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5 changes McConnell can make to get repeal bill on track

Mitch McConnell has little margin for error as he tries to salvage the Senate’s Obamacare repeal effort over the July 4 break.

The majority leader has to craft a compromise that tears down enough of Obamacare to satisfy the party’s conservative wing, while also ensuring the health benefits are generous enough to keep skeptical moderates in line. He can only lose two of the 52 Republican votes, and use Vice President Mike Pence as a tie-breaker.

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Here are the five items on McConnell’s menu:

The Medicaid mess

The Senate health care bill would gut the safety net program, rolling back Obamacare’s expanded coverage and slashing its funding by $772 billion over a decade. And that’s perhaps the main obstacle facing McConnell as he tries to win over a crucial bloc of moderate GOP senators.

Republican leaders may try to soften the blow to Medicaid to win over several holdouts by considering lengthening the phase-out of generous funding for Medicaid expansion and easing the cap on the whole program’s funding. Senate Republicans hailing from expansion states — like vulnerable Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and key swing vote Rob Portman — have pushed for as long as a seven-year phase-down, far longer than the bill’s current three-year track.

McConnell may also float the potential for excluding certain groups from the program’s funding limits, in a bid to maintain coverage for some of the neediest Americans and relieve the financial burden on cash-strapped states.

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But changes along those lines would put GOP leaders at risk of losing key conservatives who see Medicaid spending as out of control. Sen. Pat Toomey has led the charge to end the program’s entitlement status, with support from several other senators eager to limit Medicaid’s reach.

“Medicaid was initially set up to help the poor, women, children and the disabled,” Sen. John Barrasso said. “It has been taken in a direction way different than that."

The battle over Obamacare's subsidies

McConnell is also likely to weigh making the Senate bill’s tax credits more generous to alleviate concerns that poorer and older people wouldn’t get enough aid to purchase insurance on the individual market.

The current bill scales back those subsidies and cuts off eligibility at 350 percent of the federal poverty line, compared with Obamacare’s 400-percent threshold. The restructuring disproportionately benefits younger and healthier enrollees, the Congressional Budget Office projected Monday, raising concerns that older and poorer patients would be forced to pay significantly more for health care, or go without.

But Republican leaders can easily dial those subsidies back up if they are key to winning over swing votes like Sens. Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski.

“I’m very concerned about the impact on premiums generally, particularly for that very vulnerable group between age 50 and 64,” Collins said.

What may

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Inside the GOP’s surprise health care flop

Senate Republicans had no inkling of what they were walking into on Tuesday afternoon as they filed into the Mike Mansfield room on the Capitol’s second floor.

Mitch McConnell’s 51 colleagues, from his most junior members to his closest lieutenants, fully expected the Senate to vote this week on the Senate GOP’s wounded Obamacare repeal bill. They knew the whip count was far worse than advertised but were ready for McConnell to either admit defeat or start a furious round of deal-making to try to win their support. They took McConnell at his word that a vote would occur, regardless of the result.

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Then the Kentucky Republican shocked them all as he dispassionately informed them at the top of the meeting that the vote would be delayed, and that he would continue the painful exercise of trying to get 50 of the caucus’ 52 votes for Obamacare repeal.

Never mind that McConnell and his team had previously made clear that they did not believe letting the bill hang out over the July 4 recess would improve the result of the perilous negotiations.

“It’s different from what he said … yesterday afternoon as late as 5:30 p.m.,” said a Republican senator.

Senators left the meeting perplexed at what will come next, and people close to McConnell don’t fully comprehend how his strategy will play out, according to interviews with senators, aides and Republican operatives.

Even Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell's deputy and perhaps his closest ally, admitted that he was a “little bit” surprised at the decision. Cornyn had said the vote was on just minutes before.

“I understand it and support it. It’s important that we succeed,” Cornyn said of McConnell's move. “This is more than just about health care, as important as that is. This is about keeping our promises and demonstrating our ability to govern.”

If the bill failed, the GOP’s base could abandon them for not following through on the party’s years-long campaign against Obamacare. It would also be harder for Republicans to pay for a sweeping tax reform plan. President Donald Trump’s agenda could be mortally wounded.

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In recent days, McConnell spoke to White House aides, senators, political consultants and his sprawling Washington network built over decades in the Senate.

But he never tipped his hand on what might be coming.

Everyone in the Senate took him at his word that a vote would occur this week, which is why the decision to punt the bill was so surprising. But it’s also true that McConnell has never been the type of leader to put a bill on the floor that he knows will fail.

McConnell made his choice because he still sees a narrow path to success. “He's not interested in coming back and having a failed

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Pro-Trump group pulls ads criticizing Heller over Obamacare

Pro-Trump group pulls ads criticizing Heller over Obamacare

America First Policies began airing ads savaging Sen. Dean Heller for his planned ‘No’ vote. | AP Photo

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Roger Stone set to testify next month in House Russia probe

Roger Stone is pictured. | Getty

Roger Stone predicted last summer on Twitter that there would be an October surprise that would disrupt Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and he even suggested John Podesta would face scandal shortly before the Democrat’s emails started surfacing on WikiLeaks. | Getty

Longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone is set to appear July 24 before the House Intelligence Committee, which is examining contacts between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, according to Stone’s attorney.

The hearing will be closed, said Stone’s lawyer, Robert Buschel. He said his client had asked for a public hearing on Capitol Hill to address his communications last year with Moscow-linked hackers and WikiLeaks, which published personal emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

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“We tried really hard,” Buschel said, adding that he was told by the GOP-led House panel, “They’re done with public.”

Podesta testified Tuesday before the committee.

As he left his interview, Podesta was asked if the Obama administration had done enough to counter Russia’s election interference. “I think they were trying to make the best judgments they could on behalf of the American people,” he said.

In an email, Stone told POLITICO he wanted to testify specifically to counter Podesta.

“With John Podesta appearing before the committee I do feel it is essential that I have the opportunity to rebut his serial lies,” Stone said in an email. “I may not be able to sue a member of Congress but I sure as hell can sue the f--- out of Podesta. The claim that I had knowledge of the hacking of his email by WikiLeaks in advance is a demonstrable lie.”

Podesta did not respond to a later request for comment.

The committee had planned to interview Stone and others this month but Democrats put the hearings on hold amid a public spat between committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

A spokeswoman for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), the Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee probe, declined comment about Stone’s scheduled appearance.

Stone, a Republican operative and one of the youngest members of Richard Nixon’s infamous 1972 reelection campaign, has been among the most public of Trump’s current or former aides in discussing his communications with Russia-linked affiliates. During the 2016 campaign Stone boasted of being in touch with both “Guccifer 2.0” – the hacker persona that U.S. intelligence officials say is a Russian front for channeling stolen documents but who Stone insists is not a Moscow asset – as well as WikiLeaks.

Stone predicted last summer on Twitter that there would be an October surprise that would disrupt Clinton’s campaign, and he even suggested Podesta would face scandal shortly before the Democrat’s emails started surfacing on WikiLeaks.

Podesta confirmed in October 2016 that he’d been in touch with the FBI as it probed the hack. Stone has long said he’s willing to talk to the FBI, but Buschel said neither he nor his client had heard yet heard from federal agents or

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Senate GOP seethes at Trump impulsiveness

Top GOP officials and senators say White House chaos and impulsiveness are crippling efforts to expand the Republican Senate majority in 2018, unraveling long-laid plans and needlessly jeopardizing incumbents.

There's a widespread sense of exasperation with the president, interviews with nearly two dozen senior Republicans reveal, and deep frustration with an administration they believe doesn’t fully grasp what it will take to preserve the narrow majority or add to it.

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The most recent flash point involves Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who was attacked by a White House-sanctioned outside group after announcing his opposition to the now stalled Obamacare repeal bill. Heller, the most endangered GOP incumbent up for reelection in 2018, was initially targeted with a surprise $1 million digital, TV and radio assault — an act of political retaliation that stunned senators and other top GOP officials.

The TV and radio commercials, produced by America First Policies — which is staffed by a number of Trump’s top campaign aides — accused Heller of refusing to keep his “promise” to dismantle Obamacare.

The offensive reflected Trump’s mounting frustration with Capitol Hill Republicans who refuse to advance his stymied legislative agenda and was designed to send a loud message that it’s time to get on board. Yet it infuriated Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself, who privately fumed that it would make it harder to get Heller’s support for the legislation. Some McConnell allies reached out to the organization directly to express their displeasure and to plead with it to cease the attacks, reasoning that it could badly hurt Heller’s already challenging reelection bid.

“I share the administration’s frustration on members wavering on repeal, but the answer is not to attack the most vulnerable member of the conference,” said Rob Jesmer, a former National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director.

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By Tuesday evening, after several senators complained directly to the president about the anti-Heller ads during a meeting earlier in the day at the White House, the group decided to stop airing the spots . Heller himself brought up the commercials during the meeting, a spokesman for the senator confirmed.

"It was a responsible decision that I'm hopeful leads to a good working relationship going forward," said Josh Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff.

McConnell has also been stewing about another race: the Alabama Senate primary, which has turned into a personal priority for the majority leader. For weeks, McConnell and top political aides had been asking the Republican National Committee to release coordinated funding to help newly appointed Sen. Luther Strange, who is trying to fend off a large field of GOP primary opponents in a late summer special election. The NRSC and another McConnell-allied group, Senate Leadership Fund, are already aggressively boosting the Alabama senator.

Yet after weeks of requests, no RNC expenditures have been granted, and Senate Republican

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