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Wake Up To Politics - April 5, 2017

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I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Wednesday, April 5, 2017. 580 days until Election Day 2018. 1,308 days until Election Day 2020.

New Format... You may have noticed I've been experimenting with new formats for Wake Up To Politics. I like this format, as I think it makes the newsletter more readable (especially for mobile) and allows me to cover more news (and there's been a lot lately). What do you think? Drop me a line at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Now, to the news:

No Compromise Emerges from GOP Health Care Talks Republican attempts to craft a new Obamacare repeal bill, two weeks after GOP leaders abandoned their American Health Care Act due to opposition by moderates and conservatives in the party, have yet to produce a compromise.

Vice President Mike Pence has spent much of this week meeting with GOP lawmakers and outside groups to discuss proposals. Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, White House Chief Strategist Stee Bannon, and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney met with conservative and moderate House members in the Capitol basement for two hours Tuesday night, but the two sides could not formalize an agreement.

Pence has been pushing a White House proposal that would allow states to apply to the Department of Health and Human Services for waivers allowing them to opt out of enforcing key Obamacare requirements. These would include the law's "essential health benefits," services that must be covered by insurance companies (including emergency room services, mental health care, and maternity care), and "community rating" provision, which prohibits insurers from boosting premiums for the very sick.

House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) called this compromise, which doesn't repeal or uphold the provisions across the board, "intriguing," but most conservative members are waiting to form a position until a text of the new legislation is available, which was promised last night but has yet to emerge. But Pence has a difficult balance he must strike: many moderate Republicans, potentially enough to sink a revival bill, support the same Obamacare provisions that conservatives revile.

A number of moderates have said that they would still oppose these changes, including Charlie Dent (R-PA), who told reporters: "My position remains the same," he said. "I’m still opposed to the bill in its current form, even with the changes I’ve heard suggested." Dent is co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, the moderate equivalent of the hardline House Freedom Caucus.

Republican leaders have been hesitant to commit to any proposal. "We're throwing around concepts to improve the bill," House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a press conference Tuesday night. "That's occurring right now, but that is not to say that we are ready to go...We're at that conceptual stage."

The failure of the unified Republican government to quickly repeal and replace Obamacare remains an embarrassing blemish on the Trump Administration's record, which is still devoid of any key legislative wins after over 70 days. If the Pence talks could turn around, passing a new health care bill (a major campaign promise of Trump's) would be a significant victory for a President staring down more uphill battles on tax reform, infrastructure, and government funding.

Negotiations are set to continue today; hopes of a vote this week have now been dashed, with the House set to skip town Friday for a two-week Easter break.

Trump Administration Statements on North Korea, Syria Two interesting statements from the Trump Administration on foreign policy today...

After a suspected chemical attack by the Syrian regime killed at least 70 people, President Trump released this statement Tuesday: "Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world. These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution. President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack."

--- The Washington Post's Aaron Blake: "[The statement] is full of sound and fury - at the Obama Administration - and it signifies almost nothing."
--- Politico's Shane Goldmacher: "Blames Obama. Says nothing about what he plans to do about it"
--- NBC's Benjy Sarlin: "Incredible. Trump statement on Syria slams Obama by name and then gives no explanation of current policy."

Also on Tuesday, after reports emerged of a North Korean missile test, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had this to say: "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

--- AFP's Dave Clark: "Tillerson's North Korea statement is 23 words long. None of them condemning anyone."
--- CNN's Chris Cillizza: "23 words of weirdness."

The President's Schedule President Trump sits down today with the second of three foreign leaders he is meeting this week: King Abdullah II of Jordan. Trump and Abdullah will meet one-on-one in the Oval Office, followed by an expanded meeting with their staffs in the Cabinet Room, a joint press conference in the Rose Garden, and a working luncheon in the State Dining Room.

"President Trump and King Abdullah will exchange views on a range of shared interests in the Middle East, including how the United States and Jordan can best defeat ISIS, end the conflict in Syria, and advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians," a White House statement said. "The two leaders will also discuss how to further strengthen cooperation between the United States and Jordan and promote peace and prosperity in the Middle East."

The press conference, set to be held at 1:10pm Eastern Time, will be Trump's first since February 13, according to WUTP research. Per CBS' Mark Knoller, Abdullah is the 12th world leader to be received by President Trump.

Senate Schedule The upper chamber voted 55-44 on Tuesday to proceed to consideration of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, with Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) joining all 51 present Republicans in voting for debate to begin (Georgia's Johnny Isakson was absent).

Sen. Jeff Merkley has been using up much of Tuesday's debate time to launch an hours-long, solo talk-a-thon about Gorsuch on the Senate floor, beginning at 6:46pm Eastern Time last night and continuing as of this publication. Merkley is not technically staging a "talking fillibuster," as he is not blocking the Senate from consideration of the nominee, he is just using up time that the chamber would otherwise be in recess during. Therefore, the Senate is technically still on Tuesday's schedule until Merkley stops or today's session begins at 9:30am.

Debate over Gorsuch is then scheduled to last from 9:30am Eastern Time to 9pm Eastern Time today, with time divided between each party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture on Gorsuch on Tuesday evening, setting up a cloture vote for Thursday. Democrats have enough votes to block Gorsuch from receiving the 60 votes currently needed to surpass the cloture threshold; however, McConnell is set to invoke the "nuclear option" to lower the votes needed for a Supreme Court nominee to advance from 60, a three-fifths majority, to 51, a simple majority.

McConnell will likely take the same steps then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) did in 2013 when he killed the filibuster for all other executive nominees except Supreme Court: changing the Senate "precedent" with a simple majority, instead of changing the rules (which would require 67 votes). The Kentucky Republican indicated Tuesday that all 51 of his fellow Republicans would join him in lowering the thresholv needed to advance a Supreme Court nominee, despite hesitation from GOP senators such as John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), Bob Corker (TN), and Susan Collins (ME).

--- Reality Check: despite the hours of marathon debate (and "nuclear" showdown coming tomorrow), Friday's vote on Gorsuch will almost certainly look exactly like Tuesday's vote on whether the Senate should begin debate (with the addition of Isakson).

House Schedule The lower chamber is scheduled to consider three bills today:

The Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act, a bipartisan bill to speed up the bankruptcy process for financial firms;

The Self-Insurance Protection Act, which prohibits "stop-loss insurance" from being defined as "health insurance coverage" by the federal government. According to the Health Care Administrators Association, "stop-loss insurance" is "purchased by employers who have decided to self-fund their employee benefit plans, but do not want to assume 100% of the liability for losses arising from the plans." As a result, "the insurance company becomes liable for losses that exceed certain limits called deductibles.";

and a bill extending the Veterans Choice Program, the Veterans Affairs Department's program that "provides primary care, inpatient and outpatient specialty care, and mental health care for eligible Veterans when the local U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care facility cannot provide the services due to lack of available specialists, long wait times, [or] extraordinary distance from the Veteran’s home," according to Health Net Federal Services, which manages the program. Veterans Choice was implemented in 2014 amid controversy surrounding wait times at VA hospitals. It was set to expire in August; if this bill is passed, it will last until its funding runs out (nearly $1 billion will be left in its account at its planned expiration date, according to the Associated Press). The Senate has already passed the bipartisan extension measure by voice vote.

Today's Trivia Who staged the longest filibuster of the 21st Century (so far)? Email me (trivia@wakeuptopolitics.com) with your answer; correct respondents get their name in tomorrow's newsletter!

Yesterday's Answer Tuesday's trivia question was: name one of the two other Presidents (besides Donald Trump) who donated their entire salaries.

The answers...John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover, two of our wealthiest Commanders-in-Chief.

GREAT JOB...Marilyn Schapiro, Marlee Millman, Max Nicolais, William Hylen, Matt Neufeld, Ethan Kalishman, Seve Sheffey, and Joe Bookman!