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Trump’s Russia problems multiply; Thursday’s AHCA vote is pushed to Friday; Senate Democrats have some game theory to do.
- On Wednesday night, CNN reported that the FBI has information suggesting that associates of President Trump potentially colluded with Russian operatives to time the release of hacked information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. So … yeah. [CNN / Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, and Jim Sciutto]
- The report came just days after FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his bureau is investigating whether Trump’s associates were involved in Russian attempts to meddle with the US election. That investigation appears to have turned up something. [New York Mag / Margaret Hartmann]
- What's big about the CNN report isn't that it showed Trump associates talking to Russian operatives; there have been reports to that effect for a while. But the new report suggests the FBI has possible evidence of collusion, not just conversation. To be clear: None of this is yet confirmed, and CNN’s sources were all anonymous. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
- One of the associates in question is Roger Stone Jr., a former political consultant and longtime Trump supporter who got his start as a dirty tricks guy for Nixon. [New York Times / Maggie Haberman]
- Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was hired by a Russian billionaire to work on a secret plan to benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin by attempting to influence politics, business, and media coverage both within the US and in other countries. Manafort was reportedly paid $10 million by the billionaire, Oleg Deripaska. And this happened before Manafort signed on with Trump. [Associated Press / Jeff Horwitz, Chad Day]
- Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has concluded that “there is more than circumstantial evidence now” on the question of Russian influence. [Wall Street Journal / Shane Harris]
- The scandal has already led to some resignations, of course. The murky relationship between Russia and Trump’s team is part of why Manafort stepped down from managing Trump’s campaign in August, and it also led to the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — both of whom had suspicious financial dealings with Russian companies and individuals that have only recently come to light. And more people in Trump's orbit could be implicated as the investigation proceeds. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
- But the White House keeps stubbornly denying and deflecting. In a Thursday afternoon presser, White House press secretary Sean Spicer evaded questions about the ongoing investigation by attempting to deflect attention back to an allegation that Hillary Clinton had been leaked primary debate questions in advance by a former CNN analyst. [The Hill / Jonathan Easley]
A vote will either kill the AHCA or make it stronger
- The climactic House vote on the American Health Care Act — the Republicans' first step toward overhauling Obamacare — was supposed to happen Thursday night. It's now happening Friday morning. For sure. [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
- The order for a Friday vote reportedly comes from the White House. Vox's Tara Golshan reports that close Trump ally Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) said the president is done negotiating, and that if the AHCA doesn't pass, America will be stuck with Obamacare.
- That possibility ... looks entirely plausible. For one thing, the bill is very unpopular with the American public. According to a new Quinnipiac poll out Thursday, only 17 percent of respondents approve of the Republican health care bill. That's just astonishingly low. [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
- And making matters worse, a new CBO score came out late Thursday showing that even with the amendments to the AHCA made earlier this week, the number of uninsured Americans would still increase by 24 million — and the deficit would actually be cut by less. [Vox / Tara Golshan]
- Both the poll and the CBO score, however, reflect obsolete versions of the bill. Because — you guessed it — they've just overhauled the bill, again.
- On Thursday night, negotiations between the White House and the the House Freedom Caucus resulted in the announcement of drastic last-minute changes to the AHCA — including removing Obamacare requirements that insurance cover things like emergency services and maternity care. [New York Times / Julie Hirschfeld, Robert Pear, and Thomas Kaplan]
- The 10 “essential” benefits Obamacare introduced, which some Republicans hoped to repeal, are: ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care; mental health and substance abuse services; prescription medications; rehabilitative services; laboratory services; preventative care and chronic disease management; and pediatric services. So … all of medicine, basically. [Vox / Julia Belluz]
- It's not at all clear that the move to deregulate essential health benefits will actually win over the whole Freedom Caucus. As of Thursday afternoon, several members were saying they needed even more healthcare regulations scrapped before they'd vote for the bill. [Business Insider / Bob Bryan]
- And caving to the Freedom Caucus likely won’t win over any moderate Republicans — in fact, members of the "Coverage Caucus" might be even less inclined to vote yes. On Wednesday, the co-chair of the center-right Tuesday Group, Rep. Charlie Dent, said he “cannot support the bill and will oppose it.” On Thursday morning he reaffirmed the bill’s lack of support, saying, “I suspect if you looked at the numbers now, they are probably a little short.” [Politico / Louis Nelson]
- But there isn't any change that would satisfy both the Freedom and Coverage Caucuses. So, instead, the White House is calling the question. And if it fails...well, the good news (for Americans) is that Obamacare isn't collapsing quite as horribly as Republicans appear to believe. [Vox / Matt Yglesias]
To filibuster or not to filibuster?
- The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ended today, and most major papers in the country did not feature coverage of his hearing on their respective front pages, a testament to how uneventful the hearing was. [Washington Post / Callum Borchers]
- But it would be wrong to dismiss the political importance of this hearing, and how Democrats are proceeding from here. Democrats had two choices: They could filibuster Gorsuch, prompting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change the filibuster rule so that it only requires 51 votes to invoke cloture, not 60 — or they could surrender, confirming Gorsuch now and waiting until a liberal or swing judge needs a replacement later on and using the filibuster then, when moderate Republican senators might also be less willing to change the rule. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
- Politico reported late on Wednesday that Senate Democrats were considering offering to confirm Gorsuch in exchange for a vow from Republican Senate leadership that they would not change the filibuster. [Politico / Burgess Everett]
- But on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he planned to vote no on Gorsuch and that Democrats would indeed be using the filibuster to hold up Gorsuch’s confirmation process. [NPR / Nina Totenberg and Brian Naylor]
- If it does happen, the filibuster showdown will not be pretty, but some say it’s the right thing for Senate Democrats to do — after all, Senate Republicans delayed giving Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court vacancy, Merrick Garland, so much as a hearing. [Washington Post / Paul Waldman]
- Not to mention that if Democrats did confirm Gorsuch, it could anger their base, who, vanilla hearing aside, already suspect with good reason that Gorsuch will be an extremely conservative judge — and think that’s why he was selected and why he stayed so quiet all week. [Washington Post / E.J. Dionne Jr.]
- Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis has been mocked as silly and premature for a quarter-century now. But if you actually read it, you'll find the argument holds up quite well. [Aeon / Paul Sagar]
- Hawaii has been a majority-minority multicultural democracy for as long as it's been a state. And so Trump's assault on multicultural values is killing the state Republican Party. [The Outline / Adrianne Jeffries]
- Home-court advantage in the NBA is falling. Is Tinder — which lets players hook up before away games without staying up late at clubs — the cause? [ESPN / Tom Haberstroh]
- On reclaiming Jewish identity during the rise of alt-right anti-Semitism. [Vice / Eve Peyser]
- Why does Hollywood keep adding two-second nods to LGBTQ representation in movies like Power Rangers and Beauty and the Beast, and then acting like they made a blockbuster version of Moonlight? [BuzzFeed / Alison Willmore]
- "Norman Podhoretz is the Donald Trump of American literature and Making It is his Art of the Deal." [New Republic / Jeet Heer]
- "If you don't think that this virtual reality thing isn't going to turn into sex with celebrities, then you're kidding yourself." [Father John Misty to Exclaim / Stephen Carlick]
- "So this is the so-called new stuff. It's nothing I ain't heard before." [Chuck Berry reviewing Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures and Wire's "I Am the Fly," via Riverfront Times / Daniel Hill]
- "Murray treasures his experiences treating an ailing Mother Teresa because they were marked by the selfless altruism of a great philanthropist and humanitarian, a true saint in the flesh: Dr. Conrad Murray." [A.V. Club / Nathan Rabin]
- "Intentionally dialing wrong numbers is a labor-intensive way to find a girlfriend." [NYT / Ellen Barry]
Watch this: From spy to president: the rise of Vladimir Putin
Putin is intent on pushing back against the Western world order ... and it appears to be working. [Vox / Sam Ellis]