CONGRESS AND SENATE PASS BILL PUTTING NEW SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA
(CNN) The House and Senate reached a deal Saturday to slap Russia with fresh sanctions and give Congress new veto power to block any easing of those sanctions — an agreement that could send a new bill to President Donald Trump’s desk before the end of the month.
House and Senate negotiators announced an agreement was reached Saturday morning for a bill that would include new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
Despite the White House lobbying for changes to the measure, the legislation will give Congress a new ability to block the administration from easing sanctions on Moscow. Democrats and some Republicans have expressed concerns that Trump is considering giving Russia back two compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration in December.
“Given the many transgressions of Russia, and President Trump’s seeming inability to deal with them, a strong sanctions bill such as the one Democrats and Republicans have just agreed to is essential,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “I expect the House and Senate will act on this legislation promptly, on a broad bipartisan basis and send the bill to the President’s desk.”
The House will vote on the bill on Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s schedule, and the Senate is likely to take it up after that, although Senate leaders haven’t said when they will bring it to the floor. Congressional aides say they expect Trump will sign the bill because it will likely pass both chambers with strong, veto-proof majorities.
In a text message to CNN, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he sees the agreement “quite negatively.”
The agreement on the sanctions was the result of an often contentious, month-long back-and-forth between the House and Senate after the Senate passed a bill for new sanctions against Russia and Iran 98 to 2 in June.
The bill faced a so-called blue slip constitutional problem that revenue generating legislation must originate in the House. That was fixed after a negotiation between the two chambers, but then House Democrats objected to another tweak that removed their ability to force a vote to stop the easing of sanctions.
McCarthy then said he wanted to add North Korean sanctions legislation that the House passed in May to the measure, prompting Democrats to accuse Republicans of stalling the bill on behalf of the White House, which was lobbying against the congressional review provision.
Numerous US companies also wanted changes over concerns the bill could inadvertently impact their businesses.
“My preference over the last month had been for the House to take up and adopt the legislation that passed the Senate 98-2; however I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee. “I believe the proposed changes to the bill have helped to clarify the intent of members of Congress as well as express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.”
CNN reported Friday that the deal addressed some of the concerns of US companies while keeping in the congressional review portion, besides making technical changes. To address House Democrats’ complaints, the bill gives any House member the ability to force a vote to disapprove of sanctions if the Senate passes it first.
“The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a statement Saturday. “I look forward to seeing this legislation on the Floor next week, where I’m confident it will receive strong, bipartisan support.”
The bill was also changed to ensure that it didn’t affect a major pipeline used to transport oil from Kazakhstan through Russia to Ukraine as well as a natural gas pipeline that goes between Russia and Germany.
The revised bill also clarifies that American companies cannot do business with already-sanctioned defense interests in Russia, as there were concerns US companies that want to finalize transportation deals could be barred from doing so under the initial bill’s restrictions.
The Affordable Care Act gave health insurance to millions of Americans by shifting resources from the wealthy to the poor and by moving oversight from states to the federal government. The Senate bill introduced Thursday pushes back forcefully on both dimensions.
The bill is aligned with long-held Republican values, advancing states’ rights and paring back growing entitlement programs, while freeing individuals from requirements that they have insurance and emphasizing personal responsibility. Obamacare raised taxes on high earners and the health care industry, and essentially redistributed that income — in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies — to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades.
The draft Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would jettison those taxes while reducing federal funding for the care of low-income Americans. The bill’s largest benefits go to the wealthiest Americans, who have the most comfortable health care arrangements, and its biggest losses fall to poorer Americans who rely on government support. The bill preserves many of the structures of Obamacare, but rejects several of its central goals.
Like a House version of the legislation, the bill would fundamentally change the structure of Medicaid, which provides health insurance to 74 million disabled or poor Americans, including nearly 40 percent of all children. Instead of open-ended payments, the federal government would give states a maximum payment for nearly every individual enrolled in the program. The Senate version of the bill would increase that allotment every year by a formula that is expected to grow substantially more slowly than the average increase in medical costs.
Avik Roy, the president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, and a conservative health care analyst, cheered the bill on Twitter, saying, “If it passes, it’ll be the greatest policy achievement by a G.O.P. Congress in my lifetime.” The bill, he explained in an email, provides a mechanism for poor Americans to move from Medicaid coverage into the private market, a goal he has long championed as a way of equalizing insurance coverage across income groups.
High-income earners would get substantial tax cuts on payroll and investment income. Subsidies for those low-income Americans who buy their own insurance would decline compared with current law. Low-income Americans who currently buy their own insurance would also lose federal help in paying their deductibles and co-payments.
The bill does offer insurance subsidies to poor Americans who live in states that don’t offer them Medicaid coverage, a group without good insurance options under Obamacare. But the high-deductible plans that would become the norm might continue to leave care out of their financial reach even if they do buy insurance.
The battle over resources played into the public debate. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said the bill was needed to “bring help to the families who have been struggling with Obamacare.” In a Facebook post, President Barack Obama, without mentioning the taxes that made his program possible, condemned the Senate bill as “a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.”
In another expression of Republican principles, the bill would make it much easier for states to set their own rules for insurance regulation, a return to the norm before Obamacare.
Under the bill, states would be able to apply for waivers that would let them eliminate consumer protection regulations, like rules that require all health plans to cover a basic package of benefits or that prevent insurance plans from limiting how much care they will cover in a given year.
States could get rid of the online marketplaces that help consumers compare similar health plans, and make a variety of other changes to the health insurance system. The standards for approval are quite permissive. Not every state would choose to eliminate such rules, of course. But several might.
“You can eliminate all those financial protections,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “That would be huge.”
Americans with pre-existing conditions would continue to enjoy protection from discrimination: In contrast with the House health bill, insurers would not be allowed to charge higher prices to customers with a history of illness, even in states that wish to loosen insurance regulations.
But patients with serious illnesses may still face skimpier, less useful coverage. States may waive benefit requirements and allow insurers to charge customers more. Someone seriously ill who buys a plan that does not cover prescription drugs, for example, may not find it very valuable.
There are features that would tend to drive down the sticker price of insurance, a crucial concern of many Republican lawmakers, who have criticized high prices under Obamacare. Plans that cover fewer benefits and come with higher deductibles would cost less than more comprehensive coverage.
But because federal subsidies would also decline, only a fraction of people buying their own insurance would enjoy the benefits of lower prices. Many middle-income Americans would be expected to pay a larger share of their income to purchase health insurance that covers a smaller share of their care.
The bill also includes substantial funds to help protect insurers from losses caused by unusually expensive patients, a measure designed to lure into the market those insurance carriers that have grown skittish by losses in the early years of Obamacare. But it removes a policy dear to the insurance industry — if no one else. Without an individual mandate with penalties for Americans who remain uninsured, healthier customers may choose to opt out of the market until they need medical care, increasing costs for those who stay in.
The reforms are unlikely to drive down out-of-pocket spending, another perennial complaint of the bill’s authors, and a central critique by President Trump of the current system. He often likes to say that Obamacare plans come with deductibles so high that they are unusable. Subsidies under the bill would help middle-income consumers buy insurance that pays 58 percent of the average patient’s medical costs, down from 70 percent under Obamacare; it would also remove a different type of subsidy designed to lower deductibles further for Americans earning less than around $30,000 a year.
Out-of-pocket spending is the top concern of most voters. The insurance they would buy under the bill might seem cheap at first, but it wouldn’t be if they ended up paying more in deductibles.
Mr. McConnell was constrained by political considerations and the peculiar rules of the legislative mechanism that he chose to avoid a Democratic filibuster. Despite those limits, he managed to produce a bill that reflects some bedrock conservative values. But the bill also shows some jagged seams. It may not fix many of Obamacare’s problems — high premiums, high deductibles, declining competition — that he has railed against in promoting the new bill’s passage.
WASHINGTON — The 142-page Senate health care bill released on Thursday is easy to summarize: It cuts health care spending for low-income and middle-income Americans and uses the savings to finance large tax cuts for the wealthy and the medical industry.
How it accomplishes this is simple as well: It makes large cuts to Medicaid and to subsidies for private insurance, meaning large chunks of money that the government would have spent on helping Americans afford coverage, pay for long-term care and reduce their out-of-pocket costs would instead be paid either by states or by the customers themselves.
In this regard, the bill, which is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is broadly similar to the American Health Care Act that passed the House in May. There are some significant differences within that framework, however, especially when it comes to private insurance subsidies.
Let’s go through the main planks of the Senate plan:
Medicaid covers about 70 million Americans, including low-income residents, seniors in nursing homes (over 60 percent of whom are on Medicaid) and people with disabilities.
The Senate bill would restructure the program, cap its spending and reduce its funding significantly over time.
Protester Shares Her Reasons For Opposing Health Care Bill0:57
First, the Senate GOP bill would eliminate a major expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.
The Affordable Care Act gave states federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to people whose incomes were between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty line (the current cap is about $34,000 for a family of four). The Supreme Court later made the funding optional, but 30 states and the District of Columbia accepted it. The Senate bill would gradually end this expansion between 2020 and 2024.
But it would go a lot further than repealing Obamacare’s changes. It would also cap the amount of funding states can get on a per-recipient basis rather than continue the current system, in which states decide how much to spend and then have the federal government match their contribution.
Starting in 2025, the plan would then grow those per-recipient caps at a rate that’s unlikely to keep pace with increasing medical costs. A similar change in the House bill was projected to reduce Medicaid spending by $839 billion over a decade and cover 14 million fewer people. The Senate bill kicks in later, but its cuts would be even deeper than the House plan.
To make up the difference, states would either have to raise taxes, cut programs elsewhere or reduce benefits and coverage for recipients. That prospect has governors, including some Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, nervous that the reduced funding will hamper their ability to respond to health crises like the current opioid epidemic. The bill provides an extra $2 billion next year for substance-abuse treatment, a small number compared to its looming cuts.
But the Medicaid cuts also have small-government conservatives nervous. Congress has a history of passing cuts to services or tax increases and then delaying them down the line. The more time before they kick in, the greater the chance that government control might change hands or public opposition could prompt a reversal.
Private insurance subsidies
When it comes to Obamacare’s subsidies to buy private insurance, the Senate bill keeps the same basic structure, but provides less money for fewer people to purchase insurance that is less generous. These changes would also raise premiums for older people.
Under the current system, people who don’t get health insurance through work or a government program can qualify for help buying a private plan on Obamacare’s exchanges. The maximum amount you’re expected to contribute is capped based on your income.
There are limits, though. If your income is higher than 400 percent of the federal poverty line — about $98,000 for a family of four — you don’t get those subsidies. This is one of the biggest gripes about Obamacare: While most people qualify for aid, those who miss the cutoff have to pay full price, which can be difficult to afford.
The Senate bill would expand this complaint to a wider group. It would cut the subsidies off at 350 percent of the federal poverty line instead, about $86,000 for the same family. On the other hand, it would also cover some lower-income people who currently fall in the “Medicaid gap” in states that didn’t take the federal expansion.
Those who qualify for subsidies could also pay higher premiums. Under current law, no Obamacare recipients are expected to contribute more than 9.5 percent of their income in premiums. But the Senate bill changes this and make the caps more generous for younger customers and less generous for older customers. A 60-year-old making $42,000 would now have to contribute as much as 16 percent of their income to premiums.
In addition, the subsidies would be pegged to less comprehensive insurance. Under the current law, they’re calculated based on a “silver plan” that covers an average of around 70 percent of medical costs. The new bill would peg them to plans that cover only 58 percent of costs. That means higher deductibles, which have also been a major complaint among Obamacare users.
Out-of-pocket expenses would actually go up even higher for many Americans. Obamacare provided “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurers, which they used to lower expenses for customers making up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line (about $61,500 for a family of four). For those at 150 percent of the line, these payments reduced the average deductible from $3,609 to just $255, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But the Senate bill ends those subsidies starting in 2019.
This is still a big difference from the House bill, which would have offered only fixed tax credits. Those credits would have likely fallen far short for many people, especially older, lower-income customers in places with high health care costs, which are often rural areas. Now the subsidies will scale up to meet the costs in their area, even if they fall short of current levels.
In addition to the subsidies, the bill provides significant funding to help stabilize insurance markets in the short-term (which have been jittery, partly due to the health care debate) and a $62 billion fund over eight years to help states potentially cover more expensive patients. But the funding is temporary, making the future uncertain.
The Senate bill does not let insurers deny people coverage based on a pre-existing condition or charge them more based on their health, which keeps two core pieces of Obamacare in place.
However, this doesn’t mean those with pre-existing conditions won’t potentially be affected. The bill does give states flexibility to waive Obamacare’s “essential health benefits,” a list of 10 broad categories of coverage every insurance plan needs.
Republicans argue states should be able to eliminate those requirements in order to lower overall premiums and provide more flexibility to insurers and customers. In the pre-Obamacare era, insurance companies often didn’t cover items like maternity care or mental health treatment, two items that are included in “essential health benefits.”
Some health experts fear that insurers will try to shepherd healthier patients into cheaper plans that cover fewer items, leaving patients with pre-existing conditions struggling to find an affordable option that covers their treatment. So even though insurers will not be able to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, the effect could be to make their care less affordable.
Importantly, items that aren’t considered essential health benefits could be subjected to lifetime or annual limits by insurers, a practice that Obamacare eliminated.
The individual mandate
There would be no individual mandate requiring that people buy insurance, which penalized people who went without coverage.
The goal was to encourage younger and healthier people to enter the market so insurers weren’t left on the hook for only more expensive patients who were more likely to seek coverage. It didn’t work as well as intended, however, and insurers complained that the penalties were too weak and left them with a sicker crop of patients who required them to raise premiums to cover.
Schumer, Pelosi Denounce Senate GOP’s ‘Heartless’ Health Care Bill 1:19
This bill eliminates the penalties entirely, though, and instead counts on healthier people deciding coverage is affordable enough for them to get covered. That could be a problem if they conclude that the new insurance, which could have higher deductibles, is not worth the trouble.
“I just don’t see why people would sign up,” Joe Antos, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told NBC News.
If they don’t come off the sidelines, or if they drop their existing coverage, premiums could rise for everyone as markets become dominated by sicker customers. The Society of Actuaries indicated in a statement on Thursday they would be watching this issue closely.
Unless you were paying a penalty for not carrying insurance, it’s unlikely you’ll notice any change in your taxes as a result of the Senate bill.
For rich people, though, the Senate bill is a nice income boost. It eliminates a surtax on income and investment gains for individuals making over $200,000 a year and married couples making over $250,000 a year. The bill also cuts taxes on health companies like medical device manufacturers and prescription drug companies.
Does it have ‘heart?’
President Donald Trump said recently that the Senate bill should be “something with heart.”
“Heart” is a subjective idea, but Trump laid out very specific standards as a candidate and as president. By those standards, the bill falls short.
Trump explicitly pledged he would make no cuts to Medicaid. Instead, the bill will cut Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars. He promised “insurance for everybody” backed by federal spending: Instead the bill will likely cover millions fewer people than current law. He repeatedly promised lower deductibles: Instead a core feature of the bill pushes customers towards higher deductible plans. He argued his dedication to providing more generous health care distinguished him from conservative Republicans who sought smaller government.
“This bottom line is that this bill will result in a very significant reduction in insurance coverage, as well as large increases in premium and out-of-pocket costs for those who manage to retain coverage,” Matthew Fiedler, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, told NBC News.
Should the bill become law, these will be unambiguous broken promises.
Once again the GOP federal Congress and Senate show their disdain (the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect; contempt) for the poor and the working class American people. The GOP in their healthcare bill they are pushing down the throats of the American people show how much they despise at least the bottom 90% (incomes) of the people. I live in Kentucky so Senator Mitch McConnell is one of my two Senators so I am hoping that the next time he comes up for reelection that the people of this State vote this horses behind out of office. I am a registered voting Independent, I personally can’t stand either the Republican or the Democratic Party leaderships as in my opinion neither have any interest in being honest with the American people.
Even though this next ‘idea’ is not one I invented I have felt this way for many years concerning health care in America. There is only one health plan that should be allowed here in our Country and that is: every single person in America should have exactly the same insurance as the Congressmen, Congresswomen, the U.S. Senators and the President have, exactly the same as theirs. They are supposed to be the servants but they have illegally made themselves into our slave masters. I do not know anything about what their plans are, I do not know if they have to pay anything out of their own pockets for the monthly costs or if they have deductibles but shouldn’t ‘We The People’ be allowed to have at least as good of healthcare as ‘our servants’? For these people to be bringing ‘other’ healthcare bills to the ‘floor’ for a vote is pure and total hypocrisy! Okay, these are just my thoughts on this issue, what are your thoughts on this issue?
The U.S. Senate voted nearly unanimously on Thursday for legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia and force President Donald Trump to get Congress’ approval before easing any existing sanctions on Russia.
In a move that could complicate U.S. President Donald Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow, the Senate backed the measure by 98-2. Republican Senator Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, were the only two “no” votes.
The measure is intended to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for Syria’s government in the six-year-long civil war.
If passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law by Trump, it would put into law sanctions previously established via former President Barack Obama’s executive orders, including some on Russian energy projects. The legislation also allows new sanctions on Russian mining, metals, shipping and railways and targets Russians guilty of conducting cyber attacks or supplying weapons to Syria’s government.
“The legislation sends a very, very strong signal to Russia, the nefarious activities they’ve been involved in,” Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said as lawmakers debated the measure.
If the measure became law, it could complicate relations with some countries in Europe. Germany and Austria said the new punitive measures could expose European companies involved in projects in Russia to fines.
The legislation sets up a review process that would require Trump to get Congress’ approval before taking any action to ease, suspend or lift any sanctions on Russia.
National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017.REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Trump was especially effusive about Russian president Vladimir Putin during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, though his openness to closer ties to Moscow has tempered somewhat, with his administration on the defensive over investigations into Russian meddling in the election.
Putin dismissed the proposed sanctions, saying they reflected an internal political struggle in the United States, and that Washington’s policy of imposing sanctions on Moscow had always been to try to contain Russia.
The bill also includes new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program and other activities not related to the international nuclear agreement reached with the United States and other world powers.
UNCERTAIN PATH IN HOUSE
To become law, the legislation must pass the House of Representatives and be signed by Trump. House aides said they expected the chamber would begin to debate the measure in coming weeks.
However, they could not predict if it would come up for a final vote before lawmakers leave Washington at the end of July for their summer recess.
Senior aides told Reuters they expected some sanctions package would eventually pass, but they expected the measure would be changed in the House. The Trump administration has pushed back against the bill, and his fellow Republicans hold a commanding 238- to 193-seat majority in the chamber.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the legislation on Wednesday, urging Congress to ensure that any sanctions package “allows the president to have the flexibility to adjust sanctions to meet the needs of what is always an evolving diplomatic situation.”
Previously, U.S. energy sanctions had only targeted Russia’s future high-tech energy projects, such as drilling for oil in the Arctic, fracking and offshore drilling. They blocked U.S. companies such as Exxon Mobil, where Tillerson was chairman, from investing in such projects.
The new bill would slap sanctions on companies in other countries looking to invest in those projects in the absence of U.S. companies, a practice known as backfilling.
Also included for the first time are discretionary measures the Trump administration could impose on investments by companies in Western countries on Russia energy export pipelines to Europe.
The Senate also voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to add provisions to the bill allowing the U.S. space agency NASA to continue using Russian-made rocket engines and the 100 senators voted unanimously for an amendment reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance.
(Additional reporting by Tim Gardner; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Brown)
The shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack,” sources tell CNN
Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords
Washington (CNN) Rep. Steve Scalise was shot Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, a House colleague told CNN, in what sources are calling an apparent “deliberate attack.”
The shooting took place at a practice for the GOP congressional baseball team.
Scalise, a member of the House Republican leadership as the majority whip, appeared to have been shot in the hip and it appeared two Capitol Hill police agents were shot, according to Rep. Mo Brooks, who told CNN he was on deck when the shooting occurred.
According to both congressional and law enforcement sources, the shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack.”
Two law enforcement sources told CNN the shooter, who is in police custody, has been taken to a hospital.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who was at the practice, told CNN “it would have been a massacre” had Capitol Police not been present.
“Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police,” Paul said on CNN. “It would have been a massacre without them.”
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake added that he saw a member of Scalise’s security detail return fire on the gunman for what felt like 10 minutes, even though the police officer was wounded in the leg.
“50 (shots) would be an understatement, I’m quite sure,” Flake said when asked about the total amount of gunfire, including police returning fire.
Flake said two members of Scalise’s security detail were wounded, and another man was wounded in the chest.
Once they were able, Flake said he and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who is a physician, went out to where Scalise was lying after dragging himself away from the shooting to apply pressure to the wound. Scalise was coherent the whole time, Flake said.
The President is monitoring the situation, the White House said in a statement.
“The Vice President and I are aware of the shooting incident in Virginia and are monitoring developments closely,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”
Trump subsequently tweeted, “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are safe on Capitol Hill and receiving updates, aides tell CNN. Neither was at the practice.
Brooks said there were a number of congressmen and congressional staffers lying on the ground, and at least one of them was wounded. The Alabama Republican said he used his belt as a tourniquet to help one of the victims.
He said the shooter appeared to be a white male but added that “I saw him for a second or two.” He said the shooter was behind the third base dugout and didn’t say anything.
“The gun was a semiautomatic,” Brooks said, adding that he was sure it was a rifle but unsure what kind. “It continued to fire at different people. You can imagine, all the people on the field scatter.”
Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in January 2011. Giffords was shot in the head by Jared Lee Loughner at a “Congress On Your Corner” event at a Tucson grocery store. Giffords, who authorities said was the main target of the shooting, survived the attack but six others were killed and an additional 12 were injured.
Loughner pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly, Dana Bash, Peter Morris and Noa Yadidi contributed to this report.
(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS AND REUTERS)
AG Jeff Sessions says he can’t recall more meetings with Russian officials before admitting he ‘possibly’ had one
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had “no recollection” of any additional meetings with Russian diplomats during the 2016 presidential campaign, before acknowledging that he “possibly” had one.In testy testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election on Tuesday, Sessions also defended his role in firing FBI Director James Comey while repeatedly refusing to answer questions about his conversations with President Trump.
The attorney general acknowledged that Trump hadn’t evoked “executive privilege” — legalese for an ability to protect private conversations with the President — but still refused to answer any questions from senators regarding his conversations with Trump, including whether he and Trump had discussed the Russia investigation when talking about firing Comey.
Sessions’ repeated dodges and refusals to answer questions led to building frustration from Democrats throughout the hearing.
Sessions refused, however, to offer further explanation for his support in firing the former FBI director even though he’d recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump’s team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.
And he used carefully selected language to give himself an out about a potential unreported third meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., saying only that he did not “have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials” during a Trump event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the campaign.
Later, he muddied up that denial even further.
“I could say that I possibly had a meeting but I still do not recall it,” he said.
“I don’t recall” was his favorite phrase of the day, as Sessions fell back on the pat answer time and again throughout the day.
32 PHOTOSVIEW GALLERY
America watches as Comey testifies
While he was evasive in his answers, Sessions was fiery off the bat in defending his character against what he painted as “scurrilous and false allegations.”
“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” he said.
He claimed that he’d planned to recuse himself from the Russia investigation from the start, even though he had refused to commit to do so during his confirmation hearing, saying he “not aware of a basis to recuse myself,” and made no moves towards recusal until after he’d been caught in a lie about his previous contacts with Russian officials.
“If merely being a supporter of the President during the campaign warranted recusal from involvement in any matter involving him, then most typical presidential appointees would be unable to conduct their duties,” Sessions said in his January confirmation hearing. “I am not aware of a basis to recuse myself from such matters. If a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.”
Sessions even waited days to announce his recusal after the news of his previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador came to light.
The attorney general blamed his false testimony that he hadn’t met with Russian officials, when it turned out he did at least twice, on a misunderstanding of what Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was asking him at the time, though he went much further to declare that he hadn’t met with any Russians when that wasn’t what Franken had asked.
Sessions said he has “confidence” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the FBI probe into Russia. He said that he hadn’t talked to Trump about him after one of Trump’s friends said he was considering firing the special counsel on Monday, but stated he didn’t “think it would be appropriate” to fire Mueller.
While he defended his role in firing Comey and claimed there were performance issues, he repeatedly refused to discuss whether he’d recommended it or if Trump had asked him to come up with a rationale for a decision he’d already made, repeatedly saying he wouldn’t talk about any private conversations with the President.
“I’d come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing,” he said, though he admitted he didn’t discuss any job performance problems with Comey before the firing.
And he said while it “appears” Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he said he’d never asked about it at the DOJ, a stunning disinterest in the attack on democracy.
He returned to a favorite answer when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked him whether he’d confronted Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about Russia’s meddling in the election when they met twice last year: “I don’t recall.”
The Senate parliamentarian has warned Republicans that a key provision in their healthcare reform bill related to abortion is unlikely to be allowed, raising a serious threat to the legislation.
The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has flagged language that would bar people from using new refundable tax credits for private insurance plans that cover abortion, according to Senate sources.
If Republicans are forced to strip the so-called Hyde language from the legislation, which essentially bars federal funds from being used to pay for abortions unless to save the life of a mother or in cases of rape and incest, it may doom the bill.
MacDonough declined to comment for this article.
Unless a workaround can be found, conservative senators and groups that advocate against abortion rights are likely to oppose the legislation.
Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate; they can afford only two defections and still pass the bill, assuming Democrats are united against it. Vice President would break a 50-50 tie.
Normally controversial legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate, but Republicans hope to pass the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill with a simple majority vote under a special budgetary process known as reconciliation.
The catch is that the legislation must pass a six-part test known as the Byrd Rule, and it’s up to the parliamentarian to advise whether legislative provisions meet its requirements.
The toughest requirement states that a provision cannot produce changes in government outlays or revenues that are merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision.
In other words, a provision passed under reconciliation cannot be primarily oriented toward making policy change instead of impacting the budget. Arguably, attaching Hyde language to the refundable tax credits is designed more to shape abortion policy than affect how much money is spent to subsidize healthcare coverage.
The abortion language that conservatives want in the healthcare bill may run afoul of a precedent set in 1995, when then-Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove ruled that an abortion provision affecting a state block grant program failed to meet reconciliation requirements, according to a source briefed on internal Senate discussions.
One GOP source identified the parliamentarian’s objection to the Hyde language along with Republican infighting over how to cap ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion as two of the biggest obstacles to passing a bill.
A Republican senator confirmed that negotiators have wrestled with the procedural obstacle facing the anti-abortion language.
“That has come up and there well could be a challenge,” the lawmaker said.
The lawmaker, however, said that the problem is surmountable, arguing “there are ways around it.”
One possibility would be to change the form of assistance to low-income people by changing it from a refundable tax credit to a subsidy filtered through an already existing government program that restricts abortion services, such as the Federal Employee Health Benefits program or Medicaid.
A second Republican senator said discussions on the topic are ongoing.
GOP negotiators picked up the pace of their discussions with the parliamentarian after the Congressional Budget Office released an updated score for the House-passed bill in late May.
President Trump is pushing the Senate to pass its version of the legislation by July 4.
If GOP leaders are forced to strip the Hyde language from the healthcare bill and cannot find an alternative way to seal off insurance tax credits or subsidies from abortion services, they would lose the support of anti-abortion rights groups, a devastating blow.
“We’ve made it clear in a lot of conversations and some letters that any GOP replacement plan has to be consistent with the principles of the Hyde Amendment,” said David Christensen, vice president of government affairs at Family Research Council, a conservative group that promotes Christian values.
“Abortion is not healthcare and the government should not be subsidizing elective abortion,” he added.
Christensen predicted that activists would be up in arms if abortion services aren’t barred under the bill.
“If the Byrd Rule were to be an obstacle to ensuring the GOP replacement plan in the Senate does not subsidize abortion, that’s something that would be a serious problem for us and the pro-life community,” he said.
Republican senators who are thought to be safe votes to support the GOP leadership’s ObamaCare repeal and replace plan may suddenly shift to undecided or opposed.
“Would that be a deal killer? I’d have to think about it. I’m inclined to think it would [be],” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has jurisdiction over the tax credits in the healthcare bill, acknowledged it could be tough to pass the bill without the anti-abortion language.
“I think a lot of people do think that’s essential,” he said.
Senators went into a recess skeptical over whether they could agree to legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare.
They will return on Monday more doubtful than ever.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) most loyal allies, said Thursday that it’s “unlikely” the GOP will get a healthcare deal.
“I don’t see a comprehensive healthcare plan this year,” he told a local news station.
Senate Republicans hoped to have a draft bill this week, but it now looks like there will at best be an outline.
A Senate Republican aide said it’s too early to begin drafting legislation that can come to the floor in the next few weeks.“Parameters are more likely,” said the aide, who explained that McConnell wants to keep the details held closely so the legislation doesn’t get picked apart before lawmakers have a chance to consider it carefully.
“The last thing we want to do is litigate this in the press,” the aide said. “We want to discuss parameters and concepts without releasing a draft.”
“Maybe they can start talking to members about a specific product next week, but I would not be surprised if we don’t,” said another Senate GOP aide.
More unhelpful news came in the form of a Kaiser Family Foundation poll underscoring how unpopular the bill approved by the House is.
It found that three-quarters of Americans surveyed think the House bill does not fulfill President Trump’s promises on healthcare.
A full 82 percent said federal funding for ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid should be continued, an issue that deeply divides the Senate GOP. The House bill ends the ObamaCare funds in 2020.
Yet another factor for Republicans is Trump’s approval rating, which has fallen to its lowest point with Republicans since he took office in the latest Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll.
Republicans already had sought to lower expectations.
McConnell conceded last week that, “I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment.”
He sounded more optimistic about passing major tax reform legislation, rating its chances as “pretty good.”
Republicans control 52 seats and can afford only two defections from their ranks. Vice President Pence could cast the deciding vote in case of a 50-50 tie.
The Senate GOP hasn’t given up hope on healthcare and faces tremendous pressure from the White House and House Republicans to hold a vote.
Republicans for years have promised to repeal ObamaCare, so failure would be a major blow. They also face pressure to finish their work on healthcare because of the tax reform push.
The GOP is using special budgetary rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering legislation on tax reform and healthcare.
Republicans can’t move to tax reform until the healthcare debate is finished because once they pass a new budget resolution that would allow them to move tax legislation with 51 votes, they will lose the vehicle set up to enable a healthcare bill that would circumvent a Democratic filibuster.
Those on a special 13-member working group have heard very little about the drafting efforts that were supposed to take place over the recess.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) was to provide the framework in consultation with GOP leaders and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
A major sticking point in the Senate is Medicaid. The House bill would cut nearly $900 billion from the program and cap the federal contribution for expanded enrollment in that program by 2020.
Several Republican governors from Medicaid expansion states, led by Govs. John Kasich (Ohio) and Rick Snyder (Mich.), earlier this year came out against the House bill, warning that it failed to provide adequate resources.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he wants a more gradual “glide path” for capping the expansion, an idea not popular with conservatives.
Twenty Republican senators, including Portman, represent states that opted to expand Medicaid, and many of them worry that cutting federal funding will cause significant budget problems at home.
But another group of GOP governors, primarily from states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion, want to end federal support for the expansion.
Senators are divided as well over proposals to limit federal assistance for health insurance subsidies, which would hit older, low-income Americans disproportionately.
McConnell hasn’t set a deadline for passing the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, but he has indicated concern about the debate dragging on for months, which could imperil tax reform.
“We can’t take forever,” he told Bloomberg TV last month.
By raising doubts about the possibility of getting a deal that musters 51 votes, the GOP leader is putting pressure on his colleagues to either come together or move on before the August recess.
McConnell has told colleagues that the 13-member working group will put together a bill and that he will bring it to the floor for a vote, but he has stopped short of promising that it will pass — in contrast to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who earlier this year guaranteed that the House bill would pass.
If the Senate bill fails on the floor, McConnell is likely to declare the GOP conference has worked its will and move on.
Even as the House voted to narrowly pass the House’s American Health Care Act last month, there was already strong pessimism among Senate Republicans about the chances of putting together a comprehensive package in the upper chamber.
A senior GOP senator at the time said the chances of getting 51 votes for legislation based on the House healthcare bill were less than 1 in 5.
When House Republicans debated healthcare reform earlier this year, some of their Senate colleagues said privately that they thought it might be better if the legislation died in the lower chamber.
This blog, trouthtroubles.com is owned, written, and operated by oldpoet56. All articles, posts, and materials found here, except for those that I have pressed here from someone else’s blog for the purpose of showing off their work, are under copyright and this website must be credited if my articles are re-blogged, pressed, or shared.