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Vox Sentences: Is Trump about to make Paul Ryan “force a giraffe through a keyhole”?

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The House pulled a pair of all-nighters; residents are pulling out of eastern Myanmar; Walter Shaub of the Office of Government Ethics is pulling no punches.

Pssst: Can you already tell you're not going to get enough health care news in today's edition of Vox Sentences? We just launched a daily health care newsletter, VoxCare, edited by Sarah Kliff. Learn more or click here to subscribe for this email address.

This is what Congress looks like on no sleep

Committee headaches CQ-Roll Call via Getty / Tom Williams
  • After a pair of marathon mark-ups, the components of the American Health Care Act (the Republican bill modifying key parts of the Affordable Care Act) have passed the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, respectively. [NYT / Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan]
  • Both mark-ups (especially in Ways and Means, where the committee finally voted to approve the bill at 4:30 am Thursday morning) reached "why don't Democrats try to tax the sun?" levels of legislative punchiness. Vox's Tara Golshan and Jeff Stein were utter heroes who captured the scene — even without the benefit of the 5-Hour Energy shots that Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) had delivered by staff. [Vox / Tara Golshan and Jeff Stein]
  • From here, it's onto the House Budget Committee, and then the Rules Committee (which is responsible for deciding what the debate will look like if and when the bill comes to the House floor). [The Guardian / Ben C. Jacobs]
  • At some point in this process — ideally, you know, before the House Budget Committee has to vote on it — the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its score of the legislation. The CBO's imprimatur (in particular, the possibility of a positive CBO score, indicating that a bill will collect more in revenue than it costs over the next 10 and 20 years) has become an increasingly crucial step in passing legislation (to the point that reverse-engineering a positive score can supersede actual policy considerations). [Reason / Peter Suderman]
  • In the case of the American Health Care Act, however, the CBO score might well be a nasty surprise for the bill's authors. That's partly because the bill was instead reverse-engineered for a different purpose — to make it through the Senate's reconciliation process, which (according to the Senate's Byrd Rule) requires all sections of a bill to be directly related to the federal budget. [National Review / Yuval Levin]
  • Getting a health care bill to fit this definition is, as one member of Congress said, like "getting a giraffe through a keyhole." [Sahil Kapur via Twitter]
  • And it makes it extremely hard for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to negotiate with skeptical Republicans in his chamber, because he can't agree to add anything that would risk a Byrd Rule violation. [Vox / Sarah Kliff]
  • The conservative House Freedom Caucus has found a workaround — not to reconciliation, but to Ryan. They're bringing their complaints to President Donald Trump himself. And Trump doesn't appear to share Ryan's concern (or maybe his awareness) for getting the giraffe through the keyhole. [Huffington Post / Matt Fuller]

Bad signs in eastern Myanmar

AFP via Getty / Nay Myo
  • A long-simmering conflict in Myanmar is heating up again. On Tuesday, rebels from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (members of the Kokang ethnic group) launched an attack on a town in the eastern state of Shan; five civilians, five police officers, and 20 MNDAA members were killed. [NYT / Wai Moe and Mike Ives]
  • The attack accelerated the flight of tens of thousands of people out of the area, to other towns in Shan or across the border to China — which has, according to Chinese officials, taken in more than 20,000 refugees in recent months. [Al Jazeera]
  • The MNDAA is part of a "patchwork" of rebel groups in the east of the country, with whom the government's been embroiled in a long civil war. [BBC / Jonah Fisher]
  • Under current president Aung San Suu Kyi, there's been an attempt at peace; one round of peace talks was held last year, and another is scheduled for next month. But the MNDAA and other groups have been barred from participating in the peace talks. [TIME / Feliz Solomon]
  • The government's relationship with the Kokang (which shares ties with ethnic Chinese) is particularly touchy, since China was a firm backer of the military government that ruled Myanmar as a junta until 2011, and as an elected government until Suu Kyi took over in 2015. [BBC]
  • And the military has hardly faded into the woodwork. Last month, a prominent Muslim human-rights lawyer (and a member of Suu Kyi's party) was assassinated; officials believe that a former military colonel masterminded the assassination. [New Yorker / Hannah Beech]

Remember when President Trump signed an executive order about ethics? That was fun.

AFP via Getty / Mandel Ngan
  • Walter Shaub is back! The head of the Office of Government Ethics — and the foremost critic of the Trump administration remaining within the federal government — wrote a letter to House Ethics Committee leadership Thursday expressing his frustration with the White House's assertion that certain ethics rules simply don't apply to White House employees. [Office of Government Ethics / Walter Shaub]
  • It's the latest development in a back-and-forth over an episode in which White House adviser Kellyanne Conway explicitly told viewers during a TV appearance to buy Ivanka Trump-branded products at Nordstrom — which certainly appears to violate federal laws about executive-branch employees endorsing products. [The Daily Beast / Lachlan Markay]
  • The OGE recommended that Conway be disciplined for the infraction. White House lawyer Stefan Passantino responded, saying she'd been let off with a talking-to — and that, besides, "many" OGE regulations don't apply to people in the Executive Office of the President anyway.
  • (Passantino is one of the 26 lawyers under White House Counsel Don McGahn in the Office of the General Counsel — an office which has been more thoroughly staffed up than it was under Trump's predecessors in office at this point in his administration, even as vast swaths of appointments elsewhere in the executive branch have gone unmade.) [CNN / Jeremy Diamond]
  • Passantino's assertion is not exactly uncharacteristic for an administration that has often taken a dismissive approach to ethics concerns. As president-elect, Trump appeared to endorse the opinion that it was characterologically impossible for the president to have conflicts of interest; during his transition, Trump advisers reportedly canceled an ethics training for White House employees. [CNN / Dan Merica]
The president, presidenting AFP via Getty / Mandel Ngan


  • Doctors who specialize in eyes, or the heart, or kidneys, or most other body parts go to the same medical schools, work in the same hospitals, and use the same insurance system. Doctors who specialize in teeth — dentists — do not. Why? [The Atlantic / Julie Beck]
  • 68 Scarborough St, Hartford, Connecticut, is a group house of eight adults and three children. All 11 enjoy living together. Hartford is trying to evict them all anyway. [Hartford Courant / Vanessa de la Torre]
  • What Donald Trump's "highly successful" Navy SEAL raid felt like for the Yemeni civilians terrorized, or killed, by it. [The Intercept / Iona Craig]
  • The Gaia hypothesis — that Earth can be thought of as an evolving, living organism — was laughed off by scientists when it was first introduced. Was that a mistake? [Nautilus / David Grinspoon]
  • Japan's Snow Canyon is a highway bounded on both sides by snow walls up to 66 feet tall. Here's how it gets plowed. [Atlas Obscura / Justin Nobel]


  • "I can build you a perfectly safe city, but it will look and feel more like a prison.” [Lawfare / Jeh Johnson]
  • "Until I was in fifth grade, I never questioned the fact that other kids could pee at school, and I could not." [BuzzFeed / Christian McMahon]
  • "It is often said of democratic politics that the question voters ask of any leader is: ‘Do I like this person?’ But it seems more likely that the question at the back of their minds is: ‘Would this person like me?’" [London Review of Books / David Runciman]
  • "Without a moment's hesitation, I always reply that Mandarin is the easiest spoken language I have learned and that Chinese is the most difficult written language I have learned." [Language Log / Victor Mair]
  • "In general, I like trees. But here, they are against our theory." [Nikita Zimov to The Atlantic / Ross Andersen]

Watch this: Why all world maps are wrong

Making accurate maps is mathematically impossible. [YouTube / Johnny Harris]