I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Thursday, May 4, 2017. 551 days until Election Day 2018. 1,279 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
Today is the National Day of Prayer, an annual holiday formalized by Congress in 1952 and designated as the first Thursday in May in 1988.
House to Vote on Health Care Bill Today President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are confident they can win a victory today as the House votes on the American Health Care Act, the GOP plan to repeal and replace key parts of Obamacare. Today's vote comes after months of uncertainty in Washington on health care; despite being a top GOP campaign promise for the past three election cycles, the party has found it difficult to strike agreement on a replacement to the Affordable Care Act.
The AHCA will be voted on today in its latest incarnation, after Republican leaders have amended it to appease both moderates and conservatives who forced a vote on the bill to be canceled in March at the last minute. "Tomorrow, we begin the end of Obamacare, once and for all," Vice President Mike Pence declared on Wednesday night.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) guaranteed reporters on Wednesday that the bill would succeed, saying: "Do we have the votes? Yes. Will we pass it? Yes." It seemed as though the odds were not in the leadership's favor earlier this week, as moderates began to announce plans to vote "no" due to an amendment allowing states to opt out of Obamacare's protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
The tides turned on Wednesday as Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), an influential ex-committee chairman, introduced an amendment adding $8 billion to the bill to go towards medical costs for those with pre-existing conditions. Upton and Rep. Bill Long (R-MO), who emerged as the two highest-profile "no" votes earlier in the week, crucially announced they would support the AHCA with the addition of the amendment, after meeting in the Oval Office with President Trump. However, many are skeptical that the Upton amendment will do much to help individuals with pre-existing conditions; the addition "would make a bad bill even worse," the AARP said in a statement.
According to a New York Times whip count, 18 House Republicans remain opposed to the AHCA — mostly moderates and members from districts won by Hillary Clinton, as well as one member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. 33 Republicans are publicly undecided on the measure, although in scheduling a vote, Ryan is signaling confidence that enough will break in the bill's favor. He can only afford to lose 22 Republicans, or the bill will fail. Even if the AHCA passes, it will be razor-thin, likely by just a few votes.
Under pressure from the White House, Houses Republicans are rushing the AHCA through Congress, without a score from the Congressional Budget Office that could give a sense of how many people would lose insurance under the bill and how it would affect the federal deficit. If it passes the House today, the AHCA will head to the Senate, where it faces even more of an uphill fight. Conservative senators, such as Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX), are expected to oppose any bill that doesn't fully repeal Obamacare; while moderates like Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) have signaled opposition to Medicaid provisions in the measure.
--- BLAST TO THE PAST: "I don’t think we should pass bills that we haven’t read and don’t know what they cost" — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), speaking about health care reform on MSNBC in July 2009 (h/t Washington Post's Dan Eggen)
CNN's Manu Raju last night, via Twitter: "A number of House members say they haven't seen latest version ofbill that will remake the health care system and will be voted on tomorrow."
Quote of the Day
"I could see two doors and they were both actions. One was labeled speak, the other was labeled conceal...And so I stared at speak and conceal. Speak would be really bad. There's an election in 11 days, Lordy, that would be really bad. Concealing in my view would be catastrophic, not just to the FBI, but well beyond...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." — FBI Director James Comey defends his decision to announce the October re-opening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation at a congressional hearing on Wednesday
The President's Schedule At 10:30am, President Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.
At 10:45am, President Trump meets with Catholic Cardinals and leaders in the Oval Office. At 11am, he will participate in an event to mark National Day of Prayer and sign the "Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty" in the Rose Garden, surrounded by conservative faith leaders. The order is expected to "to ease a ban on political activity by churches and other tax-exempt institutions" and "mandate regulatory relief to religious employers that object to contraception, such as Little Sisters of the Poor," according to Reuters.
The order will not affect the government's stance on guaranteeing services to LGBT individuals, as was previously speculated. In a briefing with reporters, a senior administration official stressed, "This executive order isn't about discrimination," adding that "Anything currently illegal under current law would still be illegal." The bulk of the order directs the IRS to relax enforcement of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law prohibiting tax-exempt religious institutions from endorsing political candidates.
At 1:45pm, President Trump departs the White House for New York City, where he will arrive at JFK Airport at 3pm. This is Trump's first visit to New York as President, which he is making to mark the 75th anniversary of the U.S.-Australian alliance in the Battle of the Coral Sea. At4pm, the President will meet with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia; the two will participate in an expanded bilateral meeting at 4:20pm. At 7:20pm, President Trump and Prime Minister Turnbull will commemorate the battle with remarks at a gala dinner aboard the USS INTREPID Sea, Air and Space Museum.
According to the White House, "The President looks forward to meeting the Prime Minister and to strengthening the enduring bonds, deep friendship, and close alliance between the United States and Australia." This is the first meeting between Trump and Turnbull, although they spoke over the phone just days after the former's Inauguration; it was later reported that Trump hung up on Turnbull amidst discussion of the U.S.' existing promise to accept refugees currently settled in Australia.
Today in the House The lower chamber convenes at 9am. The chamber votes today on passage of the American Health Care Act, as well as a bill ensuring that it applies to members of Congress and their staffs.
Also today: the House Intelligence Committee holds a closed hearing "related to its investigation into Russian active measures during the 2016 election campaign," with two witnesses: FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.
--- RELATED: On Monday, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism in a hearing titled “Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election." The subcommittee also invited former National Security Advisor Susan Rice to appear as a witness; however, CNN reported on Wednesday that Rice had declined to appear.
"It is extremely rare for the Congress to request the testimony of a former senior advisor to the President given the longstanding and well-recognized separation of powers concerns at issue," Rice's lawyer wrote chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in a letter, adding that the request came after the hearing was announced and was not bipartisan. Rice has been a target of Republicans in recent weeks after reports that she "unmasked" Trump transition officials in surveillance reports on their phone calls with foreign leaders, which President Trump said was vindication of his wiretapping accusations against the Obama Administration.
Today in the Senate The upper chamber convenes at 9:30am. Following any Leader remarks, the Senate will continue debate over the omnibus spending bill, which is expected to receive a vote today. If it passes (as expected), the measure will go to the President's desk for his signature. The bill must be enacted by 11:59pm on Friday night to avoid a government shutdown.
The $1.1 trillion bill includes funding for a number of Democratic priorities, as well as for GOP requests such as border security and military spending increases, but does not fund the President's proposed border wall. The compromise package passed the House on Wednesday in a vote of 309-118, with 103 Republicans and 15 Democrats voting "no." The bill will fund the government through September 30; President Trump has already signaled plans to force a showdown over the border wall, tweeting on Tuesday: "Our country needs a good 'shutdown' in September to fix mess!"