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Wake Up To Politics - September 19, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It's Tuesday, September 19, 2017. 413 days until Election Day 2018. 1,141 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Can Republicans finally repeal Obamacare?

  • Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have emerged from the dead once again. A last-ditch health care push appears to be gaining momentum in the Senate, as Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) lobby their colleagues for support of a new proposal.
  • The Graham-Cassidy bill would enact a large-scale restructuring of the health care system, taking all federal health care funding that states currently receive under Obamacare (including Medicaid expansion and subsidies to lower costs) and combining them into a "block grant" received annually by each state from 2020 to 2026. The amount each state receives will be decided by a pre-set formula, and can then be used by each individual state to set up its own health care system.
  • The legislation would also eliminate key Obamacare provisions such as protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions and "essential health benefits" requiring insurers cover specific services.
  • "He's the grave robber," Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 Republican in the upper chamber, said of Sen. Cassidy on Monday. "This thing was six feet under and I think he's revived it to the point where there's actually a lot of positive buzz and forward momentum but it still comes down to, in the Senate, getting 50 votes."
  • "We are one vote away from doing this thing," a Republican senator told Politico. Here's a look at the math:
  • There are 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats in the Senate in the Senate.
  • The most recent Obamacare repeal bill ("skinny repeal") failed in July, 49-51. The vote was along party lines, except for three Republicans who voted "nay": Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and John McCain (R-AZ).
  • A bill needs 51 votes to pass, but Republicans only need 50, because Vice President Mike Pence can break a tie. Therefore, the Graham-Cassidy bill will need all 49 Republicans who voted for "skinny repeal," plus one of the July defectors.
  • All three of the "skinny repeal" defectors are undecided on Graham-Cassidy. Here's what they've said recently:
  • Murkowski told reporters on Monday that she continues to study the bill. "I need to figure out how all the numbers work with regards to Alaska," she said. According to an estimate by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimate, Alaska would lose $844 million in federal funding by 2027 under Graham-Cassidy. "We're doing our due diligence and I think that's important," she added.
  • Collins released a statement on Monday saying she has "a number of concerns with the Graham-Cassidy proposal," including "the fundamental changes to the Medicaid program, the effect on premiums for older Americans, and the fact that the bill could allow insurers to charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions."
  • Finally, McCain has criticized the legislation for its failure to comply with "regular order": traditional Senate procedures of debate and redrafting that occur in committees before going to the floor. "I have talked and talked and talked about the need to do regular order. I have amendments that I would like to have votes on," he told reporters Monday. "Am I going to be able to have those, or is [it] going to be an up or down vote? That's not why I came to the Senate, just to give up or down votes." Notably, the bill was endorsed on Monday by Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ); McCain has previously said Ducey will be key to his decision on Graham-Cassidy, as they continue to discuss how the bill will affect their state. "I am not supportive of the bill yet," McCain said Monday.
  • Cassidy and Graham are reportedly waging a "full-court press" behind the scenes, building support inside the Senate Republican Conference rank-and-file and leadership (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has so far said he will only back the bill if it has 50 assured "yeas").
  • Meanwhile, CNN reported this morning that President Donald Trump is attempting to mend fences with GOP senators he has criticized in the past, including Murkowski and Bob Corker (R-TN), as he lobbies them on Graham-Cassidy. Pence has also done outreach with some of these lawmakers, including McCain and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
  • According to Bloomberg, Pence is returning to Washington, D.C. today, cutting his New York trip short to attend the Senate GOP lunch today instead of meetings on the sidelines of the UN.
  • On the House side, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is also urging senators to support Graham-Cassidy. “We want them to pass this, we’re encouraging them to pass this,” Ryan said at a Monday press conference. “It’s our best, last chance of getting repeal and replace done.” House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) also signaled Monday that his group of hardline conservatives would not oppose the measure, predicting that it could pass the House, according to Politico
  • TIME CRUNCH: Where is the window for Republicans to get this done?
  • Monday, September 25: Two Senate committees, Finance and Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, will hold hearings on the Graham-Cassidy proposal, a hint of the return to "regular order" urged by McCain.
  • "Early next week": The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a statement Monday saying that the agency is "aiming to provide a preliminary assessment of the Graham-Cassidy bill by early next week." Many senators are waiting for the CBO score to see the cost of the legislation and its impact on the deficit. However, the CBO said it "will not be able" to provide estimates of the effects on health insurance coverage or premiums "for at least several weeks."
  • Saturday, September 30: The big deadline. According to the Senate parliamentarian, Republican leaders have until September 30 to pass a health care bill using the "reconciliation" process, which blocks the ability of Democrats to filibuster the legislation and ensures only a simple majority (instead of 60 votes) is required for passage. This deadline is the reason why Republicans are suddenly attempting to repeal Obamacare again, after seemingly moving on to tax reform and other items on their agenda.

The President's Schedule: United Nations address

  • President Donald Trump spends another day attending the United Nations General Assembly today. He will depart Trump Tower, where he spent the night, for the United Nations headquarters at 9:25am, arriving at the UN at 9:30am.
  • At 10:30am, President Trump will give an address to the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly. According to the Wall Street Journal, the foreign policy Trump will lay out in his first UN speech will be "rooted in his view of nationalism and sovereignty and anchored by 'America First' principles."
  • Trump will focus on nuclear threats to the United States and other UN member states from Iran and North Korea, calling on other countries to cooperate and share the burden of defense against these rogue states. He will mention "the role countries play in enabling North Korea's regime," WSJ said, "though it wasn’t clear whether Mr. Trump will blame specific nations [such as China or Russia] for keeping Pyongyang’s economy afloat despite global sanctions."
  • According to Bloomberg, Trump will aim to "rally the world to rein in North Korea and Iran’s weapons programs." The President has previously promised North Korea will be met with "fire and fury" if Kim Jong Un attempts to attack the U.S.; new sanctions were imposed on North Korea last week by the United Nations Security Council. Meanwhile, Trump has argued that Iran is violating its 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other global powers. Asked Monday if he planned to withdraw from the deal (which the President can do every 90 days, with October 15 as the next deadline to decide), Trump said: "You'll see very soon. You'll be seeing very soon."
  • The President is also expected to touch on the Venezuelan crisis, as well as reforms to the UN. Trump spoke Monday at a forum on UN reforms, urging the international group to "cut its bloated bureaucracy and fulfill its mission," according to the Associated Press. Trump has also spoken for years about the need for other countries to pay more in UN dues, a topic he broached on Monday and likely will again today, allowing his "American First" ideology to shine through.
  • Asked Monday to preview his speech to the General Assembly, which is anxiously awaited by many foreign leaders unsure of how the new U.S. President will act, Trump told reporters: "I think the main message is, 'Make the United Nations great.'"
  • At 1pm, the President will participate in an expanded meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. At 1:15pm, Trump attends a luncheon hosted by Guterres. At 3pm, he participates in an expanded meeting with Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia, the President of the 72nd General Assembly.
  • At 3:15pm, Trump will head to the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, where many dignitaries are staying during the UN, arriving at 3:20pm.
  • At 4pm, the President participates in an expanded meeting with the Amir of Qatar. At 7pm, he will participate in the formal "family photo" of the attending UN member state leaders. At 8:05pm, President Trump will address a diplomatic reception that he hosts with the First Lady.
  • At 8:20pm, President Trump will depart for Trump Tower, arriving at 8:25pm.

Drip, Drip, Drip

  • New Reports Spell Trouble for Manafort Two new reports dropped Monday night spelling further trouble for ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a top focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russia involvement in the 2016 campaign.
  • "With a Picked Lock and a Threatened Indictment, Mueller's Inquiry Sets a Tone," New York Times: "Paul J. Manafort was in bed early one morning in July when federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files, looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet."
  • "The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation."
  • "US government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman," CNN: "US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe."
  • "The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump."
  • "Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive."
  • "Special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is leading the investigation into Russia's involvement in the election, has been provided details of these communications."
  • Today in the Russia probe President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen testifies meets with the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session today. Cohen, a longtime Trump associate and confidant, has been named in recent reports on ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, due to the revelation that he reached out to the Russian government about building a Trump Tower in Moscow during the Trump presidential campaign.

Today in Congress: Solicitor General confirmation

  • Senate The upper chamber will meet at 10am today. Following Leader remarks, the Senate will continue consideration of the nomination of Noel J. Francisco to be U.S. Solicitor General. At 11am, the Senate will hold a cloture vote on Francisco's nomination, before holding a final confirmation vote at 12:15pm. Upon disposition of the nomination, the Senate will recess until 2:15pm, while each party holds their weekly caucus meeting.
  • Francisco has worked as an attorney in Washington, D.C.for nearly two decades, including stints as a clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia at the Supreme Court and serving in George W. Bush's Justice Department. Since 2005, Francisco has worked at D.C. law firm Jones Day, a firm that has produced many Trump Administration appointees. The Solicitor General is responsible for representing the U.S. federal government before the Supreme Court. Francisco has already argued several cases before "The Nine" while employed at Jones Day.
  • House The House is not in session all week.