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Vox Sentences: Trump is pretty sure he’s got this whole Middle East peace thing in the bag

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dylan Matthews, Naomi Shavin, and Dara Lind. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

The GOP and its latest slapdash health care bill; President Trump’s meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas; James B. Comey’s testimony.


GOP: If at first you don’t succeed, do exactly the same thing again

House Speaker Paul Ryan And GOP Leadership Speak To Press After Weekly Conference Meeting Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • This will sound familiar, per Vox’s Sarah Kliff: “House Republicans are hurtling toward a vote on a bill that is disliked by most Americans, opposed by nearly every major health care group, and not yet scored by the Congressional Budget Office.” [Vox / Sarah Kliff]
  • No, that is not news from March, when House Republicans introduced a health care bill called the American Health Care Act, planned to vote on it under similar circumstances, but then pulled it from the floor without a vote less than three weeks later. [Vox / Sarah Kliff]
  • It’s news from today — Wednesday, May 3 — because House Republicans are hurriedly planning a vote on a revamped version of the AHCA for Thursday (that’s tomorrow). [Vox / Dylan Scott]
  • They can only afford to lose 23 Republican votes, and right now roughly 18 centrist Republicans are looking like a definite “no.” [Huffington Post / Matt Fuller]
  • Why rush into a vote under such inauspicious circumstances? Budget reconciliation. Budget rules determine whether a vote needs a simple majority of 51 votes to pass the Senate, or whether it needs 60 votes. Republicans will never get 60 votes to repeal Obamacare as long as they have fewer than 60 Republican senators (they currently have 52), so the best they can hope for is to pass a bill through the Senate on only 51 votes. But certain interpretations of those rules suggest that if they want to qualify for a 51-vote health care bill, they have to pass it before moving on to tax reform and passing a new budget (both of which they’d like to do this year). [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • It’s clearly a ... risky ... strategy. Even last week, when Republicans considered bringing the bill to the floor to squeak through a vote within President Trump’s first 100 days, they abandoned the effort because they didn’t have the votes they’d need for it to pass. [New York Times / Thomas Kaplan, Robert Pear]
  • So here we are, with Republican lawmakers attempting to make desperate last-minute concessions to win over undecided colleagues. The latest: throwing an additional $8 billion at a program to fund “high-risk pools” (bringing funding for that to almost $115 billion). The idea here is to (essentially) subsidize health insurance for the most expensive patients, while taking them out of the pools of healthy individuals — which would, in turn, bring down the cost of insurance for those healthy people in the low-risk pools. [Vox / Sarah Kliff]
  • As of Wednesday evening, Trump has reportedly been “furiously working the phones” to try to get Republicans to unite behind this new bill. And it appears to be working — whip counts suggest they’re closer than they were in the past. The question is whether they’re close enough. [Vox / Dylan Scott​]

Another day, another vague peacemaking promise from Trump

President Trump Welcomes Palestinian President Abbas To White House Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
  • Today President Trump met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, one of the negotiators present for the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, which built the foundation for seeking lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. During a joint press conference, Trump promised to bring peace to the region, what he called “the toughest deal,” and Abbas expressed optimism — but no concrete set of goals or an agreement of any kind was presented. [New York Times / Peter Baker]
  • Trump did, however, make it sound like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was looped in on the conversations. “We've spoken to Netanyahu and to many Israeli leaders; we'll start a process which hopefully will lead to peace,” he said. [Haaretz / Amir Tibon]
  • The point person in the Trump administration to solve the famously intractable problem of peace in the Middle East: Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. And while the conflict does center on, ahem, real estate, there is absolutely no reason to think Kushner will have a better shot at resolving it than the Obama administration’s point people (all of whom had much more foreign policy experience) did. Kushner is not only shockingly inexperienced but also has a relationship with Israel’s prime minister that dates back to his high school days, when Netanyahu was a friend of his parents’ and even stayed at Kushner’s home in New Jersey. [New York Times / Jodi Kantor]
  • But it’s not even clear that a more qualified version of Kushner could negotiate peace in 2017. As Aaron David Miller argues for CNN, “timing is everything,” and neither party, Israeli or Palestinians, seems inclined to make a deal right now. [CNN / Aaron David Miller]
  • As Washington Institute for Near East Policy counselor Dennis A. Ross told the Washington Post, “You can’t solve the conflict right now. The gaps between the Israelis and Palestinians are too wide. We are at the lowest ebb in Israeli-Palestinian perceptions of each other since I’ve been working on this.” [Washington Post / John Wagner, Ashley Parker]
  • There are plenty of fine disagreements, but for starters: The two countries don’t agree on what, in a two-state solution, the borders of each state would be. On Wednesday, Abbas restated his commitment to the borders that were in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (which is not exactly a principle Netanyahu’s government has ever come anywhere near embracing). [New York Times / Peter Baker]
  • In the meantime, Israelis and Palestinians continue with a violent coexistence. As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp writes succinctly: “Israel has put the Palestinians under suffocating military occupation, and Palestinian militant groups terrorize Israelis.” [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Making matters worse for conflict-weary Israelis and their neighbors, Israel’s ongoing struggle with Hezbollah, a terrorist organization based in Lebanon, seems to be pulling in Syria as of late. Israel is suspected of carrying out a strike last week on warehouses near Damascus’s airport — which was reportedly intended to wipe out weapons bound for Hezbollah. [New York Times / Ian Fisher​]

No one man should have all that power

FBI Director Comey Testifies At Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images
  • On Wednesday, FBI Director James B. Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his announcement, days before the 2016 presidential election, that the FBI was reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. The investigation ultimately did not turn up anything of note — and many say it cost Clinton the election. [New York Times / Adam Goldman]
  • On Wednesday, Comey justified his decision: “Having repeatedly told this Congress we're done and there's nothing there, there's no case there, there's no case there, to restart in a hugely significant way, potentially finding the emails that would reflect on her intent from the beginning and not speak about it would require an act of concealment in my view.” [CNN / Tom LoBianco, Manu Raju, Mary Kay Mallonee]
  • The bottom line: Even if his decision swayed the election, he’d do it again. “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn't change the decision.” [NPR / Brian Naylor]
  • Comey has been justifying his decision for months. What’s interesting here is his apparent nonchalance — or at least less-chalance than one might expect from someone weighing the possibility that he singlehandedly caused the election of Donald J. Trump. [New York Times / Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau]
  • Comey’s decision definitely impacted the election; the question is how much. One example: Looking at absentee votes versus Election Day votes for both Clinton and Obama suggest that leading up the election, Clinton was performing nearly as well as Obama did. Then on Election Day, following Comey’s actions, her support plummeted, a phenomenon that could help explain why she lost Florida, for instance, where she had won the early vote with 56.3 percent. [Vox / Sean McElwee, Matt McDermott, Will Jordan]
  • As absurd as it might seem to relitigate a past election, Democrats have to grapple with the question of Comey’s influence to decide how much responsibility they bear for their own defeat. As Democrats conduct an autopsy on the election and grasp for a way forward, they need to understand how they managed to lose so badly and so surprisingly — and what role years of party stagnation might have played in creating the circumstances that led to Clinton’s defeat. [Politico Magazine / Edward-Isaac Dovere]
  • Hillary Clinton, for her part, says she takes responsibility ... but seems to blame Comey more than anyone. Just yesterday, she spoke at a Women for Women International event in New York and told moderator Christiane Amanpour, “If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president.” [Washington Post / Philip Rucker]
  • But as Vox’s Jeff Stein points out (in his review of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed 2016 Campaign), there are two theories of how Clinton lost that aren’t so simple as “James B. Comey.” The first is that her campaign failed her; the second is that she failed as a candidate. Stein writes of the latter argument, “It is in uncovering proof of this second thesis where the book is both most persuasive and most arresting — and where its lessons for the Democratic Party are the most salient.” [Vox / Jeff Stein]
  • A fourth theory emerged this week after leading Democratic pollsters shared new post-election findings with the Washington Post. As Greg Sargent writes, “A shockingly large percentage of these Obama-Trump voters said Democrats’ economic policies will favor the wealthy — twice the percentage that said the same about Trump.” So a broader messaging failure on the part of Democrats does seem to be at play. [Washington Post / Greg Sargent]
  • Realistically, the answer lies somewhere in the center of these poles. A stronger candidate who did a better job selling the Democratic Party’s vision might have weathered the last-minute Comey revelation better. We’ll never know definitively. To get a big-picture understanding of the election, you can’t dismiss any of these factors — including the role Comey played. [New York Times / Amy Chozick​]

Miscellaneous

  • St. Louis is the chess capital of America. But, like, why? [The Economist]
  • How Bing definitively beat Google — at least when it comes to looking for porn. [Daily Dot / E.J. Dickson]
  • High school is different these days. The teens now celebrate Meme Day. [NY Mag / Madison Malone Kircher]
  • The mayor of Boston and governor of Massachusetts condemned racist taunts at a Red Sox game, saying they do "not reflect the city, who we are as Boston." The problem is that they do. They reflect what Boston is, very deeply. [Boston Globe / Renée Graham]
  • Last year, 11,717 people in Mississippi applied for cash welfare benefits under TANF, which in that state provide a maximum of $2,040 a year for a family of three. Only 167 were accepted, for an acceptance rate of 1.42 percent. For all intents and purposes, the state has abolished welfare. [ThinkProgress / Bryce Covert and Josh Israel]

Verbatim

  • “I do not approve of shooting people in the scrotum, but even I must admit this story is kind of rad.” [The Atlantic / Graeme Wood]
  • "Greg Gutfeld … delivers every rant as if the maid who spun straw into gold just guessed his true name. … The Five often feels like the last hour of an office holiday party that will yield a chagrined memo from human resources." [NYT / James Poniewozik]
  • “Without knocking the absolute value of a free and courageous press, there is reason to wonder if fact-checking the President will ever be as useful as we think it should be.” [New Yorker / Jia Tolentino]
  • “‘What’s the biggest financial mistake you’ve made?’ ‘Signing a publishing deal years ago and asking them to throw in a piano. I thought they were gifting me a piano, when in fact I was just paying for the piano.’” [Rufus Wainwright to Bloomberg / Jada Yuan]
  • “Harmony is a prototype, a robotic version of the company’s hyper-realistic silicone sex toy, the RealDoll. … Harmony smiles, blinks and frowns. She can hold a conversation, tell jokes and quote Shakespeare. She’ll remember your birthday, McMullen told me, what you like to eat, and the names of your brothers and sisters. She can hold a conversation about music, movies and books. And of course, Harmony will have sex with you whenever you want." [The Guardian / Jenny Kleeman]

Watch this: Why your old phones collect in a junk drawer of sadness

Smartphones shouldn’t be so disposable. Could fixing the way we make our phones help solve climate change? [University of California, Vox]


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