Louisa Loveluck and David Filipov report: “Russia condemned that strike as a ‘flagrant violation of international law’ and said its forces will treat U.S.-led coalition aircraft and drones as targets if they are operating in Syrian airspace west of the Euphrates River while Russian aviation is on combat missions. Pavel Baev, who studies the Russian military at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, called the threat ‘mostly a bluff’ but said that ‘calling it is risky because there are some nervous fingers on many buttons.’ In a statement Monday, the [U.S.-backed fighters in Syria] warned that it would retaliate in the face of further aggression from pro-Assad forces, raising the possibility that the United States could be forced to deviate further from its stated policy in Syria, which involves targeting Islamic State militants only.”
– In response to Russia’s threat, the Pentagon rapidly moved to re-establish deconfliction practices with Russia. The Hill’s Ellen Mitchell reports: “Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford on Monday said the United States will try ‘in the next few hours’ to re-establish deconfliction arrangements between Russia and the United States following the U.S. downing of a Syrian military jet over the weekend. ‘An incident occurred, we have to work through the incident, we have a channel to be able to do that and I think it’s going to require some diplomatic and military engagement in the next few hours to restore the deconfliction that we’ve had in place,’ Dunford said at a forum at the National Press Club in Washington.”
– Russia’s threat led Australia to announce that it will temporarily suspend military air operations over Syria, the BBC reports.
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
– A car struck a police vehicle on the Champs-Elysees in Paris yesterday and exploded upon impact. James McCauley reports: “Police were treating the incident as a deliberate act, and the Paris prosecutor opened a terrorism investigation. The driver, whose identity was not immediately released, was killed in the crash, Gerard Collomb, France’s interior minister, told reporters at the scene. No one else was injured, Paris police sources said. Police said the attacker — who was 31 and from the northwestern Paris suburb of Argenteuil — was known to French authorities, the Associated Press reported. He was reportedly listed on the government’s ‘Fiche S,’ a dossier of people suspected of posing a threat to national security.”
– France also continues to address the outcome of Sunday’s parliamentary elections, which left Marine Le Pen’s far-right party almost completely shut out of power. James McAuley reports: “The populist fervor that swept Britain and the United States never reached the same pitch in France … While Le Pen had hoped that her party might serve as the principal opposition to Macron’s majority, the National Front earned only eight of the 577 parliamentary seats, according to totals from Sunday’s second round of voting. The result was particularly stunning given that the party had gotten more than one-third of the votes cast in the final round of the presidential election. There was, however, a silver lining: a seat for Le Pen herself, a small but symbolic victory that some said would enshrine the far-right leader in France’s political establishment.”
– British authorities learned more about the attack near a London mosque that killed one and injured nine, including identifying the assailant. CNN’s Angela Dewan, Carol Jordan, Stephanie Halasz and Steve George report: “The driver of the van that plowed into pedestrians near a mosque in north London has been identified as Darren Osborne, 47, a resident of Cardiff in Wales, according to multiple UK media outlets … He was being held on suspicion of terrorism offenses, police said … British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack was directed at Muslims and condemned it as ‘every bit as sickening’ as deadly Islamist attacks that hit the country in recent months.”
– The incident seemed to confirm British Muslims worst fears following recent attacks by radical Islamists. Griff Witte and Karla Adam report: “Witnesses said the driver was heard shouting after he was wrestled to the ground that he wanted to kill Muslims. It was chilling but not, in the Finsbury Park neighborhood, entirely unexpected. Fears have been growing among Muslims here that they could be singled out by extremists in tit-for-tat attacks because of other attacks carried out in the name of Islam, even though they are widely denounced by the mainstream Muslim community … ‘We don’t feel safe anywhere,’ said a young man who gave his name as Adil Rana. ‘We don’t feel safe walking the streets or going to the mosque.’”
– The neighborhood where the attack occurred, Finsbury Park, was considered “a hotbed of Islamist extremism.” Adam Taylor reports: “A relatively deprived immigrant neighborhood in North London, it was the home of the Finsbury Park Mosque — infamous for housing the radical Egyptian cleric known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was later extradited to the United States and found guilty of terrorism charges. But like many of its surrounding neighborhoods, the area has rapidly gentrified in recent years, arguably becoming both more diverse and tolerant at the same time. Kebab shops sit comfortably next to cafes serving flat white espressos. Finsbury Park Mosque has undergone its own dramatic reforms over the previous decade, too, with its extremist edges stripped away.”
– Trump has yet to address the mosque attack on his personal Twitter account, despite his rapid response to the radical Islamist attack earlier this month. Philip Bump writes: “That Trump hasn’t mentioned the attacks on Muslims in London isn’t surprising, mind you. It took days for him to praise the two men who were stabbed to death in Portland, Ore., while defending Muslim women on a train. It took almost a week for him to speak out about the shooting of two Indian men in Kansas by someone who thought that they were Muslim. In one sense, it’s odd that Trump hasn’t tweeted condolences to the victims in London, given the criticism he’s received for his slow response to the above attacks — but, again, it’s not surprising that he hasn’t, given his history. The broader question is why Trump remains uninterested in acknowledging such attacks.”
– In the shadow of the recent attack, Brexit negotiations got underway between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Michael Birnbaum reports: “Discussions began with an immediate concession from the British over how the talks will be structured, a display of the weakness of the British position in the face of an unusual degree of unity among the E.U.’s 27 remaining members … Despite sharp splits in London over what to seek in the divorce, the lead British negotiator vowed that his nation would plunge onward with a full declaration of independence, dampening expectations after the election that Britain would move to preserve some ties with Brussels … European leaders have repeatedly said that Britain need not go through with its plans for divorce — although they have been tough about what a split will mean if it happens.”
– In related news, another top E.U. official called for a European army yesterday. The Telegraph’s Justin Huggler reports: “Hans-Peter Bartels, Germany’s national defence commissioner, on Monday called for Nato’s EU members to organise their militaries into a single force. ‘In the end, there will be a European army,’ he said. His comments, on the same day Brexit talks formally began, are a sign the rest of the EU is preparing to press ahead with further defence integration. Britain has repeatedly blocked plans for an integrated European defence policy, but other member states have warned it cannot expect to have a say in the issue post-Brexit. There have been growing calls for a single European defence policy in the wake of Donald Trump’s comments that Nato is ‘obsolete.’”
– “7 sailors died aboard the USS Fitzgerald. Here are their stories,” by Avi Selk: “The grief swelled after divers found seven bodies in the wreckage of the USS Fitzgerald off the coast of Japan this weekend. It washed across the United States, through dire phone calls, texts and solemn visits. It reached the family of a 19-year-old firefighter who had enlisted in the Navy the year before, and the wife of a 19-year veteran who had been planning his retirement, and fell upon households from Connecticut to the southern end of Texas — people with little more in common than a sudden, immense loss on the other side of the world.”
– “Opium use booms in Afghanistan, creating a ‘silent tsunami’ of addicted women,” by Pamela Constable: “Drug addiction in Afghanistan, once mostly limited to men who spent years as laborers or war refugees in Iran, has exploded into a nationwide scourge that affects millions of people, including a growing number of women and children. Over the past five years, programs of crop eradication and substitution have been largely abandoned as foreign funding has ended and insurgent attacks have increased. As a result, tens of thousands of farmers have returned to the lucrative business of growing opium poppies. Last year, 420,000 acres in Afghanistan were devoted to poppies, and opium production rose 43 percent over 2015, to 4,800 tons, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.”
– “Inside Melania Trump’s home town,” by Nick Kirkpatrick and Matic Zorman: “Last week, Melania Trump began calling Washington, D.C., home, giving the nation’s capital something in common with the small, hilly Slovenian town of Sevnica.”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
The president offered his condolences to the families of Otto Warmbier and the sailors who died on USS Fitzgerald:
Trump had a meeting with the president of Panama and mentioned that canal they have:
Trump just took credit for building the Panama Canal.
Now he’s pissed off the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt.
— John Fugelsang (@JohnFugelsang) June 19, 2017
Trump kicked off “Tech Week” at the White House by meeting with some top CEOs, including Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos:
The White House received some criticism for its lack of press access. The daily briefing yesterday was conducted off-camera and without audio, which had reporters fuming:
Today cameras banned from WH briefing. Tomorrow no briefing skedded at all. Don’t the American people deserve to hear from their WH?
— Julie Davis (@juliehdavis) June 20, 2017
Call me old fashioned but I think the White House of the United States of America should have the backbone to answer questions on camera.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 19, 2017
Make no mistake about what we are all witnessing. This is a WH that is stonewalling the news media. Hiding behind no camera/no audio gaggles
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 19, 2017
Spicer’s favorite answers these days: “I haven’t asked….” “I don’t know…” “The president has said…” “The president believes…”
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) June 19, 2017
Important for journalists as we fight for access, transparency: this isn’t about us, it’s about public’s right to get answers from the govt
— Julie Pace (@jpaceDC) June 20, 2017
Lawmakers, interest groups and journalists prepared for the release of the Senate’s health-care bill. Senate Republicans are preparing to vote on an as-yet-unseen bill next week, but Democrats are doing what they can to slow things down:
The weirdest thing to me about the GOP bill isn’t the timing or the secrecy. It’s that no major org in health care thinks it’s a good idea.
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) June 19, 2017
Georgia election observers looked forward to tonight’s resolution:
This runoff in Georgia has gone on for so long that it almost qualifies for a bar mitzvah.
— John Schwartz (@jswatz) June 19, 2017
When it comes to GA-6, the data is crystal clear:
— Patrick Ruffini (@PatrickRuffini) June 20, 2017
Michelle Obama, who stressed the importance of physical fitness as first lady, shared a bit about her workout routine:
When I was at the White House, I often hosted bootcamp weekends for my close girlfriends. It didn’t matter that we were all at varying fitness levels. Our bootcamp weekends were a reminder that if we want to keep taking care of others, we need to take care of ourselves first. And even though I’m no longer at the White House, I’ve continued this tradition and wanted to share some photos. My girlfriends have been there for me through all kinds of life transitions over the years – including a pretty big one recently! – and we’ve done our best to stay healthy together. Whether it’s a bootcamp or a walk around the neighborhood, I hope you and your crew can find some time this summer to be healthy together.
A post shared by Michelle Obama (@michelleobama) on Jun 19, 2017 at 7:50am PDT
And the Pences welcomed two new pets into the family:
GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:
– New York Magazine, “Can the New Activist Passion of Suburban White Women Change American Politics?” by Rebecca Traister: “At Hearth, a restaurant in Sandy Springs, Georgia, about 30 people — most of them women, most of them white — are sitting at a long table on Saturday night, drinking white wine and beer, scarfing pizzas and salads and talking at a frenzied pitch … They are dedicating their time — in many cases, nearly all their time — to campaigning for Jon Ossoff … That Ossoff has come as close as he has is a startling signal of liberal vigor in Trump’s America … Especially surprising is that the closeness of the race can largely be attributed to the obsessive energies of the sixth district’s women, an army of mostly white, suburban working mothers who had until now lived politically somnambulant lives.”
– The New York Times Magazine, “Is North Carolina the Future of American Politics?” by Jason Zengerle: “Welcome to North Carolina circa 2017, where all the passions and pathologies of American politics writ large are played out writ small — and with even more intensity. Ever since 2010, when Republicans seized control of the General Assembly for the first time in a century, and especially since 2012, when they took the governor’s mansion, the state’s politics have been haywire. ‘There’s been a bigger and quicker shift to the right here than in any other state in the country,’ says Rob Christensen, a longtime political writer for The News and Observer newspaper in Raleigh. In just a few years, North Carolina Republicans have not just run quickly through the conservative policy checklist; they’ve tried to permanently skew the balance of power in the state in their favor.”
– This month’s Atlantic cover story is on “How to Deal With North Korea.” From Mark Bowden: The U.S. has four broad strategic options for dealing with North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear program.
President Trump will meet with his national security adviser, the vice president and the Ukrainian president in the morning and then attend a legislative affairs lunch. He will later dine with the first lady and the Pences at the Naval Observatory.
The vice president has his meeting with the Ukrainian president and then a speech at the National Association of Manufacturers’ summit. He will also meet with Republican lawmakers on the Hill before his dinner with the president.
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
– The summer humidity will somewhat subside today, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Mostly sunny skies and falling humidity greet us as high temperatures by afternoon manage the middle to upper 80s. The sun angle is still quite strong this time of year, but at least we won’t have that heavy humidity.”
– The Nationals lost to the Miami Marlins 8-7 despite an early six-run lead, Chelsea Janes reports.
– Four school board members in Prince George’s County are urging Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to investigate what they allege is a “widespread, systemic” effort to fraudulently boost graduation rates – saying there is “clear and convincing evidence” that since 2014, the school system has graduated hundreds of students who did not meet state requirements, Donna St. George and Arelis R. Hernández report.
– Glory, one of two eaglets born at the National Arboretum this year, took his first flight yesterday, Martin Weil reports.
– A former magistrate judge in D.C. Superior Court, Lori E. Parker, announced her intention to run against incumbent Brianne K. Nadeau for Ward 1’s D.C. Council seat, Rachel Chason reports.
– A local group known as the D.C. Local Ambassadors has formed to help progressive activists stage protests in the Trump era. Perry Stein reports: “The group, comprised of mostly women, all volunteers who live in the Washington region, handled nearly all of the logistics for the March for Truth, training and providing volunteers to ensure everything went smoothly on June 3 … [Laura Sanders, one of the founding members of the group] said she and three other founders first worked together while volunteering for the Women’s March on Washington in January … After the historic march, Sanders and the group wanted to remain involved in the city’s robust activism scene and quickly discovered a void: There were no comprehensive resources for people to figure out how to plan a protest that projects the intended message while also adhering to federal and city guidelines.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Seth Meyers took a closer look at whether Trump is under investigation:
Seth Rogen told Stephen Colbert about his Twitter direct messages with Donald Trump Jr.:
As rumors spread of a possible job change for Sean Spicer, The Post looked back on some of his most memorable moments so far as press secretary:
Jared Kushner issued a rare statement as a White House adviser:
Comedy Central opened a temporary exhibit of the president’s tweets:
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez “looked for” Senate Republicans’ health-care bill: