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Friday, July 21, 2017

Four Reasons Obamacare Lived to Plague Republicans Another Day

Four Reasons Obamacare Lived to Plague Republicans Another Day

Michael D. Tanner

Republican hopes to repeal Obamacare are all but officially dead, at least for now. This isn’t just a failure, this is an epic failure. This is the legislative failure by which all future legislative failures will be judged.

But how did it come to this? When Republicans took power in January, they controlled both branches of Congress and the presidency, Obamacare was hugely unpopular with voters, and the health care law was spiraling into failure. Yet somehow, Obamacare not only survives, it is now more popular than ever.

So what went wrong?

1. It’s Hard Taking Things Away from People: One thing Democrats have always understood is that there is no down escalator for the welfare state. As we witness every election cycle, when Democrats accuse Republicans of throwing grandma off a cliff for discussing Social Security or Medicare reform, it doesn’t matter how unsustainable or unrealistic promised benefits are, you are still taking away something that people feel they were promised. Santa Claus is always more popular than the Grinch, even if the Grinch understands math.

Republicans tried hard to pretend that there were no losers under their proposals, but the public understood that, if you slowed the growth of Medicaid or reduced subsidies, some people would either pay more or get less. And because they don’t trust politicians, they didn’t want to take any chances that the person paying more or getting less would be them. That means it was always going to be hard for Republicans to repeal or replace Obamacare even if they got everything else right. As we saw, they didn’t.

For one, Santa Claus is much more popular than the Grinch.

2. Institutional barriers: Because Democrats were unified in opposition to any Republican plan, Republicans were forced to rely on a complex procedure known as “reconciliation” to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Among other things, reconciliation requires that all provisions in a bill have a direct budgetary impact. Thus, proposals like allowing the sale of insurance across state lines couldn’t be included in the bill. But those provisions were not only among the most popular Republican ideas, they were also important for making insurance more affordable.

3. No Plan: For 7 years, every Republican running for president or Congress (or any other office for that matter) campaigned on opposition to Obamacare. Congress even voted some 50 times to repeal all or part of the health care law. But once the stakes became real rather than symbolic this year, it quickly became apparent that Republicans had no actual plan for what would replace Obamacare. This wasn’t just a question of negotiating the final details either. They didn’t even understand the basics. It was obvious that very few Republicans had given much thought to how the health care system works or what a free market health care plan might look like.

Without a base of understanding to start from, the negotiations over the Republican alternative quickly became obsessive efforts to find a plan that could pass, rather than one that would work. Thus Republicans tried to keep seemingly popular provisions of Obamacare, like preventing medical underwriting of people with preexisting conditions, while repealing unpopular provisions like the individual mandate. They ended up with a proposal that increasingly veered toward incoherence. It somehow managed the difficult feat of taking all the problems with Obamacare and making them worse.

No Message: As Republicans became increasingly obsessed with process and the tantalizing question of whether they could pass anything, they almost completely stopped talking about whythey should pass their bill. Almost no one talked about why this was a good bill, or why it was better than Obamacare. The average American had no idea what the Republican bill would do to their premiums, their coverage, their ability to see the doctor of their choice. There is a compelling case to be made for how free market health care reform can bring down costs, while improving quality and choice. No one ever made that case.

No one was more derelict in this regard than President Trump. Say what you will about how President Obama sold Obamacare, but he did sell it. By some estimates Obama discussed health care on more than 150 occasions in his speeches, press conferences, and town halls. Even by generous standards, President Trump spoke about health care less than a dozen times in the first six months of his presidency, often just a passing reference sandwiched amidst other issues.

The Republican failure to repeal Obamacare suggests that the rest of their agenda, from tax reform to the budget is in trouble too. None of the dynamics are going to change. Democrats, firmly in “resist” mode, will remain adamantly against anything Republicans propose. President Trump will remain distracted and disengaged (not to mention increasingly unpopular). Republicans will remain divided and afraid. Not exactly a recipe for success.

The question, then, is whether the president and congressional Republicans have learned anything from this defeat. So far, there’s no evidence that they have.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Wanted: An Afghanistan Policy

Two People Taking on the Clintons Reportedly Committed Suicide Last Week

Klaus Eberwein and Peter Smith Clinton Suspicious Deaths - 900

Last week, two men hostile to the Clintons reportedly committed suicide. One, longtime GOP operative Peter Smith, was found suffocated in his hotel room a day after telling hotel staff he’d be checking out. Smith had been a major figure in exposing Bill Clinton’s 1990s “Troopergate” scandal. He had been trying to get the emails presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had deleted from her personal server.

The other, former Haitian government official Klaus Eberwein, was found shot in the head in his hotel room. He had been called to testify by a Haitian government commission about funding after the 2010 earthquake, and may have talked about the Clinton Foundation’s controversial efforts there.

Eberwein’s death was officially ruled a suicide, but no ruling has been made on Smith’s.

Peter Smith

Over the past year, GOP operative Peter Smith, age 81, tried to obtain Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 emails she deleted off her personal server. Clinton claimed they were personal emails. Ten days after giving an interview to The Wall Street Journal about his efforts, hotel staff found Smith dead in a Minnesota hotel room. A bag covered his head, with a helium source attached. Law enforcement found a suicide note. It said he was in poor health and his life insurance policy was expiring soon. It also said there “was no foul play whatsoever,” with an apology to authorities.

One of Smith’s former employees toldThe Chicago Tribune she thought he was staying at the hotel while receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic for a heart condition. His room was in a block provided to Mayo patients. The day before he died, Smith told hotel staff he would check out the next day.

In his interview with the Journal, Smith said he’d found five groups of hackers that claimed to have Clinton’s emails. Two were Russian. Smith had a reputation for opposition research, including investigating Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades in the Troopergate scandal.

A friend of Smith’s, Charles Ortel, told The Daily Caller he did not believe Smith was suicidal.

Smith wrote two blog posts the day before he died. Both expressed his skepticism that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election.

Rochester police Chief Roger Peterson described the manner of death as “unusual.” The Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy. The agency refused to provide the results to the Tribune.

Police found a Walmart receipt for “Helium Jumbo” purchased the previous day. However, they did not request video surveillance from Walmart to determine whether it was Smith who had made the purchase. Police observed “vinyl-covered exercise ankle or wrist weights” draped over the two helium tanks.

A friend of Smith’s, Charles Ortel, toldThe Daily Caller he did not believe Smith was suicidal. "This does not seem like a settled story. It made perfect sense to me he might have died of natural causes, but little chance he would have killed himself.” The Wall Street Journal reporter who interviewed Smith told CNN he appeared to be in fine health.

Ortel was also looking into Clinton corruption. "We had countless discussions," Ortel said. Smith helped him, using “his unique decades of experience in politics to offer me advice how to expose the Clinton Foundation."

Klaus Eberwein

Last week, Quality Inn hotel staff in Florida found the body of former Haitian government official Klaus Eberwein. He died of a gunshot wound to the head. Some believe he was expected to testify against the Clinton Foundation this week. According to WND, the 50-year-old former head of a Haitian government development agency told friends he was afraid for his life. The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled his death a suicide.”

“In email exchanges with top Clinton Foundation officials, a senior aide to Mrs Clinton, who was then-secretary of state, kept an eye out for those identified by the abbreviations “FOB” (friends of Bill Clinton) or ‘WJC VIPs’ (William Jefferson Clinton VIPs).

“‘Need you to flag when people are friends of WJC,’ wrote Caitlin Klevorick, a senior State Department official who was vetting incoming offers of assistance coming through the Clinton Foundation.” –BBC

Eberwein was going to appear before the Haitian Senate Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. There is concern that funding meant to go to recovery efforts after the 2010 earthquake was diverted. The Miami Herald said the commission is looking into “the management of PetroCaribe funds, the money Haiti receives from Venezuela's discounted oil program.”

Eberwein served as director general of Fonds d'assistance economique et social, or FAES. He faced accusations of fraud. Lax FAES oversight resulted in poorly rebuilt schools after the earthquake. He has also been accused, like the Clintons, of fraudulently putting corrupt Haitian officials in office.

Funding also came from the Clinton Foundation. The Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti found that only .6 percent of donations raised by the Clintons went to Haitian groups. Haitians held several protests outside the Clintons’ offices over the earthquake funds.



Chelsea Clinton even became so concerned about the bungled Haiti relief effort that she sent her parents a sternly worded memo. She cc’d her parents’ top advisors at the Clinton Foundation. She said the settlement governments were upset at how little money was coming their way.

His friend Gilbert Bailly said, "It's really shocking.”

An article by Jonathan M. Katz in the left-leaning Slate criticized Bill Clinton’s actions in Haiti. “Bill Clinton in particular mixed personal relationships, business, and unaccountable power in ways that, if never exactly criminal, arouse the kind of suspicion that erodes public trust.” Katz also wrote, “There's a real case to be made against Hillary Clinton in Haiti.”

The Miami Herald said Eberwein had fallen on hard times. He was working as a Uber driver in southern Florida. However, the Haiti Libre newspaper said he was in a “good mood.” His friend Gilbert Bailly said, "It's really shocking. We grew up together; he was like family." Bailly said they planned to open a Muncheez restaurant together in Sunrise, Florida. Eberwein owned part of a popular pizza restaurant in Haiti called Muncheez.


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Erickson: It's Time To Put Mitch McConnell Out to Pasture

Matt Vespa

The collapse of the Senate Republicans’ health care effort is a total nightmare on all fronts. For Democrats, it only emboldens them to dole out more health scare tactics and remain firm against any attempt at Obamacare repeal. Instead, they’re beckoning Republicans to work with them to fix a law that they campaigned on repealing for almost a decade. The GOP is just going to drop that pledge to help Democrats fix Obamacare? There’s no way to do that without a full-blown conservative revolt. What happened this week is more than just a hiccup for the GOP, it’s a reason for conservatives to never vote Republican again. Can you blame them? You have devoted countless hours of neighborhood canvassing, phone banks, and even donations to fund a well-oiled machine aimed at smashing Obamacare, only to have some compromised shoddy repeal bill that won’t actually kick start the process for the law’s deconstruction for two years. Oh, and that effort seems to be dead too.

 Failing to repeal Obamacare will have a ripple effect for the GOP in future elections; the base won’t get animated if the people they elect settle for stuff like this. For the Tea Party stalwarts, like Americans for Prosperity, enthusiasm for the issues of economic freedom will wane since there’s no one on the Hill who seems to want to take a stand for it.  We need to get something done on this.

The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson had a suggestion to get the Trump agenda back on track: Dump McConnell.

McConnell, again and again, stacks the deck against conservatives, setting them up to be the fall guy for his own failures.

The President’s various nominees are on the slow walk through McConnell’s Senate, where the filibuster no longer applies.

Obamacare repeal is just about dead, even though it cannot be filibustered either.

Tax reform is dead on arrival.

The entirety of the GOP agenda is stuck in the Senate where Mitch McConnell seems intent to let it all die on the vine while blaming conservatives.

National Review: Yeah, It looks Like Trump Might Fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Matt Vespa

We’re back to this again: Will Donald Trump fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is quarterbacking the Russia probe. The Trump White House floated this idea, or there were fears of it, but they were shot down when virtually everyone praised Mueller and his capability of leading this investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was one of those people. Then, the probe expanded into President Trump’s business dealings, which he said was his red line. He made that declaration in an interview with The New York Times’ Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman, and Michael S. Schmidt [emphasis mine]:

SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller——

TRUMP: And I couldn’t have been better than the stuff I had. Obviously, because I won.

SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk].

SCHMIDT: But if he was outside that lane, would that mean he’d have to go?


HABERMAN: Would you consider——

TRUMP: No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. And actually, when I do my filings, peoples say, “Man.” People have no idea how successful this is. It’s a great company. But I don’t even think about the company anymore. I think about this. ’Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial. O.K.? I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son, two nice people. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn’t Moscow, it was outside of Moscow.

HABERMAN: Would you fire Mueller if he went outside of certain parameters of what his charge is? [crosstalk]

SCHMIDT: What would you do?


TRUMP: I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.

I know, Trump says at the end that this isn’t going to happen, but National Review’s Rich Lowry seems to be pretty confident that this will happen:

 This kind of expansion of an investigation is what special counsels do, and there is nothing to indicate that Mueller is going to limit his work, in fact the opposite. Bloomberg is reporting that Mueller is already looking at Trump’s business transactions. Maybe that report is premature, but it’s probably where this is headed. All sorts of people will tell Trump not to fire Mueller. But we can be pretty certain that Trump didn’t sign up for a free-floating investigation into his businesses and that he believes — and must feel confirmed in the belief — that fortune favors the recklessly bold. If Trump doesn’t fire Mueller, it will only be because every other day he’s talked out of following his instincts.

Right now, the Trump legal team is reportedly finding ways to make Mr. Mueller’s job more difficult:

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

So, let’s say this happens. How does Mueller get the pin slip from the president? says that only the deputy attorney general can fire Mueller and for cause, “but Trump could fire the DAG, or order the special-counsel regulations repealed and fire Mueller himself.” The outcry of course would be deafening and if the White House is trying to move on from Russia, this is a rather disastrous way to do it from a public relations standpoint. Let’s circle back to what Guy wrote in June about this political landmine:

Firing Mueller, even if you believe asking about his soft spot for Comey and his Democrat-heavy hires thus far are legitimate concerns (I think they're fair questions), would be astonishingly self-destructive. It would indicate that Trump is either so willing to follow his egotistical impulses as to look extremely guilty, or he is extremely guilty. Neither one is a positive for the White House, to put things mildly. And the last thing Trump needs now is more bad press.  

Russia has reached new levels of intensity with the news media because of Donald Trump Jr.’s ill-advised meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have sensitive information about Hillary Clinton. It was reportedly from the Russian government and part of its efforts to help Donald Trump win the election. Yet, the email chain where this is detailed comes from publicist, Rob Goldstone, who arranged the meeting at the behest of his boss, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, who sang at the Miss Universe pageant four years ago. These are the people who are at the center of this supposed nefarious international plot, an “Enrique Iglesias wannabe,” who can only score singing gigs at the mall his father owns. No wonder why some anti-Putin journalists are saying we should sober up on this angle. Yet, as CBS News’s John Dickerson mentioned, this may show that Trump Jr. was “collusion curious,” though it shows no actual evidence of collusion. The meeting was a bust, no information was shared, and any talk about the 2016 election never occurred.

From what we know, there is zero evidence of actual collusion. Democrats are saying there’s a lot of smoke, but it’s been over several months with no revelation of direct evidence. The amount of smoke could probably cook all the wild salmon in the world at this point. Regardless, there seems to be enough evidence that Russia at least tried to interfere in our election with social media trolls and disseminating fake news stories though state-funded outlets. That's not the same as hacking, though this should be investigated. As for Trump Jr., the meeting also needs to be looked into and he has agreed to testify before Congress on the subject later this month. I’m not sure what Trump is going to do—I gave up trying to guess his moves a long time ago. But if he wants this story to die, firing Mueller would be the worst things he could do. If there’s nothing to fear, there’s nothing to fear.

"What Happens When The Races Are Reversed In A Police Shooting"

(PHOTO: Screenshot via CBS Minnesota/
What Happens When The Races Are Reversed In A Police Shooting
By Scott Greer
21 Jul 2017, 12:07 AM

One cop is finally receiving support from the press and political leaders after being at the center of another high-profile police shooting.

Last weekend, an Australian woman, Justine Damond, called police to report an alleged assault that was occurring near her home in Minneapolis. But when police arrived on the scene, Damond ended up becoming the victim of an officer’s bullet.

While there are many questions still lingering about the shooting, the initial details of the case have all the ingredients for the media to paint it as another sign of lawless police brutality.

Except, the press has been remarkably reserved in its coverage of the case, there are no activists marching and chanting on the streets of Minneapolis, and Black Lives Matter is seemingly sitting out on this matter.

This is likely due to this shooting having a reversal of roles when it comes to race. Ms. Damond was a white woman, while her shooter, Mohamed Noor, is of Somali Muslim descent.

That probably explains why the emerging narrative from the press and Minneapolis’s leaders is concern that the shooting may prompt a backlash against the Somali community in the city. It’s quite odd to see since there is never a concern from the media that the white community may receive grief any time a Caucasian officer shoots someone over contended circumstances.

But here we are seeing multiple outlets run with this narrative of blowback fears. The Washington Post published an article on Tuesday with the headline, “After Minneapolis officer in police shooting is named, Somali community braces for backlash.” The article begins with statements that America is experiencing unprecedented levels of Islamophobia, as well as “racial tension stoked in part by shootings of black people by white police officers.”

Although apparently, we don’t need to worry about tension stoked by shootings of Aussies by Somali police officers.

The Post implies that it was wrong for media outlets to identify the officer due to his background. Reminder: there was never this quibble when it came to other controversial police shootings.

“They fear this will be just another event used to create animosity toward the Somali community,” one Somali Minneapolis leader said of how his community is reacting to the news. Another said that other Somali police officers are now feeling “nervous.”

The WaPo article also expresses a fawning attitude towards Officer Noor and makes sure to highlight how celebrated he was in his community. Additionally, the Post buried the important detail of how the Somali cop has racked up three complaints against him since joining the force in 2015.(RELATED: WaPo Fawns Over Minnesota Officer Who Shot White Woman)

The Minneapolis Star TribuneandReutersran similar stories to the Post’s that attempted to portray Noor in a positive light.

In response to the Somali community’s so-far unfounded worries, the mayor of Minneapolis has promised to make its interests are a top priority in the investigation of the shooting of an unarmed white woman. “I stand with our Somali community. We can’t compound the tragedy of Justine Damond’s death by turning to racism,”Mayor Betsy Hodges tweeted out Wednesday.

While many details have yet to be determined in this case, it’s hard to overlook the similarities between the reactions to this shooting and that of Islamic terror attacks. Both conjure up media narratives about backlashes against the communities the suspects hail from. Both result in political leaders getting fired up about condemning “Islamophobia” and racism. Both come with demands for calm and understanding as the police investigate the incident.

It’s very much unlike most police shootings where some political leaders and activists do everything possible to whip up a frenzy in their communities. There’s the hysteric accusations of racism and police tyranny lobbed against the authorities. Media outlets ignore the good things about the police officers and gleefully prioritize the dirt on them.

In contrast, Officer Noor receives a treatment more in line with how the media portrays the unarmed victim of a police shooting. According to the Post and others, it is very important to know that Noor is a good man beloved by his community — regardless of the shooting and the multiple complaints against him.

Without a doubt, this story would be getting an entirely different treatment if it was an Aussie immigrant officer who shot a Somali Muslim. It would edge out some of the Trump-Russia hysteria in network coverage. There would be angry protests in the streets. There would no pleas for calm, no sympathy for the Aussie immigrant community and certainly no mention of the good deeds the officer did in the past.

It would be just another case of racist police murdering a person of color.

After witnessing the treatment the shooting of Justine Damond in comparison with other police-involved fatalities like Freddie Grey and Michael Brown, you start to think the media only cares when they can push their preferred racial narrative.

If the victim is not a person of color, then there doesn’t seem to be that much interest — especially if the officer happens to be a minority.

For instance, one of the worst cases of police misconduct in recent memory comes from Louisiana where two black cops shot a white six-year-old several times as his father pleaded for them to stop.

One of the officers involved in the 2015 shooting was sentenced to40 years behind barsin March. The other cop faces second-degree murder charges.

While an outrageous case, it netted nowhere near the amount of coverage as that of the shooting of Michael Brown and other incidents where the officer was later exonerated.

The Minneapolis shooting has the added factor that the officer comes from a Muslim community that has received increased scrutiny due to the relatively large number of jihadis it has provided for ISIS. Somalis are also one of the national groups targeted by President Trump’s travel ban, which the media paints as un-American and fascistic.

So there’s an added incentive for journalists to obfuscate this case and cover this story with an unprecedented level of restraint. Urban elites don’t want to give those awful nativists an incentive to view an enriching immigrant community with suspicion.

That may explain why there’s such a dramatic difference in the coverage of Damond’s slaying versus other similar incidents.

However the investigation turns out, Americans should take an interest in this case. It doesn’t feel right for an unarmed woman to be shot by police after reporting a crime, and we deserve to know the truth of the matter.

Follow Scott on Twitterand purchase his new book, “No Campus for White Men.”

Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report

Trump lawyers asking about presidential pardon powers: report
By Max Greenwood - 07-20-17 21:36 PM EDT

President Trump's lawyers are looking into the president's authority to grant pardons in connection with the special counsel investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Trump himself has talked to advisers about his ability to pardon his aides, family members and himself in the investigations, according to the Post, though one adviser cautioned that the president's inquiries were made in curiosity, rather than in connection to the Russia probes.

"This is not in the context of, 'I can't wait to pardon myself,'" the adviser said.

Democrats have raised concerns in the past that Trump would pardon anyone who is convicted in the ongoing Russia investigations.

Trump's lawyers have reportedly been discussing presidential pardons among themselves, and are also looking at ways to undercut or limit the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

That includes putting together a list of special counsel Robert Mueller's potential conflicts of interest, which could potentially be cited by an attorney general to do away with Mueller.

Trump has voiced much frustration over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election, calling it a "witch hunt" and a "cloud" hanging over his presidency.

The Washington Post report comes a week after reports that Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. met in June of 2016 with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr., the president and other administration members have come under fire following the reports of the meeting, which has added to speculation that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

By Max Greenwood - 07-20-17 21:36 PM EDT

President Trump's lawyers are looking into the president's authority to grant pardons in connection with the special counsel investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Trump himself has talked to advisers about his ability to pardon his aides, family members and himself in the investigations, according to the Post, though one adviser cautioned that the president's inquiries were made in curiosity, rather than in connection to the Russia probes.

"This is not in the context of, 'I can't wait to pardon myself,'" the adviser said.

Democrats have raised concerns in the past that Trump would pardon anyone who is convicted in the ongoing Russia investigations.

Trump's lawyers have reportedly been discussing presidential pardons among themselves, and are also looking at ways to undercut or limit the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

That includes putting together a list of special counsel Robert Mueller's potential conflicts of interest, which could potentially be cited by an attorney general to do away with Mueller.

Trump has voiced much frustration over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election, calling it a "witch hunt" and a "cloud" hanging over his presidency.

The Washington Post report comes a week after reports that Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. met in June of 2016 with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information on Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr., the president and other administration members have come under fire following the reports of the meeting, which has added to speculation that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty

McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty
By Jordain Carney and Alexander Bolton - 07-21-17 06:00 AM EDT

Sen. John McCain's absence from Washington is throwing an already embattled GOP agenda further into limbo.

The Arizona Republican's diagnosis of brain cancer shook political Washington - where the 80-year-old senator is deeply respected by both parties - and sparked an outpouring of support from friends and political opponents alike.

While the focus has been on McCain's health, his absence also has repercussions for the Republican effort to repeal ObamaCare.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a slim 52-seat majority with McCain. Without him, he can afford to lose just one vote in a procedural motion to start debate.

"We're really working to try to get agreement but obviously yeah it's more challenging without him," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).

McCain, who was not in Washington this week after having a blood clot removed from above his left eye, may return.

In a tweet on Thursday, he quipped that "unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand-by."

The Mayo Clinic, which performed McCain's surgery, said additional treatment could "include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation." His office added that McCain is in "good spirits" and believes any treatment will be "effective."

"Further consultations with Senator McCain's Mayo Clinic care team will indicate when he will return to the United States Senate," his office said.

GOP senators voiced optimism about an early return, but also appeared genuinely uncertain if that would happen.

"I hope he is able to come back next week but more than anything else we're all concerned about his well being and his recovery," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close friend and ally of McCain, said he would be back "as soon as he can." Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) added that he hoped McCain would be "back soon."

GOP senators on Thursday suggested they were going forward with or without McCain.

"We can always come back to it if it is not successful, if we fail by one vote. ...So there is some benefit to going forward and seeing where we are next week, and that may well be the outcome," Cornyn said.

McConnell must corral competing Republican factions to win a healthcare victory.

Three GOP senators have said they are opposed to taking up the House bill if the endgame is to repeal ObamaCare with a delayed replacement. Four GOP senators oppose the Senate's last version of its repeal and replacement bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

McCain, for his part, was undecided. Earlier this week, he had called for lawmakers to start over and have hearings.

"The Congress must now return to regular order, hold hearings, receive input from members of both parties, and heed the recommendations of our nation's governors so that we can produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to quality and affordable health care," he said.

That was a break from GOP leaders, who have repeatedly warned that if they are forced to work with Democrats, ObamaCare will remain in place.

McCain, who is one of Trump's frankest critics in the Senate GOP caucus, is signaling that even if he isn't able to return to Washington, he won't sit on the sidelines.

He ripped the administration on Thursday over reports that it is shutting down a program arming Syrian rebels, noting the administration has "yet to articulate its vision" for the Middle East, including the years-old civil war in Syria.

"If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin," said McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "There is still no new strategy for victory in Afghanistan either. It is now mid-July, when the administration promised to deliver that strategy to Congress, and we are still waiting."

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is expected to chair the committee's proceedings until McCain returns.

McCain's absence could also raise questions about the Senate's ability to pass the National Defense Authorization Act before the August recess.

McConnell pointed to the NDAA, which McCain is responsible for crafting, as one of the bills he wanted to take up when he announced that he was canceling the first two weeks of recess.

Cornyn said leadership is currently deferring to McCain on the bill, and Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said "we'll take it up when he gets back."

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said leaders are unsure if they can still move the defense bill before the August recess.

Asked if the Senate is still on track to pass the defense bill before leaving town, Thune said "that's a good question."

Cornyn also hedged when pressed if Republicans were willing to wait for McCain even if it meant kicking the bill to the fall, saying they wanted to be "respectful."

"I think we just want to have that conversation. I'm not sure we've had that conversation with him yet," he said. "But we want to be respectful of him and his role as chairman of the committee."