The Daily 202: Ohio is hurting because of Obamacare’s uncertain future, but Trumpcare could make matters worse – Washington Post

With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

COLUMBUS, Ohio—The White House has tacked on a last-minute addition to Donald Trump’s Ohio itinerary. After landing in Cincinnati this afternoon to talk about infrastructure, the president’s official schedule says he will meet “with Obamacare victims” on Air Force One.

His quick trip comes one day after Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced that it is pulling out of the federal exchange in Ohio, which means that there will be no insurer offering coverage in at least 20 of this state’s 88 counties.

The news instantly became a political hot potato, offering an early test of whether Trump will be able to successfully deflect responsibility for a system whose collapse is being hastened by his decisions.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer seized on the Anthem announcement yesterday afternoon as proof that the Affordable Care Act has failed, announcing at the top of his briefing that it will leave “19,000 Ohioans without any options.” (The state said the move actually impacts 10,500 consumers, and policy experts were puzzled by how Sean came up with his inflated number.)

Regardless of how many are hurt, though, the company blamed the Trump administration – citing “the lack of certainty” over whether the federal government will continue to fund cost-sharing subsidies. “Planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to the shrinking individual market as well as continual changes in federal operations, rules and guidance,” the insurer said in a statement.

– Since Trump took office, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has been warning that the insurance markets are “slipping into crisis.” The Republican wrote in February that his “first priority should be to restore stability” in the exchanges to make sure companies keep offering plans.

“They can’t make any money. When they make money, they’re usually there,” Kasich told me recently during a half-hour interview in his office at the state capitol.

– But there is a powerful faction inside the White House, led by the president himself, that is rooting for the American health care system to collapse. The executive branch’s strategy is to persuade the public that the ACA’s meltdown is inevitable and thereby prod recalcitrant Republicans in the legislative branch to get on board with an unpopular replacement plan. As Trump told The Post in March: “The best thing politically is to let Obamacare explode.”

The administration has taken many steps, big and small, to make the exchanges less stable and discourage companies from offering plans. One of Trump’s first executive orders directed agencies to ease regulatory burdens created by the ACA, which weakened some of the system’s foundations. The Internal Revenue Service then announced it would not enforce the individual mandate. Many healthy young people only participate in the system, which keeps premiums lower for everyone else, because they don’t want to pay the fine. Then Trump’s team curtailed consumer outreach that had already been planned during the final days of the 2017 enrollment period.

All of this has created a weird dynamic in which the very agency tasked with administering a law seems to be publicly cheerleading for its demise. The Department of Health and Human Services blasts out a steady stream of press releases about rising premiums and other weaknesses in the system, which adds to the uncertainty and the lack of confidence.

– The increasing fragility of the marketplaces has created a dilemma for the president’s top advisers. Juliet Eilperin and Abby Phillip have a richly reported piece that posted this morning on a behind-the-scenes battle that’s playing out inside the administration: “The issue is whether to take some steps to allay the concerns of skittish insurers that are either hiking up rates or pulling out altogether, or let things deteriorate even further – even at the risk of being blamed. … (Vice President Mike) Pence and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney have argued against intervention, while Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price backs providing some federal support if a conservative health-care bill fails to pass this summer. For the moment, the administration has defaulted to a position of doing little to try to soothe the health insurance industry even as many insurers warn that federal actions – or inaction – could aggravate the situation.”

– The biggest source of industry anxiety is the issue of cost-sharing subsidies that Anthem cited in its Ohio announcement. It’s still up in the air whether the Trump administration will continue fronting the money that helps 7 million Americans with ACA plans afford deductible and co-pays. Congressional Republicans argue that the Obama administration is responsible for the mess because it paid out the subsidies unilaterally after the Republican-controlled House refused to appropriate them. Whether the previous president overreached is subject to ongoing litigation.

– But it is differences over Medicaid funding formulas, probably more than any other issue, that threaten to torpedo the prospects of a bill passing the Senate. And the Buckeye State, a linchpin of the president’s Rust Belt electoral majority, is disproportionately impacted by whatever happens.

About 700,000 low-income Ohioans gained insurance because Kasich expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. Another 200,000 picked up coverage in the exchanges because of the subsidies, Kasich’s staff estimates.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has  estimated that the bill which passed the House would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current law. The American Health Care Act, which Trump has  embraced and celebrated, would also cut Medicaid spending by $834 billion over the next decade.

– Among Republicans, Kasich has been one of the most outspoken critics of the AHCA – which has become known as Trumpcare. He warns in dire terms of the human cost if it became law. “It’s understandable that the burden from the federal government over time can be reduced, but you can’t do it over night,” the governor said in our interview. “The high-risk pools are something that’s been tried, but they went out of business because of the cost. We’re not really interested.”

Kasich demurred when asked about the econometric analysis that shows Trump’s core supporters would be among those most harmed by the House bill. He instead recounted a recent conversation with a constituent who wondered, “Am I going to lose my health insurance?” “These are not people who live on Mars. These are people who live next door,” the governor said. “I don’t care about the politics. I care about these folks.”

“If the politics mattered to me, then I guess I would have gone to the Republican convention and endorsed Trump. But I don’t operate that way,” he added. “Most people, if you sit down and talk to them and say, ‘Should there be coverage for these people?’, I think people say yes. I don’t think there’s that many pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps types. But there’s some. It would be tragic to see folks who now have something to look forward to, where there’s light at the end of the tunnel, where they have some hope now, if all of a sudden they don’t have it anymore.”

– Ohio has been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic, and the state spends almost $1 billion a year directly dealing with the scourge. Of that amount, Kasich’s team calculates, about $650 million comes through benefits of the Medicaid program. Some of that cash was there traditionally, they say, but the bulk of it comes as a result of the ACA. The governor is blunt: “When people understand that a lot of this, particularly with expansion, goes to help people who are mentally-ill and drug-addicted, even if they philosophically don’t like it, they have to ask themselves: How would we fill the gap if all of a sudden we didn’t have it?!”

“Nobody has fought more for fiscal responsibility and balancing the federal budget than I have, anywhere in the country,” Kasich continued. “So I’m mindful of costs, but I’m also mindful of priorities … (Ronald) Reagan expanded Medicaid five times or something. … “You want people to be healthy. You want people to feel like they have a shot. To me, that is a very conservative position.”

– During a closed-door lunch yesterday, all the GOP senators were presented with a PowerPoint slide deck that laid out the menu of options under consideration by their leadership about how to deal with major hang-ups, from Medicaid to tax credits. Lawmakers emerged more optimistic than they have been in recent weeks that something might actually pass, but there was still a general bearishness among the savviest members of the conference.

Mitch McConnell, at an afternoon meeting with Trump at the White House, said the Senate will try to vote on a health bill before the July 4 recess. This is a very tight timeframe, but the idea is to move on if they cannot muster majority support for something by then.

In a lucky break, Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee announced last night that the parliamentarian has ruled the bill which passed the House complies with the Byrd Rule. This is the first step in assuring that the chamber can use the reconciliation process to pass its bill with 51 votes, rather than 60.

– Rob Portman is in a tough spot. The Ohio senator, one of the best dealmakers Republicans have, has emerged as a key player in the ongoing negotiations. He’s said he could not have supported the House version of the bill because it phases out the Medicaid expansion too quickly, which he believes would hurt heroin/opioid addicts. “We can and must do better than ObamaCare, but we should do it in a way that protects the most vulnerable in our society,” Portman said in a statement reacting to the Anthem news. “I’m going to do everything I can to protect Ohio’s interests and ensure that our health care system works better for all Ohioans.” He told reporters after yesterday’s GOP lunch that the working version of the Senate bill, which has not been released publicly, “needs some work still” for him to get onboard.

Unlike Portman, who won’t face voters again until 2022, Nevada’s Dean Heller is the most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection next year. He too represents a purple state where a Republican governor expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, and he recognizes that voting for a bad bill may cost him his job. “The big print giveth. The small print taketh away,” he told reporters after the GOP lunch. “I’m waiting for the small print at this point.”

– The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, seized on Anthem pulling out of Ohio to attack Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is also up for reelection next year. Spokesman Bob Salera asked in a press release: “Will Senator Brown abandon the failing infrastructure of Obamacare and to work with Senate Republicans on a heath care bill that will help Ohio? Or will be continue to blindly follow Washington liberals as Obamacare falls off a cliff?”

Brown, for his part, attacked Republicans. “The dangerous game President Trump and Washington politicians are playing just caused 70,000 paying customers in Ohio to lose their insurance and it will continue raising prices for everyone else. It’s got to stop,” the senior senator said in a statement. “Instead of using working families as bargaining chips and driving up prices across the market, we need to work together to lower costs and make healthcare work better for everyone.”

– All the messaging and posturing reflects the degree to which health care is going to be a dominant issue in the 2018 midterms, whether a bill passes or not. This will be the fifth election cycle in a row when Obamacare is a top voter concern.

Kasich says he prays that the Senate comes up with a much better bill than what passed the House. He said he’s talked with Portman, as well as Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) a couple of times. Cassidy, a physician, said last month that he will only vote for legislation if it passes “the Jimmy Kimmel test” after the late-night comedian revealed his newborn son has congenital heart disease. Cassidy explained the standard: “Would a child born with congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in the first year of life?”

Asked what message he’d like to send to the GOP senators he’s not in touch with, Kasich said: “If you don’t fund the program, there’s going to be a lot of people who lose coverage. It’s not any more complicated than that. The question is: Is that important to you or not?”

Kasich has also spoken with governors across the ideological spectrum, from Michigan’s Rick Snyder (R) to Colorado’s John Hickenlooper (D), to come up with  some proposals he thinks could get consensus.

Kasich was an outspoken conservative firebrand in the Washington of the 1990s, a top lieutenant in Newt Gingrich’s Revolution. He was a powerful chairman of the House Budget Committee when Speaker Paul Ryan was a 20-something legislative assistant who drank from kegs with Rich Lowry and waited tables at Tortilla Coast. After losing a big fight with the unions during his first year as governor in 2011, Kasich rebranded himself as a No Labels kind of guy. That helped him coast to reelection in 2014, but it made it hard for him to get lift-off in the crowded 2016 GOP primary field. He was preaching sober-minded pragmatism at a moment when the base of his party wanted smash-mouth confrontation.

Now 65, with 18 months left in office, Kasich decries the corrosiveness of partisanship and says Republicans in D.C. need to give Democrats a seat at the negotiating table on health care. “When Obamacare passes with no Republicans, that doesn’t work,” he said. “Nothing that’s a major item is sustainable without bipartisan support. The best example of that is welfare reform. … There’s no magic. You work at it. You talk to people like they’re human beings.”

“People come up to me and say, ‘If I hadn’t been able to get this insurance, I may not have survived,’” he added as we wrapped up our conversation. “I feel good about the fact that people say, ‘Somebody was looking out for me. Somebody cared about me. Somebody was concerned about me.’ It’s a degree moral, but it’s also what you’re supposed to do as a leader.”

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

NEW FBI DIRECTOR:

– Trump named Chris Christie loyalist Chris Wray, who defended the governor through the Bridgegate scandal, as his new FBI director. Way is a white collar criminal defense attorney who led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration. (Matt Zapotosky reports on the surprise decision.)

NEW POLLING:

– A fresh Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the majority of Americans believe the president is interfering with the Russia investigations, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin report. Here are a few nuggets:

  • 56 percent say Trump is interfering with such investigations rather than cooperating.
  • 61 percent say Trump fired Comey to protect himself rather than for the good of the country.
  • Just over 1 in 5 say they trust what Trump says about Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign.
  • The partisan divide persists: “Large majorities of Republicans say Trump fired Comey for the good of the country (71 percent) and that he is cooperating with investigations into Russia’s election influence (77 percent).”

MORE SHOES DROP:

– “The nation’s top intelligence official told associates in March that President Trump asked him if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe,” Adam Entous scooped last night. “On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race. After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate.”

Why this is a huge deal: “The events involving Coats show the president went further than just asking intelligence officials to deny publicly the existence of any evidence showing collusion during the 2016 election, as The Washington Post reported in May. The interaction with Coats indicates that Trump aimed to enlist top officials to have Comey curtail the bureau’s probe.”

– Before he was fired, Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he did not want to be left alone with the president, fearing that Trump would probe Comey on the bureau’s Russia investigation. The New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo reported last night. “Mr. Comey believed Mr. Sessions should protect the F.B.I. from White House influence … and pulled him aside after a meeting in February to tell him that private interactions between the F.B.I. director and the president were inappropriate. But Mr. Sessions could not guarantee that the president would not try to talk to Mr. Comey alone again … [Comey’s] unwillingness to be alone with the president reflected how deeply Mr. Comey distrusted Mr. Trump, who Mr. Comey believed was trying to undermine the F.B.I.’s independence as it conducted a highly sensitive investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia.”

PALACE INTRIGUE:

– White House sources reveal that Sessions offered to resign recently due to mounting tensions with the president. Robert Costa and Sari Horwitz report: “The strain between the two began after Sessions recused himself in March from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. … Trump learned of the attorney general’s decision shortly before Sessions announced it at a news conference. The president’s anger has lingered for months…It is unclear when Sessions offered to resign, and Trump refused the offer. The moment was brief and Sessions made the suggestion after weeks of Trump’s disgruntlement and tense private meetings, according to the two people close to the White House who requested anonymity to speak candidly.” 

One big reason Trump may not have accepted: He could be stuck for months with Rod Rosenstein, who is much more independent and has more outside credibility than Sessions, as acting AG. This could lead to even worse headaches.

IT’S EVEN WORSE THAN WE KNOW:

– The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Russia’s targeting of state election systems went even deeper than The Intercept’s report indicated. Mark Warner told USA Today: “I don’t believe they got into changing actual voting outcomes…But the extent of the attacks is much broader than has been reported so far…None of these actions from the Russians stopped on Election Day…This is not an attempt to embarrass any state. This is a case to make sure that the American public writ large realizes that if we don’t get ahead of this, this same kind of intervention could take place in 2018 and definitely will take place in 2020.”

– Warner’s national profile is on the rise because of the Russia investigation. Jenna Portnoy has a nice profile of the former Virginia governor: “Reporters mob him in the Capitol hallways. Secure phone lines were installed in his Alexandria home. His cellphone is encrypted. He has less time for long bike rides and a few more gray hairs.

IS IT WORSE THAN WATERGATE?

– Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said overnight that he thought Watergate pales in comparison to the current Trump-Russia investigations. Clapper said in a speech to Australia’s National Press Club: “I lived through Watergate. I was on active duty then as a young officer in the Air Force, and it was a scary time. But it was against the backdrop of all the post-Vietnam trauma, which seemed, at least in my memory, amplified the crisis in our system with Watergate. … I have to say though that I think when you compare the two, Watergate pales, really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now.”

A FEEDING FRENZY:

– “Inside the heaving, jostling Capitol media mob: ‘We are one tripped senator away’ from disaster,” by Elise Viebeck and Ben Terris: “There are some 33,000 daily newspaper journalists left in the country (down from 57,000 in 1996), and it seems that most of them have migrated to this suddenly fertile new habitat. They stake out basement conference rooms, graze outside of Senate lunches, and pounce on politicians as they exit elevators…Even by historical standards, the increase of reporters on the Hill has been dramatic: Veteran staffers say more reporters now assemble to cover the Capitol every day than during either Watergate or the Clinton impeachment.

Lawmakers previewed what they hope to learn from Jim Comey’s Thursday testimony:

WHAT COMEY WILL SAY TOMORROW:

– In Thursday’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey is expected to describe his conversations with Trump in detail, although he will be careful not to discuss classified information, which is likely to prevent him from providing new details about the Russia probe, associates tell Devlin Barrett and Ellen Nakashima: “Comey also will try to steer clear of saying anything that could compromise or constrain the work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, now heading up the investigation, such as offering legal or prosecutorial judgments … One Comey associate said lawmakers should expect a vivid picture of his private interactions with the president.”

Senior senators have begun to preview their lines of questioning for Thursday’s hearing: “Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told CBS that her questions would focus on Trump’s assertion that Comey had assured him three times that he was not under investigation. ‘That phrase raises a lot of questions in my mind,’ she said. ‘Does Mr. Comey agree that that was what was said?’” Democrats are expected to press Comey about conversations not just with the president but also with other senior administration officials, such as Sessions and Rosenstein.

– “Trump has made a blanket claim that Comey told him multiple times that he was not under investigation. But one source said Comey is expected to explain to senators that those were much more nuanced conversations from which Trump concluded that he was not under investigation,” per CNN’s Gloria Borger, Eric Lichtblau, Jake Tapper and Brian Rokus report:

– Comey is expected to stop short of concluding that the president obstructed justice by requesting the FBI end its probe into Michael Flynn. ABC’s Justin Fishel and Jonathan Karl report: “Comey told associates he plans to testify that despite the unusual request from the president he believed strongly that if he did his job properly he could conduct the investigation in an honest way.”

– By the way, Flynn has now handed over more than 600 pages of documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee. (CNN)

THE WHITE HOUSE’S GAME PLAN:

– Trump is spoiling for a fight against the man he tactlessly fired last month. Robert Costa, Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report: “Trump is keen to be a participant rather than just another viewer, two senior White House officials said, including the possibility of taking to Twitter to offer acerbic commentary during the hearing…The president’s lawyers and aides have been urging him to resist engaging, and they hope to keep him busy Thursday with other events meant to compete for his — and the news media’s — attention.”

– A pro-Trump outside group is going to run an ad slamming Comey as a “showboat” and questioning his credibility during the hearing. AP’s Julie Bykowicz scoops: “Comey ‘put politics over protecting America,’ a narrator says in the 30-second spot, titled ‘Showboat’…It accuses him of being ‘consumed with election meddling’ even as ‘terror attacks were on the rise’…The ad highlights that Comey’s previous congressional testimony about Hillary Clinton’s emails was inaccurate and needed to be corrected.”

A COMING WAR ON LEAKERS:

– More information continues to emerge about Reality Winner, the NSA contractor who allegedly leaked the top-secret document detailing Russian hacking methods. Mark Berman and Lindsey Bever report: “Winner’s arrest stunned her relatives and associates, and it shone a sudden spotlight on the young woman, who faces up to a decade in prison. Winner was a high school tennis star and an animal lover who had used social media in ordinary ways, documenting her exercise habits, musical tastes, news that caught her eye — and her increasing agitation at Trump’s actions.”

GROWING GOP UNEASE:

– Because Trump won’t take a hard line, Senate Republicans are contemplating adding some harsher sanctions against Moscow into an Iran sanctions bill. Karoun Demirjian reports: “A group of leading senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have been negotiating a way to pass more stringent sanctions against Russia in the coming week, by piggybacking on an upcoming a measure cracking down on ballistic missile tests in Iran… The exact substance of the Russia sanctions senators hope to attach to the Iran bill is not yet clear, but according to senior Senate aides, talks have focused on the substance offered by a set of bills already on offer, addressing everything from Russia’s aggressive activities in Ukraine and Syria to allegations that Russian hackers tried to swing an American election.”

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Gunmen attacked the Iranian parliament and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but they did not provide evidence. (Paul Schemm)
  2. A man wielding a hammer attacked a Paris police officer outside of the Notre Dame cathedral. The assailant, who shouted “This is for Syria!” as he attacked the officer, was shot. (AP)
  3. Uber fired 20 employees amid an investigation into claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. The firings come as the ride-hailing faces a series of escalating crises, including a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice. (Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin)
  4. Hawaii became the first state to enact legislation independently implementing portions of the Paris climate agreement. “Climate change is real, regardless of what others may say,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) said at the bill signing. (Katie Mettler)
  5. Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Kim Guadagno won their parties’ primaries in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race. Murphy, a Goldman Sachs alum, is an early favorite to win the November general election, given outgoing Gov. Chris Christie’s low approval rating. (The Atlantic)
  6. California Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez won the runoff to fill ex-Rep. Xavier Becerra’s House seat. Gomez defeated a self-funded campaign from fellow Democrat and former L.A. planning commissioner Robert Lee Ahn, who energized Korean-American voters. Becerra stepped down to become the state’s attorney general. (David Weigel)
  7. Kansas is teetering on the edge of a shutdown. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed a bill last night that would raise tax rates to fill a $1.2 billion budget hole. Brownback and the Kansas legislature need to strike a compromise by June 18. (Kansas City Star)
  8. Andrea Constand, Bill Cosby’s main accuser, took the stand in the comedian’s criminal trial. She recalled a night in January 2004 when she said he urged her to take three pills he described as “herbal.” After she did, her vision blurred, and she said Cosby began forcibly touching her. (Manuel Roig-Franzia)
  9. A Las Vegas police officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter for choking an unarmed suspect to death. Body camera footage showed Kenneth Lopera repeatedly tasing Tashii Brown and placing him in a chokehold. (Derek Hawkins)
  10. A group of Twitter users blocked by Trump are suing him. Lawyers for the tweeters argue that the @realDonaldTrump account constitutes a “public forum,” so the president cannot stop fellow users for voicing their opposing opinions. (New York Times)
  11. China has refused to release the activists who were detained while investigating a company that produces Ivanka Trump shoes. The State Department had called for the men’s release. (AP)
  12. A United Airlines supervisor tried to force a classical musician to check her 17th century violin. In the latest PR bungle for the airline, musician Yennifer Correia hired a lawyer after a United employee allegedly tried to “wrestle” the prized instrument away from her. (Cleve R. Wootson Jr.)
  13. A longtime Red Sox broadcaster chastised Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka for using a translator. Jeremy Remy suggested that Tanaka learn “baseball language.” (Des Bieler)
  14. The Pence family now shares their government residence with 15,000 honeybees. Second Lady Karen Pence recently installed a beehive at the Naval Observatory, in part to highlight the negative agricultural impact of declining bee colonies. (AP

IF YOU READ ONE STORY:

– Forbes, “How Donald Trump Shifted Kids-Cancer Charity Money Into His Business,” by Dan Alexander: “While donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses. All of this seems to defy federal tax rules and state laws that ban self-dealing and misleading donors. It also raises larger questions about the Trump family dynamics and whether Eric and his brother, Don Jr., can be truly independent of their father.”

THE DOMESTIC AGENDA:

– Trump can claim at least one victory this week, a bill meant to force accountability at the VA. Lisa Rein reports: “The Senate cleared a path Tuesday evening for the Department of Veterans Affairs to take swift action to fire and discipline problem employees, overhauling long-guaranteed job protections that Republicans would like to change across the federal workforce. Following a voice vote — and action in the House earlier this year — a bipartisan bill is expected to arrive quickly on the desk of President Trump.”

– Apparently it’s sinking in that Mexico will never pay: Trump told GOP leaders yesterday that he wants to cover his border wall with solar panels and then use the electricity they generate to pay for the cost of construction. Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports: “According to 3 people with direct knowledge of the meeting … Trump said his vision was a wall 40 feet to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels so they’d be ‘beautiful structures.'” This sounds like something Newt would come up with.

– Contrary to statements from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, catch-and-release policies continue along the southern border. Reuters’ Julia Edwards Ainsley reports: “Immigration attorneys, government statistics and even some officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which falls under Kelly, suggest that despite the DHS chief’s statement, there has been no clear change to the catch-and-release policy. That’s in large part because there are legal constraints on who can be detained and for how long, due to a shortage of beds and a court ruling limiting the stay of women and children in custody to 21 days. … The numbers suggest the Trump administration is a long way from ending catch-and-release.”

– The Trump administration proposed selling the Washington Aqueduct to a private company, which could raise water bills for 1 million residents of D.C. and Virginia. (Robert McCartney)

– Trump’s lack of staffing continues to create problems. Trump had announced a nominee for just seven, or 15 percent, of 46 top science posts in the federal government that require Senate confirmation, according to an analysis by Chris Mooney. One less job to fill: National Institutes of Health director Francis S. Collins will stay on the job, Lenny Bernstein reported last night.

The Post’s Fact Checker team tabulates: “In 137 days, President Trump has made 623 false and misleading claims.”

THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

– U.S. security agencies believe that Russian hackers planted a fake news story to instigate further conflict between Qatar and its neighboring nations. CNN’s Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz report: “US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies…The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident…The alleged involvement of Russian hackers intensifies concerns by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try some of the same cyber-hacking measures on US allies that intelligence agencies believe it used to meddle in the 2016 elections. US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies.”

– Trump did not help matters by tweeting that he supported the Gulf nations’ decision to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. Karen DeYoung, Kareem Fahim and Sudarsan Raghavan explain: “Administration officials said Tuesday that Trump was not ‘taking sides’ in the deepening dispute among key U.S. counterterrorism partners in the Persian Gulf, despite a morning of presidential Twitter posts congratulating Saudi Arabia — and himself — for cracking down on Qatar for alleged terrorism financing.”

– Trump’s tweets reflected a now-familiar pattern to an administration whose comments are often undercut by the president. Abby Phillip and Jenna Johnson report: “Trump’s aides are quickly learning they speak for the president at their own peril. The president seems to shrug off these incidents, several of which have occurred since he took office, and he has made clear that ultimately only he speaks for his administration.”

TRUMP HAS CREATED A POWER VACUUM:

Canada’s Foreign Minister announces that our northern neighbor intends to make “a substantial investment” in its military because it can no longer rely on the United States for leadership in the face of threats posed by terrorist groups or countries like Russia and North Korea. Alan Freeman reports:  “Echoing complaints made recently by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chrystia Freeland told Canada’s House of Commons that Washington is no longer committed to its position of world leadership, forcing Canada to invest in its own armed forces to defend liberal democracy.”

– South Korea’s new president has suspended the deployment of an American missile defense system on his soil. Anna Fifield reports: “The decision highlights the potential for a rift between the United States under a Republican president and South Korea with its new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, who is due to visit President Trump in the White House later this month for their first meeting. Moon’s office Wednesday said it would suspend the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, an anti-missile battery designed to protect the South against North Korea but which has elicited strong opposition, particularly where it is being deployed.”

– Nikki Haley threatened that the U.S. may withdraw from the U.N’s human rights council. Anne Gearan reports: “The United States accuses the council of shielding the repressive regimes it should be condemning, allowing such regimes to join the body and then use it to thwart scrutiny. It is the same criticism that led former president George W. Bush to shun the council in 2006, a decision that President Barack Obama reversed in his first year in office.”

– The State Department appears to be crafting a foreign policy of its own, quite distinct from that of the Trump White House. Josh Rogin reports: “Listening to Tuesday’s first ever State Department briefing by new spokeswoman Heather Nauert, one might get the impression that the United States is conducting traditional, balanced and even somewhat nuanced foreign policy on the world stage. The problem is, of course, that President Trump’s own statements on foreign policy destroy that image and there’s no effort by either side to address the resulting contradictions…It became clear by the end of the briefing that the State Department was in a way conducting its own foreign policy, which may or may not line up with what the commander in chief believes or says.”

Politico’s Susan Glasser obtained the section of Trump’s NATO speech that he refused to deliver. The president would not express unwavering allegiance to the mutual defense of NATO allies in his Brussels speech. This is what Trump was supposed to say: “We face many threats, but I stand here before you with a clear message: the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance and to Article 5 is unwavering.” Instead: “The sentence regarding the United States and its ‘unwavering’ dedication to Article 5, the one-for-all, all-for-one mutual defense provision that is at the heart of the NATO alliance, was deleted at the last minute from his speech—to the surprise and consternation of his own blindsided national security team.”

– The U.S. and Iran are racing to capture ISIS strongholds in Syria. Louisa Loveluck and Loveday Morris report: “The scramble for pole position in Deir al-Zour province is likely to be one of the most consequential fights against the extremist group in Syria, posing a regional test for Trump as his administration turns up the rhetoric against Iran…For the United States, gaining control of Deir al-Zour would give it a bargaining chip for the future and demonstrate to regional allies its willingness to challenge Iran, after Trump promised to roll back the country’s ‘rising ambition.’”

THE LATEST FROM LONDON:

– British Foreign Secretary and pro-Brexiter Boris Johnson said that President Trump’s state visit was still on, despite his criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan. Johnson told the BBC: “The invitation has been issued and accepted and I see no reason to change that, but as far as what Sadiq Khan has said about the reassurances he’s offered the people of London, I think he was entirely right to speak in the way he did.”

– Youssef Zaghba, one of the perpetrators of Saturday’s attack, told Italian authorities last year that he would become a terrorist. Politico’s Giulia Paravicini report: “The Moroccan-Italian man who has been identified as the third London attacker told Italian authorities ‘I’m going to be a terrorist,’ when he was stopped at Bologna Airport last year… The Italian authorities seized his phone and several sim cards but did not arrest him because he had not committed a crime. They did report him to the authorities in Bologna which began proceedings against him for terrorism offences.”

– The mourning country is preparing for tomorrow’s national election. Because of the Labour Party’s unexpected rise in the polls, there’s a chance of a hung parliament, which would have serious implications for Brexit. CNN’s Doug Criss reports: “If that happens…everybody would have to sit down and have a serious discussion on how they want the country to leave the EU.” But the chances of a hung parliament may be overestimated: “The polls weren’t exactly perfect before the last UK general election in 2015, and most polls had Brexit failing on the eve of last year’s vote.”

– In hopes of warding off a runoff, Conservatives are reaching out to Labour strongholds. Michael Birnbaum reports: “May’s Conservative Party is gunning for seats across regions where it has been in the minority for almost a century, calculating that Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will help it capture pro-Brexit working-class voters long loyal to the leftist labor unions…The effort holds echoes of Trump’s successful foray into the U.S. Rust Belt, where factory workers, miners and others hurt by globalization spurned Democrats in favor of a candidate who promised to rebuild their world.”

– A late-breaking story on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could also affect the chances of a hung parliament. Politico’s Cynthia Kroet reports: “British national security officers have watched Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for two decades over fears he was undermining democracy via alleged sympathies with the Irish Republican Army (IRA)…The national security probe by the so-called Special Branch unit would have continued into the early 2000s.”

THE TRUMP EFFECT:

– Educators are struggling to respond to a new rash of bullying tied to the president’s language and messaging. Buzzfeed News’ Albert Samaha, Mike Hayes and Talal Ansari report: “Donald Trump’s campaign and election have added an alarming twist to school bullying, with white students using the president’s words and slogans to bully Latino, Middle Eastern, black, Asian, and Jewish classmates. In the first comprehensive review of post-election bullying, BuzzFeed News has confirmed more than 50 incidents, across 26 states, in which a K-12 student invoked Trump’s name or message in an apparent effort to harass a classmate during the past school year. …The first school year of the Donald Trump presidency left educators struggling to navigate a climate where misogyny, religious intolerance, name-calling, and racial exclusion have become part of mainstream political speech.”

– Some supporters of the president reacted negatively to the firing of Breitbart editor Katie McHugh after she said terrorism wouldn’t happen in London if there were no Muslims. Buzzfeed News’ Charlie Warzel reports: “Across the pro-Trump internet, McHugh’s firing was widely decried as a sign of weakness by Breitbart and an attempt by the site — once led by now-Senior White House Advisor Stephen Bannon — to pivot toward a more moderate editorial strategy…Such testimonials from the pro-Trump internet are largely anecdotal. That said, there is some data to suggest Breitbart’s momentum has slowed from the halcyon months leading up to the 2016 election. Today, Digiday reported that ad tracking platform MediaRadar found just ‘26 brands appearing on Breitbart in May, down from a high of 242 in March.’”

SPECIAL ELECTION WATCH:

– The candidates in Georgia’s congressional race, now the most expensive House election ever, faced off in a debate. Politico’s Elena Schneider reports: “Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel clashed on the debate stage for the first time Tuesday night, sparring face-to-face over their resumes, campaign financing and foreign policy positioning…Handel also accused Ossoff of not wanting the people of Georgia to ‘know that he is a liberal Democrat and he’s supported by the most liberal elements of the Democratic Party,’ adding that he ‘rarely mentions that he’s a Democrat…’ Ossoff, meanwhile, hammered Handel on her record at the Susan G. Komen Foundation where she ‘led an effort to defund live saving breast screenings’ in 2012, Ossoff said.”

– Democrats poured money into a South Carolina race once considered unwinnable. David Weigel reports: “The DCCC, which has been criticized by party activists for holding its powder in two other special elections, announced Monday that it was plowing $275,000 into the South Carolina race, effectively doubling the resources of Democratic nominee Archie Parnell…The district, held until 2010 by Democrats, had been seen as increasingly out-of-reach for a party that had lost ground with Southern white voters. In 2016, Donald Trump carried the district by 18.5 points, as black turnout sagged behind the levels of the Obama years. Parnell, who’s white, has worked to reverse that trend, with Democrats believing that an Obama-style turnout rate, coupled with the GOP’s sag with suburban voters, would make the seat competitive.”

WAPO HIGHLIGHTS:

– “‘Coal country is a great place to be from.’ But does the future match Trump’s optimism?” by Ana Swanson: “The towns scattered through the coal-rich Appalachian Mountains of southern Pennsylvania were pleased to hear their names on President Trump’s lips last week as he announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Trump hailed ‘a big opening of a brand-new mine’— the Acosta Deep Mine, about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh — as a sign of new life for the coal industry…The future of the industry has become a charged political symbol, as Trump seeks to reverse what he and his supporters see as the Obama-era war on coal. Locals decry regulations that have strangled businesses, but they also say much of coal’s decline is due to other factors, such as the natural-gas boom that has offered a cheaper, cleaner alternative.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

There was much ado online about Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, being shown by reporters Trump’s tweets congratulating Saudi Arabia and other Gulf coutries for cracking down on Qatar as a state sponsor of Islamic terror. Corker had no words when approached. The Hill posted video of the moment.

Corker also posted this from the Oval Office:

Trend watch:

Obama is acting as a sort of shadow president, traveling the world to quietly meet with foreign leaders unnerved by Trump’s “America First” brand of isolation:

The memes conitnued:

Greta found something special in front of her house last night:

In front of my house in DC tonight

A post shared by Greta Van Susteren (@greta) on Jun 6, 2017 at 5:08pm PDT

There was music at the Capitol:

The U S Air Force provided musical entertainment at the Capitol tonight.

A post shared by Kevin Cramer (@repkevincramer) on Jun 6, 2017 at 6:11pm PDT

Rep. David Young had a present for the new U.S. ambassador to China:

And Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez celebrates graduating (sort of…):

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

– Esquire, “Bill Maher Knows Exactly What He’s Doing,” by Stephen Rodrick: “Maher, who is sixty-one, has been hosting Real Time on HBO for fourteen years, ever since a blunt comment cost him his old series, ABC’s Politically Incorrect. That was the first time he nearly scuttled his television career. Real Time’s format is a throwback to a seventies talk show—with a monologue, an interview, a panel discussion, some jokes, and a closing argument—but here everything is done without the benefit of breath-catching commercial breaks. This setup sometimes leads to what can feel, in the moment, like a random car wreck, but Maher’s been doing comedy for forty years. He’s addicted to provocation, and more often than not, he’s driving his show into a brick wall by design.”

 

DAYBOOK:

– Both the president and vice president will travel outside the District today. Trump will be in Cincinnati. And Pence will fly to Houston to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and deliver remarks at the 2017 Astronaut Selection Announcement.

– Ashley Parker is traveling with Pence today and sends along a fun little vignette from Andrews Air Force Base: The vice president, who turns 58 today, got a little birthday surprise as he boarded Air Force Two for the flight down to Houston. “Before he arrived, Rebeccah Propp — the VP’s deputy comms director — went through the cabin passing out brightly colored party hats (flimsy cardboard, elastic strap under chin) … The middle cabin … had been decorated by VP staff with ‘Happy Birthday’ balloons and red, white and blue streamers. The VP came back, opening his arms in some combination of faux-surprise and subdued delight, and was greeted by a rather weak rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’ ‘What are you all doing?’ he asked with a smile. ‘This is out of control.’ Ted Cruz posed for a photo with Pence, and the VP declared, ‘I feel 58 years young.’ There were, alas, no candles, apparently per FAA regulations.”

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

– The clouds return to D.C., but luckily they won’t last long, the Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “After yesterday’s warmer and brighter interlude, we revert back to cooler and cloudier conditions today, and only slightly warmer tomorrow. But then the summer switch flips to the on position, with plenty of sun and increasing warmth Friday into the weekend.”

– The Post’s editorial board endorsed Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Frank Wagner in the Virginia gubernatorial primaries.

– The Ku Klux Klan applied to hold a rally near a Confederate statue in Charlottesville. Michael E. Miller reports: “When torch-wielding white nationalists gathered in front of a Confederate statue in downtown Charlottesville last month, Mayor Michael Signer worried that the event harked back to ‘the days of the KKK.’ That warning has now become prophecy. On Monday, city officials said the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had applied to hold a rally near the statue on July 8.”

– A meteor flashed across the D.C. sky last night. Martin Weil reports: “It was seen over an expanse that stretched at least as far west as Loudoun County in Virginia and as far east as the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.”

– The Nationals beat the Dodgers 2-1. And the Nats’ closer Koda Glover almost came to blows with Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig after the final out, Chelsea Janes reports.

– Two Maryland teenagers were murdered the night before their high school graduation. Dan Morse, Donna St. George and Victoria St. Martin have an absolutely tragic story: “[Artem S.] Ziberov, an honors student headed to college to study international relations, was set to graduate Tuesday with his classmate, Shadi Adi Najjar, 17, and the rest of the seniors of Northwest High School in Germantown, Md…But mourning displaced joy for his family and a larger suburban Maryland community was in shock after Ziberov and Najjar were killed Monday night in a fusillade of more than 22 shots fired as they sat in a car in a cul-de-sac in Montgomery Village.”

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert declared that the Trump administration is at war with reality:

Some other late night jokes about the tweets:

Callum Borchers explains how press secretary Sean Spicer differs from his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

Interfaith leaders in New Hampshire held a prayer vigil for undocumented immigrants with ICE check-ins.

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