Washington Brief: Ways and Means Committee Advances Obamacare Replacement Bill

Washington Brief

  • The House Ways and Means Committee this morning advanced the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare after 18 hours of debate. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is still debating the measure. (CNN)
  • Major groups representing doctors and hospitals joined conservative organizations and AARP in opposing the Obamacare replacement legislation that’s backed by House Republican leaders. (Bloomberg News)
  • The Trump administration is considering a $6 billion cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a move that would reduce the agency’s budget by about 14 percent. (The Washington Post)
  • President Donald Trump is planning to nominate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China during the Obama administration, as the U.S. ambassador to Russia. (The Wall Street Journal) Trump is also considering Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture. (The Kansas City Star)

Correction: A previous version of the brief misspelled Huntsman’s first name.

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Events Calendar (All Times Local)

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Ivanka Trump’s Landlord Is a Chilean Billionaire Suing the U.S. Government
Mark Maremont and James V. Grimaldi, The Wall Street Journal 

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are renting a Washington, D.C., home from a Chilean billionaire who bought it after the November election and whose company is embroiled in a dispute with the U.S. government over a mine potentially worth billions of dollars. The six-bedroom house in the capital’s Kalorama neighborhood was bought for $5.5 million in late December by a company controlled by Andrónico Luksic, according to public records and interviews.

New Force on Wall Street: The ‘Family Office’
Anupreeta Das and Juliet Chung, The Wall Street Journal 

On a warm October day in 2014, envoys from 15 of America’s wealthiest families gathered at Circle T, Ross Perot Jr.’s 2,500-acre ranch outside Dallas. Skeet-shooting was on the agenda, but the real purpose of the two-day retreat was for the families to get acquainted and eventually team up to pursue investments.

Russia’s RT Network: Is It More BBC or K.G.B.?
Steven Erlanger, The New York Times

The London newsroom and studios of RT, the television channel and website formerly known as Russia Today, are ultramodern and spacious, with spectacular views from the 16th floor overlooking the Thames and the London Eye. And, its London bureau chief, Nikolay A. Bogachikhin, jokes, “We overlook MI5 and we’re near MI6,” Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence agencies.


Trump Said to Be Open to Change in GOP Obamacare Replacement
Billy House, Bloomberg News

House Republicans battling over their party’s proposed legislation to replace Obamacare say they have been told President Donald Trump is “agnostic” on the details of the plan, suggesting the current draft could face alterations. The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, a former House member, delivered the message Tuesday that Trump is open to alterations in a meeting with leaders of the Republican Study Committee, a group of 170 House conservatives, according to two House members and an aide in the room.

Trump administration considers $6 billion cut to HUD budget
Jose A. DelReal, The Washington Post

The Trump administration has considered more than $6 billion in cuts at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to preliminary budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. The plan would squeeze public housing support and end most federally funded community development grants, which provide services such as meal assistance and cleaning up abandoned properties in low-income neighborhoods.

Trump to Tap Huntsman as Ambassador to Russia
Alan Cullison and Peter Nicholas, The Wall Street Journal

President Donald Trump plans to nominate Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia, according to people familiar with the deliberations, the latest sign of backtracking from plans for Washington-Moscow conciliation. The 56-year-old Mr. Huntsman’s long record in politics and diplomacy—as governor of Utah and ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and to China under President Barack Obama—likely will assure him of an easy confirmation in Congress.

Sources: Brownback in talks with Trump administration about an ambassadorship
Bryan Lowry and Hunter Woodall, The Kansas City Star

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is in talks with President Donald Trump’s administration about taking an ambassadorship position, according to sources close to the governor. No offer has been extended yet, according to The Star’s sources, but the governor has discussed the possibility of taking a position as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture, a position that would move the Midwestern governor to Rome.

White House Officials Say Trump Isn’t Target of Any Investigation
Mark Landler, The New York Times 

White House officials declared on Wednesday that President Trump was not the target of an investigation, five days after Mr. Trump himself raised the prospect with an unsubstantiated claim that his predecessor ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower. After first refusing to disavow Mr. Trump’s allegations, made in a series of Twitter posts, and instead calling for Congress to investigate them, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, told reporters, “There is no reason that we have to think the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever.”

Meet the Hundreds of Officials Trump Has Quietly Installed Across the Government
Justin Elliott et al., ProPublica

A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool.


Rand stands up to Trump on Obamacare
Burgess Everett, Politico 

Rand Paul is not backing down. Hours after President Donald Trump exhorted the Kentucky senator to get behind his Obamacare replacement plan, Paul reiterated his opposition in an interview with POLITICO.

McCain on WikiLeaks dump: ‘I can’t tell you how serious this is’
Burgess Everett, Politico

Sen. John McCain is raising the alarm about WikiLeaks’ release of CIA surveillance techniques, and predicting “a real fundamental evaluation of everything we do” in U.S. intelligence. After the anti-secrecy group dumped documents online detailing tactics that intelligence agencies allegedly use to hack computers and phones, the Senate Armed Services chairman said the situation is “really serious” and requires a wholesale evaluation of who is allowed to have access to such classified materials.

Activists Urge Democrats to Step Up Resistance to Gorsuch Nomination
Carl Hulse, The New York Times 

With the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Neil M. Gorsuch less than two weeks away, liberal activists are alarmed not only at the prospect of his lifetime appointment to the court, but at what they see as muted opposition from Senate Democrats. “We are not hearing from them the intensity that we are hearing from the grass roots,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, the organizer of a recent letter from 11 progressive groups urging Democrats to step it up.

Mark Warner Faces a Stand-and-Deliver Moment in Russian Inquiry
Matt Flegenheimer, The New York Times 

For a while now, Senator Mark R. Warner has taken to thinking like a Russian. The Virginia Democrat is losing himself in a book about the Romanovs, eager to absorb the country’s theories of war, teasing staff members for insufficient knowledge of Tolstoy and Nabokov.


GOP healthcare plan clears first hurdle
MJ Lee et al., CNN

After an 18-hour session, the House Ways and Means Committee has become the first to approve the Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill. White House and Republican congressional leaders had sought to fast track the legislation through Congress. Democrats made clear it wouldn’t be easy — dragging out a grueling day of committee sessions well into the early morning hours.

Ryan Ready to Twist Arms to Sell Obamacare Plan to House GOP
Anna Edgerton, Bloomberg News

House Speaker Paul Ryan has used a soft touch to win over rebellious conservatives. But, with his Obamacare replacement bill at stake, he’s delivering a tougher message: It’s time to fall in line.

Trump Won Big In House Conservatives’ Districts — Will They Defy Him On Health Care?
Jessica Taylor, NPR News

Some of the most conservative members of the House are at a crossroads over the plan from GOP leadership and the White House to replace the Affordable Care Act. Those lawmakers say their choice is between supporting a bill that goes against many of their principles, or falling in line behind President Trump — who won overwhelming support in their district.

Republican Chairman Says Sean Spicer Should Stay “In His Lane” On Health Care Bill
Sarah Mimms, BuzzFeed News

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Wednesday that every member of the House and Senate would get to add amendments to the Republican health care bill, news that was welcomed by Democrats eager to make changes of their own. But Rep. Pete Sessions, who heads the committee that will make that decision, slammed Spicer’s suggestion on Wednesday, saying the press secretary should stay out of “my business.”


Hawaii files first lawsuit against new travel ban
Laura Jarrett, CNN 

Hawaii is not wasting any time challenging President Donald Trump’s new travel ban. Attorneys for the state filed a new 40-page request just before midnight on Tuesday, asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the new executive order.

Texas Transgender Bathroom Bill Passed by Legislative Committee
David Frosh, The Wall Street Journal

After a marathon hearing that continued much of the night, a Texas bill that would limit public bathroom access for transgender people passed a legislative committee early Wednesday. The 8-1 vote means the bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote, continuing the battle in Texas over an issue that has already prompted political upheaval elsewhere in the country.

Nonprofit linked to Missouri governor raises new questions about ‘dark money,’ ethics
Jason Hancock, The Kansas City Star

In the shadow of the Missouri Capitol, just a block from the governor’s mansion, sits the headquarters of a just-started nonprofit called A New Missouri Inc. Founded by Gov. Eric Greitens’ campaign treasurer and housed in a building linked to one of Missouri’s most prolific political donors, the group’s stated purpose is to “promote ideas, policies and/or legislation to create more jobs, higher pay, safer streets, better schools, and more, for all Missourians.”


Doctor, Hospital Groups Line Up Against GOP Health Proposal
Zachary Tracer and Anna Edney, Bloomberg News

The Republican plan to replace Obamacare has a health problem. On Wednesday, the U.S.’s biggest advocacy group for doctors came out against House Republicans’ legislation, while the insurance lobby expressed concerns with the bill, adding to growing opposition from the country’s top trade groups for physicians and hospitals who worry that it will leave more people uninsured or with limited coverage.

Former Trump Aide Flynn Says Lobbying May Have Helped Turkey
Stephen Braun and Chad Day, The Associated Press

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired from his prominent White House job last month, has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day that may have aided the Turkish government. Paperwork filed Tuesday with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit said Flynn and his firm were voluntarily registering for lobbying from August through November that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”

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Looking for something voters can agree on? Repeal the Durbin amendment. Recent polling shows that by a 2-1 margin voters think the Durbin amendment should be repealed. It is a failed policy, with retailers pocketing an extra $42 billion at their customers’ expense. Get the facts about retailers’ broken promises from EPC.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Conservative Repeal and Replace Is Here
Kevin McCarthy and Diane Black, National Review 

Our health-care system is broken. It was inefficient before Obamacare, and Obamacare’s Washington-knows-best-mandates made it many times worse.

How Trump Undermines Intelligence Gathering
Michael V. Hayden, The New York Times

The relationship between a new president and the intelligence agencies that serve him can be difficult in the best of times. But it’s hard to imagine a more turbulent transition than the current one, which has been marred by assertions that the administration has tried to both politicize and marginalize intelligence gathering.

Fix Immigration Without Sacrificing Innocent Children
Michael R. Bloomberg, Bloomberg View

Whoever said there are no bad ideas never spent any time in Washington. Many never get off the ground, thankfully, but one of the worst I can remember hearing is now under serious consideration by the Department of Homeland Security: forcibly separating children from their parents when families are apprehended crossing the U.S. border.

Why new minimum wage hikes are under threat
Jonathan Schleifer, CNN

In Maine, Arizona and Washington state our democracy is under assault. And this time, Russia isn’t to blame.

How Trump Became the First Silicon Valley President
Charles Duhigg, The New York Times 

Last summer, not long after Donald J. Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, his recently installed campaign manager, Stephen K. Bannon, met with top officials from the Republican National Committee to discuss management of the general election. Mr. Trump’s staff had remained unusually small throughout the grueling primaries — a compactness, his advisers believed, that had given them a nimble edge.

A Message from the Electronic Payments Coalition:

Across party lines, a majority of voters identify the Durbin amendment as a price control. History has taught us price controls rarely work as intended and the Durbin amendment is another example of failed policy. It’s time to end the merchant markup once and for all. Learn how to take action now.

Research Reports and Polling

Where Women Stand on Issues Facing Capitol Hill
Eli Yokley, Morning Consult

House Democratic women, plus a handful of men, donned red on Wednesday to descend the steps of the Capitol to recognize International Women’s Day. “Thank you for resisting this anti-woman, Trump agenda,” said Rep. Barbara Lee of California, pointing to President Donald Trump’s past incendiary comments about women, along with Republican policies, such as the current effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, that she said could hurt the poor.

In Republicans’ views of a border wall, proximity to Mexico matters
Bradley Jones, Pew Research Center 

Republicans overwhelmingly favor the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. But Republicans who live closer to the border are less likely to support the wall than are those who live farther away.