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National Govt & Politics
Republicans struggle to push health care bill over House finish line
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Republicans struggle to push health care bill over House finish line

Republicans struggle to push health care bill over House finish line
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

Republicans struggle to push health care bill over House finish line

In a last minute bid to thread the needle between more conservative and more moderate Republicans, President Donald Trump and GOP leaders in the House are still hoping to bring a health care overhaul bill to a vote today, as they try to find a magic legislative formula that will produce a final agreement acceptable to a bare majority of Republican members.

Here's where things stand.

1. Republicans still seem short on votes. Despite a full day of arm twisting and closed door meetings that stretched late into Wednesday night, the President seemed no closer to a majority in the House - in fact, the numbers seemed to go the wrong way yesterday, as several more moderate Republicans like Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) announced they could not support the bill. "We gave our word that we would repeal and replace it," said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) of Obamacare. "This bill does not go far enough." Yoho - a Freedom Caucus member - though said he was open to a last minute deal, but that remained elusive as the sun came up on Thursday. President Trump is set to meet with Freedom Caucus members just before lunch at the White House.

2. For some the negotiations just don't matter. As we have seen on major legislation in recent years, there are a small group of Republicans who just aren't going to get to a "Yes" vote under the current direction of negotiations. "We promised to repeal Obamacare and improve health care for Americans. This bill does neither," said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who is a certain "No" vote. Even as members of the House Freedom Caucus met into the night on Wednesday, it was obvious that some in that group, like Amash, would not get on board with the final product - and on their own, they have more than enough votes to sink this GOP bill if they withhold their support. This was a tweet from the group's spokeswoman.

3. There is no groundswell of support back home. One peculiar situation about the GOP drive on health care is that they are not only taking flak from Democrats, but also from conservative groups who don't like the direction of the bill - and that combination is bringing a distinct message from back home, as well as groups that watch GOP lawmakers like a hawk. "Unfortunately, even with recently submitted changes, the American Health Care Act has too many ObamaCare-like flaws," the conservative group Freedom Works said in a statement. Other groups like the Heritage Foundation have been openly working to stop the bill as well - and lawmakers say the folks back home have made quite clear their dislike for the bill.

4. What late changes are being considered to the GOP bill? There was a lot of talk on Wednesday night of major alterations to the bill, some of which might not even survive tight Senate rules dealing with budget reconciliation. The work mainly centered on re-writing the definition of "Essential Health Benefits" in the Obama health law, to allow insurance companies to offer more limited - and therefore less expensive for consumers. Here is the EHB list in current law - these can be modified administratively by the Trump Administration and the Secretary of Health and Human Services; but a number of Republican lawmakers want them changed in law. That most likely will take 60 votes in the Senate.

Jamie Dupree
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Jamie Dupree

5. Wait - the EHB change takes 60 votes in the Senate? The logical question to ask is - if you can't change the Essential Health Benefits in a budget reconciliation bill, because it will get knocked out in the Senate, why put that in this House bill? Well, it may be the only way to get the bill out of the House with enough votes, and send it over to the Senate. Republicans were already engaged in public lobbying of the Senate Parliamentarian, who has the job of ruling on specific provisions of reconciliation bills, as they tried to argue in public that she might change her mind on the matter. Behind the scenes, it wasn't really apparent that anything had changed along these lines, but the GOP hope was that if EHB changes were included in the bill, the provision could get through the House and just be knocked out in the Senate, without destroying the underlying measure.

6. Will the vote be Thursday or later? Republicans were ready to give themselves several days of wiggle room on the health care matter, as the House was expected to approve a measure that allows the GOP to quickly bring a final health care deal to the floor for a vote, any time over the next four days - through Monday. So, there could be a showdown vote on health care today, tomorrow, over the weekend, or early next week. Basically, if Republicans and the White House think they've got the votes, then they will rush to the House floor to push that through. "We have not cut the deal, yet," Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) acknowledged late on Wednesday night in the House Rules Committee.

7. GOP ready to repeat the Nancy Pelosi 2010 quote. Republicans love to talk up the out-of-context quote from then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2010, when she said the Congress would just have to pass a health care bill in order to see what was in it. If you really research the quote, you see she wasn't saying that, but that hasn't stopped the GOP from throwing it in her face for the past seven years. Now, Democrats are delighting in watching the GOP maybe doing the same thing. With major changes being looked at last night, it was not clear as the day began what exactly the Republicans would be voting on - and it was possible that no cost estimate, or insurance coverage estimate details would be ready for when lawmakers did vote in the House.

Stay tuned - it could be a very interesting day in the House.

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • Orlando Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani is co-sponsoring a bill to allow illegal immigrants living in Florida to legally obtain a state driver’s license. “We can talk about the need to reform immigration as a whole, but this is one solution to make sure that our roads are safer,” Eskamani said over the phone on Thursday. Illegal immigrants would still have to take a driving test to get a license, and they’d be able to buy car insurance, which Eskamani said would generate additional revenue for the state.  She also believes the bill will encourage people to report accidents and crimes they see on the road. Eskamani agreed with the assessment that the bill (HB 969) does not attempt to change immigration policy but rather change policy dealing with Florida’s current immigrant situation. “On our roads, you have people who are undocumented who are driving their kids to daycare, who are going to work,” Eskamani said.  “They’re doing their best to live life to its fullest potential.” Under current Florida law, residents must prove U.S. citizenship or show a resident alien green card to get a state driver’s license.  This bill would allow people to use documents such as foreign passports, international birth certificates, or tax ID number to get one.   With the 2019 legislative session well underway in Tallahassee, neither the bill nor its Senate companion has seen a committee vote. The bill has gotten notable attention from Fox News, to which Eskamani mused on her Facebook page, “Wow, my first ever mention in Fox News!  This has to come with some sort of award right?”
  • The Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs last year to several high-profile critics of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty Thursday in a Manhattan federal court. >> Read more trending news Cesar Sayoc appeared Thursday for a change of plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.  Sayoc pleaded not guilty in November to a slew of charges after he was identified as the man suspected of mailing pipe bombs to targets including CNN, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. >> Cesar Sayoc Jr.: What we know about the man arrested for sending package bombs Sayoc has been held without bail since his late-October arrest outside a South Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van covered with stickers of Trump and showing images of some Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces. Authorities launched an investigation in October after pipe bombs were mailed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and philanthropist George Soros. In the subsequent days, similar devices were mailed to several other prominent Trump critics, including U.S. Rep Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Democratic donor Tom Steyer. >> 2nd mail bomb to Tom Steyer recovered; suspect agrees to remain jailed, face charges in New York Authorities said Sayoc was linked to the packages after investigators found his fingerprints and DNA on some of them. Without a plea deal, Sayoc faced charges carrying a potential penalty of mandatory life in prison. A court filing last Friday didn't indicate which charge or charges the plea would involve. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Federal authorities and Butler Township police are investigating after an explosive device was placed inside a mailbox and detonated, according to police. >> Read more trending news  The explosive device, which police believe was a commercial-grade firework, was detonated and destroyed the mailbox sometime between 7 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday, Butler Township Police Chief John Porter said in a media release. Police did not say what road the incident occurred on but described the area as a rural part of the township.  “Since tampering with a mailbox is covered under federal law, federal authorities have been notified and are participating with us in a joint investigation,” Porter said. “Our initial investigation shows there is no indication of any type of hate or bias crime at this time.”  Authorities continue to investigate.
  • The sister of a Minnesota woman accused of killing a stranger to steal her identity in Florida last year is now facing criminal charges of her own after investigators say she grew angry at her intoxicated son and ran him over with her SUV.  Cynthia Lea Grund, 58, of Salem Township, was jailed on suspicion of second-degree assault and reckless driving. Olmstead County Jail records indicate she has since been released.  >> Read more trending news Olmstead County deputies were called Monday evening to Grund’s home, where they found her 37-year-old son, identified by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as Jason Finstad, suffering from significant lower body injuries, a Sheriff’s Office news release said. The man had been run over by a vehicle.  Investigators determined that Grund had run over her son with a 2004 Ford Explorer, the news release said.  According to detectives, Finstad was very intoxicated when he began walking down the rural driveway to go to a friend’s house. His mother and stepfather no longer wanted him staying at their home.  Grund drove down the driveway to pick Finstad up and drive him to the friend’s house, the news release said. Finstad refused to get in the SUV. “Why don’t you just run me over,” he allegedly said before lying in the driveway in front of Grund’s vehicle.  “Grund then backed the vehicle up and intentionally ran over the victim,” the news release said. “Grund admitted to her actions and at one point made a comment to the effect, ‘He didn't believe I would. He has been drinking all day. We gave him a chance.’” Grund was taken into custody at the scene. >> Related story: ‘Losing Streak Lois,’ killer grandma wanted in 2 slayings nabbed near U.S.-Mexico border Finstad underwent surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester to repair damage to his pelvis. He also suffered head injuries in the incident, investigators said.  He was in fair condition as of Tuesday, the Star Tribune reported. According to the newspaper, Grund is the sister of Lois Ann Riess, 57, of Blooming Prairie, who is being held in Florida on a charge of first-degree murder in the April 5 slaying of Pamela Hutchinson, 59, of Bradenton.  Riess was arrested April 19 on Texas’ South Padre Island after a multistate string of crimes that investigators allege began with the shooting death of her husband, David Riess, 54, at their worm farm. Saturday will mark a year since David Riess’ decomposing body was found. Authorities said David Riess had been dead for several days by the time his body was discovered. The Star Tribune reported last month that a .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun found in Lois Riess’ Texas motel room matched shell casings found at the scene of her husband’s death. Dodge County investigators have turned their case over to the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for review.  Lois Riess, who authorities nicknamed “Losing Streak Lois” for her penchant for gambling, fled south to Florida -- stopping at a casino on the way. Riess’ abandoned Cadillac Escalade, which Minnesota investigators alleged she left the state in after gunning down her husband, was found in a park in Fort Myers, Florida.  Surveillance footage from a restaurant two blocks from Hutchinson’s borrowed timeshare condo showed the victim chatting with Riess at the bar on April 5, the day authorities believe she was shot to death. Hutchinson’s body was found four days later in the bathroom of the condo.  See the footage of Lois Riess chatting with Pamela Hutchinson below, courtesy of the Fort Myers News-Press.  Investigators believe Hutchinson was killed so Riess could assume her identity. They also believe Hutchinson was shot with the same gun that killed David Riess. According to Riess’ Florida indictment, Lois Riess stole credit cards, money, jewelry, sunglasses and other property from Hutchinson after she was killed. Surveillance footage from Hutchinson’s condo complex showed Riess walking into the parking lot, getting into Hutchinson’s Acura TL and driving away.  The indictment also alleged that Riess went to a Fort Myers bank and used Hutchinson’s identification to withdraw $5,000 from the dead woman’s account before leaving town. Riess was next spotted the following day at an Ocala Hilton hotel, where she used Hutchinson’s identification to check into a room, Lee County officials said. She stayed there the nights of April 6 and 7, according to investigators.  Surveillance footage from inside and outside the hotel showed both Riess and the stolen Acura. According to the News-Press, a white straw hat Riess wore in the footage belonged to Hutchinson.  While in Ocala, Riess is accused of withdrawing another $500 from Hutchinson’s bank account.  From there, Riess is accused of making her way west across the southeastern U.S., making several stops in Louisiana -- including at another casino -- before being seen driving the Acura around Corpus Christi, Texas. She attempted to get $200 from Hutchinson’s account at a gas station, but the effort failed, the News-Press reported.  Riess used her own ID to claim a $1,500 jackpot at a Louisiana casino, the newspaper reported.  Riess remained at large until April 19, when she was arrested on South Padre Island in Texas. Dodge County Sheriff Scott Rose said a man recognized Riess when she walked into a restaurant on the island, located about 25 miles from the Mexican border, and looked at a menu. Riess did not stay to eat at the restaurant, identified as Dirty Al’s Seafood, but the man called police to report the sighting. A South Padre Island police officer and a federal marshal responded to the area and spotted the white Acura that had been stolen from Hutchinson at another nearby restaurant, the Sea Ranch.  Riess was taken into custody as she sat at the bar inside, eating a meal and chatting with fellow patrons. She was subsequently extradited back to Florida to face charges in Hutchinson’s homicide.   Riess was indicted June 6 in the case, according to court records. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in Hutchinson’s slaying. 

Washington Insider

  • Frustrated by opposition on some college campuses to conservative speakers, President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order which threatens to take away federal research grant money from colleges and universities, if those schools don't guarantee First Amendment protections for those who want to speak on campus. 'We're dealing with billions and billions and billions of dollars,' President Trump said in a White House ceremony on Thursday. Flanked by conservative activists who have run afoul of protests at college and university campuses, Mr. Trump made clear that he wants new opportunities for their voices to be heard. 'Universities that want taxpayer dollars should promote free speech,' the President added. 'This order is part of the Trump Administration’s administrative and legislative efforts to support a focus on student outcomes and improve transparency, accountability, and affordability in postsecondary education,' the White House said in a statement. The President had raised this matter earlier in the month, during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference just outside Washington, D.C. It was not immediately clear how the Thursday signing would change the current landscape governing money being sent to schools by the feds, as there are already requirements to uphold the First Amendment. In a morning conference call with reporters, a senior administration official refused to give any hints about how the requirement would be enforced differently going forward. 'I won't get into implementation details,' the official said, repeatedly deflecting questions in a Thursday conference call with reporters about how the plan would work.  'But schools are already supposed to be following these rules,' as the official said 'the goal of the order is to promote free speech more broadly across college campuses.' The plan drew immediate fire from the President's critics. 'President Trump’s concept of free speech is speech that he agrees with, which is, in fact, the antithesis of what the First Amendment seeks to protect,' said Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers union.