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Wednesday
Jun282017

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell warns of possible bipartisanship on health care 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's public warning that Republicans might have to reach across the aisle if they can’t craft a workable health care bill came as an abrupt shift in rhetoric from the past two months, when the Kentucky Republican repeatedly noted that drafting the health care bill was up to the GOP.

After leaving a White House meeting with President Trump and most of the Senate Republican conference, McConnell said Republicans would either "agree and change the status quo" or "have to sit down" with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

McConnell's comments could be read as a threat to his conference to fall in line, an acknowledgement of a possible outcome or something else. A spokesman for the majority leader declined to elaborate on this remark, but based on McConnell's past public statements, it is at the very least a stark deviation from his prior message.

Aides to McConnell pushed back on the notion that McConnell’s publicly mentioning Schumer was new or noticeable, telling ABC News that he "has said that 100 times” and sending a link to a story published Tuesday citing people familiar with his thinking.

But, as of this story’s publication, they had not provided any example of McConnell making this point in public.

Here is a look at some of McConnell's past comments on working with Democrats to pass health care legislation:

May 2 (two days before the House cleared its version of the Republican health care overhaul)

“The two top priorities of the administration of Senate and the House of Republicans are revisions to health care -- repeal and replacing Obamacare -- and comprehensive tax reform. There is a pathway to achieve both of those without Democratic cooperation.”

May 9

“We're in the process of working together to get to at least 50 Republicans, because no Democrats are interested in participating to change the status quo, which is completely unacceptable.”

May 23

“The Democrats are not interested in fixing this problem. They've made it -- they've made it very, very clear -- they have no interest whatsoever in fixing the status quo.”

June 13

“Unfortunately, it will have to be a Republicans-only exercise. But we're working hard to get there.”

June 20

"[Democrats] made it clear earlier they were not interested in participating in this. They have no interest in it whatsoever. We know they don't want to participate in what we're trying to achieve, which is to change Obamacare and make it better.”

June 27

“[Democrats are] not interested in participating in this.”

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Wednesday
Jun282017

McConnell wants revised health care bill by Friday; Holdouts contemplate Plan B

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is hoping to send Senate Republicans home for the Fourth of July recess with a revised version of their health care bill, but it remains unclear whether he can bridge the deep divides over the bill in his own party.

“Senator McConnell’s goal is to finish our work by this week so we can get an estimate from the CBO about the final cost of the bill. Then we’ll be able to vote on it in July,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said.

With at least nine Republican senators still opposed to the bill, having concerns that span the ideological spectrum, it’s unclear which aspects of the draft McConnell can change to get the 50 votes he needs for it to pass.

“That is an existential question,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told ABC News. “And it’s very hard for me to answer existential questions. Right now, there’s still kind of, ‘Can we do it?’ And I can’t answer that. I just can’t.”

“I’m totally optimistic. I think everything’s settled,” said a clearly sarcastic Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Even the senators who have said they would vote "no" -- and whom would presumably be getting the most courting -- don’t know what’s on the negotiating table.

“I don’t know what the leader’s going to come up with this round," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said of McConnell.  "And there are a lot of different interests that he's trying to accommodate."

Who wants what?

Senators who have staked out a relatively moderate position on the bill -- most of whom come from states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act -- are concerned that the bill as written would cause too much harm to recipients in their states.

Still other moderates, such as Collins, oppose the bill’s scrapping of federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Collins told reporters Tuesday that it will take fundamental changes, not just tweaks, to get her on board.

Conservatives such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, on the other hand, want insurers to be able to opt out of covering essential health benefits that are required under Obamacare, such as maternity and mental health care. Cruz has an amendment, which he pitched again during an all-Republicans lunch meeting Wednesday, that would allow insurers to scrap those coverage requirements so long as there is one plan available in each state that is compliant with the Affordable Care Act.

“It expands options for consumers. It expands the freedom of consumers to purchase more affordable plans. And I would note that there are a host of other plans we have discussed,” Cruz explained.

Other conservatives, such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, are fixated on scrapping the tax credits to help consumers pay for insurance, which is a fundamental part of both the House and Senate plans. It’s the sort of major structural change that faces tough odds to make it into the final bill.

New bill, new score

Even if Republicans can come up with a new version by the end of the week, it will still have to be re-scored by the Congressional Budget Office, which could take several days at least. It’s also possible many senators could reserve judgment until they see a revised score.

“The leader said he wants the talks to continue throughout the week. I'm sure we'll be having lots of back and forth with CBO in the coming weeks,” a spokesman for McConnell said.

“He's going to try to come up with something, and we're close enough that we can do that -- maybe even an agreement,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said. “But it would not be any good because then we have to get a re-scoring of it, and that's where the additional 10 days come in.”

Plan B(ipartisan)

If Senate Republicans can’t get something done this week, some members suggest it may be time for Plan B.

One option might be to do a more piecemeal bill that offers insurance companies some reassurance that the market isn't going to be on a roller coaster ride for the next few years as Congress continues to sort out these existential questions.

“You gotta do something sooner or later because people are losing access to insurance,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who wasn't against or even citing concerns about the original Senate draft.

Even Rand Paul has suggested that leadership break the Republican bill into pieces, so moderates could work with Democrats on some areas, such as market stabilization, and conservatives on others.

“I’ll vote for a more narrowly structured repeal bill -- and the big-government items the moderates want, they can still get ’em. They can put it in a bill that the Democrats love,” Paul said.

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Wednesday
Jun282017

How the White House plans to implement its limited travel ban

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The president’s limited travel ban could go into effect as early as Thursday morning, 72 hours after the Supreme Court ruling.

The Department of Homeland Security and State Department are operating under that 72-hour window and aiming to implement the limited ban on Thursday. There are no plans to delay implementation.

Lawyers from the Justice, State and Homeland Security departments are still working to define "bona fide relationship" and make sure the implementation of the order will be in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court said the ban could go forward with an exception for people who have "any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

When President Trump signed his first executive order restricting travel, there was widespread confusion over who was permitted to enter the country. Visa-holders at airports were detained, d immigration lawyers scrambled to get them released and admitted into the country. None of this is expected to happen on Thursday.

Part of the reason is that anyone from one of the six countries who has already been issued a visa will be allowed to enter, according to a State Department official. No visas have been canceled by the ruling, and any refugee who is scheduled to be resettled before July 6 will be allowed to enter.

Homeland Security will also work with its components --primarily Customs and Border Protection, which screens travelers and inspects travel documents, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which has a part in refugee screening -- on processes and procedures for implementation, according to a DHS official.

No visa interviews have been canceled either. That means that until Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET, the State Department could even grant new visas to individuals in the six countries without asking them to prove a “bona fide relationship."

After the 72-hour window closes, consular officers granting visas for the six countries will then begin asking applicants to prove a “bona fide relationship.” For refugees scheduled for resettlement after July 6, the State Department is still determining what will happen.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday, “We want travelers or prospective travelers to know exactly what they may or may not be facing, so we’ll get that information out.”

While the White House may avoid the airport turmoil from January, there will likely still be legal disarray, with lawsuits about that key term and questions about how far along a family tree it extends.

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Wednesday
Jun282017

Senate Republicans ask FBI for Russia investigation surveillance warrants

Drew Angerer(WASHINGTON) -- Top Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked the FBI and Department of Justice for copies of any surveillance requests made as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked top law enforcement officials for any drafts or completed surveillance requests submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for approval, and any response from the court, which is tasked with reviewing government requests to spy on suspected foreign agents.

The request, sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, cited two January reports from the Guardian and BBC that the FBI had applied for warrants from the court.

The committee, which has oversight of the Department of Justice, has asked for the materials by July 11th.

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Wednesday
Jun282017

Trump lawyers postpone filing complaint over Comey leak

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump’s personal lawyers are postponing filing complaints with the Department of Justice and Senate Judiciary Committee related to former FBI Director Jim Comey’s admission that he leaked details of his conversations with the president to reporters.

A person familiar with the matter told ABC News the legal team’s decision was made so that special counsel Robert Mueller would have space to continue his investigation into Russian election meddling -- which has reportedly expanded to include whether Trump obstructed justice -- without the interference or distraction such complaints could create.

In his June 8 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey explained how he shared the details of memos describing his discussions with Trump with a friend, who then passed along the information to The New York Times.

Though Trump's lawyers are backing away from a complaint now, they expect to act upon it at a later date.

“The complaint to the [Justice Department Inspector General] and the submission to Senate Judiciary regarding Mr. Comey’s public testimony will go forward at the appropriate time,” the source said.

ABC News first reported on lead attorney Marc Kasowitz's threat to file a complaint on June 9, the day after Comey’s testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Comey revealed to lawmakers at the time that he shared the memos with the hope that the action would lead to the appointment of a special counsel.

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Wednesday
Jun282017

Source: FBI interviews employees of Russian software firm raising security concerns in US

Jupiter Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Pressing ahead with a long-running investigation of a Russian software company whose products are used widely across the United States, the FBI on Tuesday interviewed several employees of the firm, Kaspersky Lab, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News.

As ABC News was first to report more than a month ago, based on sources familiar with the investigation, the FBI has recently been taking new steps to assess Kaspersky Lab’s relationship with Russian intelligence services.

Current and former U.S. officials worry that state-sponsored hackers could try to exploit Kaspersky Lab’s anti-virus software to steal and manipulate users’ files, read private emails or attack critical infrastructure in the United States -- and they point to Kaspersky Lab executives with previous ties to Russian intelligence and military agencies.

For years, such concerns have been communicated only behind closed doors and in secret memos. In February, the Department of Homeland Security issued a secret report on the matter to other government agencies. And two months ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a secret memorandum to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, demanding that they address “this important national security issue.”

But the issue was brought into public view in recent months by key members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who began asking questions about Kaspersky Lab during open hearings on worldwide threats.

Just two weeks ago, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., proposed legislation that would impose substantial sanctions on Kaspersky Lab and its employees, including freezing its business inside the United States and blocking Kaspersky Lab's foreign employees from even entering the country. That proposal didn't move forward.

Speaking about Kaspersky Lab during a Senate hearing weeks earlier, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said: “We are very much concerned about this, very much concerned about the security of our country."

The company has repeatedly insisted it poses no threat to U.S. customers and would never allow itself to be used as a tool of the Russian government.

"As a private company, Kaspersky Lab has no ties to any government, and the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts,” Kaspersky Lab said in a statement issued after the first ABC News report. "The company has a 20-year history in the IT security industry of always abiding by the highest ethical business practices, and Kaspersky Lab believes it is completely unacceptable that the company is being unjustly accused without any hard evidence to back up these false allegations.

"Kaspersky Lab is available to assist all concerned government organizations with any ongoing investigations, and the company ardently believes a deeper examination of Kaspersky Lab will confirm that these allegations are unfounded," the statement added.

In fact, the FBI and other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community have yet to publicly present any evidence connecting company executives with Russian security services.

"For 20 years, Kaspersky Lab has been focused on protecting people and organizations from cyberthreats, and its headquarters' location doesn't change that mission," Kaspersky Lab said in its statement.

In an interview with ABC News, Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky said, "My response, if I’m asked to spy on anyone coming from any state, any government -- not only Russian -- will be definite 'no.' "

Products from Kaspersky Lab are embedded in homes, businesses and government systems throughout the United States.

An ABC News investigation found that, largely through outside vendors, Kaspersky Lab software has been procured by such federal agencies as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and even some segments of the Department of Defense.

Kaspersky Lab is world-renowned for its anti-virus software and its analysis of new and emerging threats. On Tuesday -- the same day some of its employees were being interviewed by FBI agents -- Kaspersky Lab was cited in news accounts around the world for its take on a "ransomware" attack spreading around the globe.

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Wednesday
Jun282017

Growing group of senators oppose health care bill

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A growing number of Republicans are speaking out against the now-delayed Senate health care bill.

The bill already had more than enough opponents to stop a procedural vote from happening. But more Republican senators have publicly sided against the bill after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell postponed a vote until after the Fourth of July recess.

Nine senators are opposed to it (up from five) and two more have expressed serious concerns. Twenty-four senators said they are still reviewing the bill while 17 said they are either in favor of the bill or leaning that way. The Democrats in the Senate are united against the bill.

Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., both released statements after the delay was announced saying they will not support the current draft of the legislation.

And Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said in a statement: “The Senate health care bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support.”

Earlier, holdout Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Tuesday that she may still vote against the bill even if parts of it are amended in the coming weeks.

"It’s difficult for me to see how any tinkering is going to satisfy my fundamental and deep concerns about the impact of the bill," Collins said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Jun282017

Fact check: The Senate health care bill's effect on Medicaid

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway insisted this week that the Senate GOP health care bill does not include cuts to Medicaid.

Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the health care proposal would not cause Medicaid recipients to lose their health coverage. The government "would not allow individuals to fall through the cracks," he noted. "We would not pull the rug out from under anybody.”

President Donald Trump promised during his campaign that he would not touch Medicaid, the federal health care program for lower-income Americans. This group includes expected mothers, children, seniors and disabled individuals.

But does the Senate Republican health care bill actually cut Medicaid funding and coverage?

While the estimated government spending on Medicaid would increase under the Senate health care bill gradually over time, it will spend less each year on the program than what the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, currently allots.

If Obamacare remains intact, the government would spend an estimated $415 billion next year on Medicaid, and $624 billion by the year 2026, according to the review of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

If the Senate bill is passed and goes into effect in 2018, the government would spend an estimated $403 billion on Medicaid that fiscal year. That number increases to $466 billion by the year 2026, according to the CBO.

The CBO also estimated that federal spending on Medicaid from now until 2026 would be $772 billion less than what is projected to be spent under the current law. The Senate bill, however, leads to more government spending on Medicaid in that amount of time than the House GOP bill.

The CBO's latest analysis was done using its March 2016 baseline.

States that opted into Medicaid expansion under the ACA by March 2017 would see government funding reduced starting in 2021.

The bill phases out funding at a lower rate for Medicaid expansion under Obamacare by 2024.

In 2021 under the ACA, states would receive 90 percent matching rate for states that opted into Medicaid expansion, but the Senate bill will chip it down to 85 percent. The Senate bill drops the federal matching rate by five percentage points each year until 2024. After 2024, Medicaid funding to states will be at the regular rate and could be cut further due to changes in how rate increases and payments to states are calculated. At that point, with reduced funds and little enrollment presumably, states’ governors may choose to forgo Medicaid expansion.

If the current version of the Senate GOP bill becomes law, states can choose whether to receive funds by a per capita cap, determined by the number of people enrolled, or a block grant.

The CBO report makes one thing clear: the amount of federal revenues collected and the amount of spending on Medicaid “would almost surely both be lower than under current law," and the number of uninsured people under the Senate health care bill “would almost surely be greater than under current law.”

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Tuesday
Jun272017

Vote on Senate health care bill delayed amid lack of support

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican senators he is delaying a vote on the GOP health care bill until after the Fourth of July recess because he does not have the votes to move it to debate, two senior Senate Republican aides told ABC News.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell formally confirmed the delay, saying, "We're going to continue the discussions within our conference on the differences that we have."

Sen. John Thune, R-Neb., stressed that the goal was to still replace Obamacare.

"While the schedule may have slipped a little bit, we are intent on rescuing Americans from a failed systems that has driven up their cost and made it more difficult for them to find coverage," Thune said.

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told ABC News: "I expect to have the support and get it done ... and yes, we will vote this week."

At least five Republican senators said they had opposed the procedural vote on the GOP health care plan, effectively blocking the bill from reaching the Senate floor.

In order to pass the health care bill through the Senate, Republicans can afford only two defections; in case of a tie, they have the option of calling in Vice President Mike Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Before the delay was announced, Republicans senators were invited to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump.

"The president invited us to come down," McConnell said at a news conference this afternoon. "The White House has been very much involved in these discussions. They're very anxious to help, and we appreciate the invitation, and I hope all of our members will head down."


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Tuesday
Jun272017

Pro-Trump PAC pulls attack ad against GOP senator who opposes Senate health bill 

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A political action committee for President Trump has pulled an attack advertisement against a member of the president's own party, Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, over his opposition to the Senate health care bill.

America First Policies PAC released the ad Tuesday, making it the first pro-Trump organization to publicly attack a Republican officeholder.

The advertisement asked viewers to call Sen. Heller and tell him to “keep his promise” and “vote yes to repeal and replace Obamacare.” The ad also says that a down vote by the senator would pose an obstacle to his own party and the Trump administration who it says finally have a “real chance to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Erin Montgomery, the communications director at America First Policies, said in a statement Tuesday night the PAC was "pleased" that Heller "has decided to come back to the table to negotiate with his colleagues on the Senate bill."

"We have pulled the ads we released earlier today in Nevada, and we remain hopeful that Senator Heller and his colleagues can agree on what the American people already know: that repealing and replacing Obamacare must happen for America to move forward and be great again," the statement said.

The ad was released four days after Heller on Friday announced he could not support the Senate health care bill in its current form, which he said “takes away insurance from tens of millions of Americans.”

America First Policies was formed days following President Trump’s inauguration with the intention of supporting his agenda. It had planned was to release the advertisement on television and radio in Nevada in advance of the Senate vote on the health care bill that was expected this week and to conduct additional ad campaigns in 18 other states in support of the legislation.

The Senate vote was postponed Tuesday amid a lack of sufficient support for the bill.

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