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As debate opens on Obamacare bill, Senate quickly rejects the first Republican amendment

After Senate Republicans agreed to open debate Tuesday to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, they quickly shot down what was once their leading proposal for repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Republicans rejected their revised bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, despite having added a provision from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) favored by conservatives and another from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to court centrists worried about Medicaid cuts.

It failed 43 to 57, not reaching the 60-vote threshold needed to advance. Nine Republicans voted against it.

President Trump warned Republicans during a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, late Tuesday that they needed to act after having promised for seven years to repeal and replace the healthcare law.

"Now they must keep their promise," Trump said. "Any senator who votes against repeal-and-replace is telling America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict they will have a lot of problems."

But dispatching with the bill that was once considered to be the GOP's best chances at fulfilling their campaign promise to end the law now leaves Republicans with few options.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised senators a robust debate if they agreed earlier Tuesday to vote on the motion to open the legislative process.

Typically, that means round-the-clock voting, with senators able to offer unlimited amendments as part of the special budget process Republicans are using for the healthcare debate. More votes are set for Wednesday.

But with Democrats preferring to fix the healthcare law rather than end it, Republicans are largely left on their own. Even though most votes will require only 51 votes for passage, the 52-seat Republican majority is split on key healthcare issues, making various GOP proposals unable to win support.

Instead, Republicans may settle on an idea leaders floated this week -- what's being called "skinny repeal" -- a measure that would end just a few key parts of Obamacare. It would repeal the law's mandate that all Americans carry insurance and that bigger employers must provide it to their workers, or pay fines. The skinny repeal could also end some taxes, including one on medical device makers.

Passage of the skinny repeal would be far from the Republican promise to repeal Obamacare completely and replace it with another healthcare program. It would also need approval by the House, where Republicans have passed a more sweeping repeal and replacement bill.

No, Goldwater Rule has not been overturned. Psychiatrists are still prohibited from commenting on mental state of Trump

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Shortly after Barry Goldwater was named the Republican presidential nominee in 1964, Fact magazine published an article headlined, "1,189 Psychiatrists say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!" 

Goldwater sued the magazine for libel, and in 1973 the American Psychiatric Assn. implemented an ethics rule that prohibits psychiatrists from publicly commenting on the mental state of public figures they have not examined in person and from whom they have not obtained consent to discuss.

The so-called Goldwater Rule has gained renewed attention in the age of President Trump, as his speeches and tweets have prompted some psychiatrists to argue that they have a responsibility to the public to speak up about his mental state. Confusion over the rule grew Tuesday after an article on health site Stat News reported that the American Psychoanalytic Assn. – not to be confused with the much larger American Psychiatric Assn. – told its members that the long-standing rule should not restrict them from publicly commenting on Trump or any other public figure.

"The American Psychiatric Association's ethical stance on the Goldwater Rule applies to its members only. APsaA does not consider political commentary by its individual members an ethical matter. APsaA's ethical code concerns clinical practice, not public commentary," the group said in an email to its 3,500 members.

Soon after, the group tweeted that the original article was misleading.

In a statement to NPR, the group's director of public affairs, Wylie Tene, said members "have always been free to comment on public figures, but have been cautioned against diagnosing."

The American Psychiatric Assn. also tweeted, clarifying that its policy has never changed and that the Goldwater Rule remains in effect for its 37,000 members.

Much of the confusion seems to have stemmed from people wrongly using "psychiatry" and "psychoanalysis" interchangeably.

According to the American Psychiatric Assn., psychiatry "is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders."

The American Psychoanalytic Assn. describes psychoanalysis as a method that "teaches us about the unconscious psychological forces within us outside of everyday awareness," pulling from people's "stories, fantasies and dreams."

Sen. Dean Heller votes to debate Obamacare repeal bill, and Nevadans give him an earful

President Trump gets a laugh out of Nevada Sen. Dean Heller during a lunch at the White House on July 19 as he pressed senators to vote to repeal and replace Obamcare. (Michael Reynolds / European Pressphoto Agency)
President Trump gets a laugh out of Nevada Sen. Dean Heller during a lunch at the White House on July 19 as he pressed senators to vote to repeal and replace Obamcare. (Michael Reynolds / European Pressphoto Agency)

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, considered to be a vulnerable Republican in next year's midterm election, voted Tuesday to allow debate to go forward on a bill that would attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

On Twitter, this did not go unnoticed.

His statement attached to his tweet about why he chose to “vote to move forward and give us the chance to address the unworkable aspects of Obamacare” generated more than 5,300 replies within three hours of posting it.

Heller received some positive replies, like one from Duane Maddy, who praised his vote as wise. 

But the vast majority of replies expressed anger, or eagerness to donate to his opponent.

For context, Heller’s next most replied-to Twitter message this month was on July 13, when he received 472 responses to his tweet about having a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnunchin.

Of Hellers’ 33 tweets in July, 22 generated fewer than 100 replies — with most in the 20-to-30 range, which seems low for someone with 57,000 followers.

But Heller’s position on repealing Obamacare has been one of constant speculation as he’s been cast as a deciding vote on whether the GOP scraps the Affordable Care Act. He’s been under pressure by both sides of the political aisle on the issue. 

He’s also in a bind given that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a moderate Republican, appointed him to his Senate seat in the wake of John Ensign’s resignation in 2011 and was the first GOP governor to sign onto Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Sandoval has been a critic of the repeal-and-replace legislation being sought by congressional Republicans, and he has Heller’s ear.

But Heller’s statement suggested that he was simply voting for debate and that “if the final product isn’t improved for the state of Nevada, then I will not vote for it; if it is improved, I will support it.”

In case he needed a reminder, the response to his tweeted statement showed how much anger there is at the attempt to repeal Obamacare in a state that went for Hillary Clinton and has been trending blue for a few years. There were links in the replies for likely challengers for his seat, including Jacky Rosen, a Democratic Nevada congresswoman. 

Trump administration toughens policy against sanctuary cities

 (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The Trump administration on Tuesday strengthened its crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, announcing a new policy that says local governments will lose some federal grants if they do not give federal officials advance notice when illegal immigrants are about to be released from custody and allow immigration agents access to local jails.

The new policy, announced by the Department of Justice, will apply to all cities that get grants from the so-called Byrne Justice Assistance grant program, for which the administration has requested just over $380 million for the coming year.

Under the policy, cities will have to meet three conditions if they want the grants: honoring requests to give 48-hour notice when detainees are about to be released; allowing agents access to local and state jails, in order to pick up undocumented people who are being released; and compliance with a law that prohibits any jurisdictions from stopping the exchange of information about an individual’s immigration status.

The policy, announced as Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions comes under extraordinary criticism from President Trump, seems guaranteed to garner strong opposition from cities and the courts. In some states, courts have held that state and local authorities cannot detain people who are not charged with a crime simply because of a federal detainer request. 

3:40 p.m.: This post was corrected. Under the new policy, cities will have to honor requests to give 48 hour notice when a detainee is about to be released. The policy does not require cities to hold detainees at federal request.

Trump speech to Boy Scout Jamboree elicits widespread criticism for its partisanship, and profanity

President Trump earned no merit badge for his address to the Boy Scouts of America on Monday evening.

The president got plenty of applause from the more than 30,000 Scouts, troop leaders and parents during his 38-minute speech at the National Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.Va., along with chants of "USA" and "Trump" and hearty boos at his references to former rival Hillary Clinton and his predecessor, President Obama.

To many, that was the problem.

Almost immediately, the 117-year-old organization was forced to respond to a barrage of complaints from former Scouts, other parents and the general public that Trump's speech, which was carried live at least in part on cable television networks, violated Scout values by its partisanship and, at his start, profanity.

In a statement to news organizations late Monday, the Boy Scouts said its invitation to the president to speak was "a longstanding tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies."

Yet the protests kept coming Tuesday. On the Facebook page of the Boy Scouts of America, one woman wrote, "Since when does this organization get involved in politics? In fact, isn't it NOT allowed? Who let this happen? I can't believe the Boy Scouts booed a living American President."

"What kind of message does this send to scouts?" one critic asked. And a number of respondents echoed a man who posted, "My son and I, along with others I am sure, will be dropping out of Scouts due to supporting behavior that is contrary" to the Scouts' Mission Statement.

The organization did not respond to requests for additional comment.

The president began his remarks — falsely, it would turn out — by telling the enthusiastic throng of youths that he would leave "the policy fights" and "the fake news" aside for the moment.

Yet even in making that pledge, he went off-script: "I said, who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" 

Trump repeatedly departed from his prepared remarks on Scouts' honor and American values, either to take a shot at some political foe and the media or to relive the glory of his election victory, or both at once.

He took swipes not only at Clinton and Obama, but also at his fellow Republicans in Congress and, pointing toward reporters at the event, "these dishonest people."

Instead of a paean to public service typical of such events, the president told the teenagers that Washington, where his party controls both the White House and Congress, is "not a good place."

It's worse than a swamp — his usual metaphor — and actually is "a cesspool" or even "a sewer," he added.

The president recalled the "beautiful date" of Nov. 8, when he won the election — "Do we remember that date?" he asked, to applause. The television network maps were "so red" — for Republican state wins — "it was unbelievable," Trump added.

He recounted his against-the-odds electoral college tally of swing states, and castigated Clinton because she "didn't work hard." 

Though much of his audience was too young to vote, Trump gave the Scouts come credit for his triumph, calling his election "an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other millions and millions of people that came out and voted for 'Make America Great Again.' "

Trump introduced his secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, and then threatened — jokingly, it seemed — to fire Price if he didn't wangle the votes to kill "this horrible thing known as Obamacare." He singled out West Virginia's Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who has criticized previous versions of the healthcare bill, alluding to the Scout Law tenet to be loyal.

"We could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that,"  he said.

After some Scouts broke into a chant of "We love Trump," he digressed to ask them, "By the way, just a question: Did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?" Many yelled "No!" and he concurred, "The answer is no."

Obama, who, unlike Trump, was a Scout as a boy, sent a video greeting to the National Jamboree in 2010, the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. For much of his presidency, the organization was the subject of controversy for not allowing gay people to be Scouts, troop leaders or employees. It opened the door to gay Scouts in 2013, and to gay adults in 2015.

According to the organization, Trump was the eighth of 11 presidents in its history to join the annual Jamboree, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 to, most recently, George W. Bush in 2005. While Ronald Reagan never attended, his wife, Nancy Reagan, did.

A history of those past appearances and Obama's video remarks on the Scouts' website suggest Trump's address likely was unique for its political tinge. Others' speeches focused on the Scout Law, which commands that Scouts be "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."

In a long, confusing and suggestive digression, Trump spoke of a meeting years ago at a cocktail party with an aged William Levitt, the real estate pioneer of American suburbia who later went bankrupt. He told how Levitt had lived a fast life, with "a big yacht," adding, "I won't go any more than that because you're Boy Scouts, so I'm not going to tell you what he did."

He laughed, and many Scouts booed good-naturedly that the president wouldn't tell them more. Trump added of the washed-up Levitt, "It was very sad because the hottest people in New York were at this party."

By their chants, the Scouts, too, may have skirted close to violating the group's norms. Ahead of Trump's visit, organizers circulated word to troop leaders that "chants of certain phrases heard during the campaign (e.g. 'Build the wall,' 'Lock her up') are considered divisive by many members of our audience, and may cause unnecessary friction between individuals and units." 

Trump signaled most of his off-script asides by saying, "By the way," and his final such departure near the end of his speech seemed a bit out of sync with the steamy July day.

"And by the way," he told them, "under the Trump administration, you'll be saying, 'Merry Christmas' again when you go shopping. Believe me. Merry Christmas."


Sen. John McCain saves GOP healthcare bill in partisan vote, then calls for more bipartisanship

After casting a critical vote that allowed Republicans to move forward in their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — a move that narrowly passed along partisan lines — Sen. John McCain called on the Senate to focus more on bipartisan debate than on "winning."

McCain, who was diagnosed with brain cancer last week, made a dramatic, sooner-than-expected return to the Senate floor in time to vote for the motion to proceed on a GOP healthcare bill. The motion was opposed by every Democrat and two Republican senators, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaker vote. 

Immediately following the vote, McCain scolded senators for "not producing much for the American people" because of partisan, trivial debates. 

"Let's trust each other. Let's return to regular order. We've been spinning our wheels on too many important issues," McCain said. "We're getting nothing done, my friends. We're getting nothing done." 

McCain previously had criticized the Republican's secretive process for the healthcare bill and encouraged senators to start over with a bipartisan process. That left some unclear whether McCain would support Tuesday's procedural vote.

Although he voted on the motion to proceed, McCain said he would not vote on the bill as it currently stands.

"Our healthcare system is a mess; we all know it," he said. "Something has to be done. ... All we've managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn't very popular when we started trying to get rid of it."

The senator has received an outpouring of support since his diagnosis with brain cancer, but many opponents of repealing the current healthcare system criticized his vote Tuesday as hypocritical, particularly in light of his subsequent comments.

Trump also voiced support for McCain, tweeting Tuesday morning that the senator was a “brave American hero.” During the presidential campaign, Trump had questioned whether McCain, a Vietnam War veteran who spent years as a prisoner, was a hero because he was captured. 

McCain announced late Monday night he would be returning to the Senate to vote on healthcare, sanctions against Russia and the budget for the Department of Defense.

The senator also reiterated Tuesday he would not be stepping down from his seat, despite his illness.

RussiaWhite House

President Trump on Jeff Sessions' fate: 'Time will tell'

 (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump offered Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions something between a lifeline and an expiration date during a brief news conference Tuesday, after spending days undermining and criticizing the former close ally.

“I'm very disappointed with the attorney general, but we’ll see what happens," Trump said at a Rose Garden appearance with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. "Time will tell. Time will tell.”

Trump, asked twice whether Sessions' job is safe and what he can do to preserve it, declined to call on the attorney general to resign.

“I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before," Trump said.

Trump, responding to another reporter's question, also denied he was letting Sessions twist in the wind.

“I don’t think I am doing that," Trump said. "But I am disappointed in the attorney general."

Why? He reiterated comments he made in an interview with the New York Times last week in which he complained that Sessions had recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential collusion with his campaign.

"He should not have recused himself," Trump said.

"If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office and I would have quite simply picked somebody else. … I think it's unfair to the presidency.”

GOP senator says 'I'm worried' about Donald Trump, calls Republican congressman 'so unattractive'

Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Sen. Susan Collins is not a big fan of President Trump, but it's doubtful the Maine Republican would have said "I'm worried" about his administration if she had known the comments would be broadcast to the world.

That's what happened Tuesday when she and Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, were caught in a candid conversation on a hot microphone, after an appropriations subcommittee session.

The two were overheard expressing concern with Trump's grasp of reality and policy while Collins was heard disparaging the appearance of a Republican House member who had publicly chastised her and other "female senators from the Northeast" who opposed Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

The comments were first reported by the Washington Post.

“I think he’s crazy. I mean, I don’t say that lightly and as a kind of a goofy guy,” Reed says at one point, apparently referring to Trump. The remark came after Collins expressed concern that the White House had drafted a budget that has "no thinking" and is "incredibly irresponsible." 

"I'm worried," Collins replied.

The comments from sitting senators from each party are not only embarrassing to Trump, but could also make life difficult for Collins, who is already facing heat for bucking the Republican Party on healthcare.

She's been the most consistent critic of the party's plans to repeal or rewrite Obamacare -- one of two Republicans who voted Tuesday against the motion to begin debate on the healthcare bill.

While many Republican lawmakers express private frustration with Trump, polls show large majorities of Republican voters still approve of his performance in office.

Later Tuesday, Collins' office sent a statement from communications director Annie Clark saying that Collins was "worried" about Trump's budget.

"Senator Collins is worried about the elimination of transportation and housing programs in the President’s budget request that are critically important to local communities across our country," she said, pointing out specific grant programs that Trump has proposed eliminating. 

Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Republican from Texas. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Republican from Texas. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

In addition to agreeing with Reed that Trump lacks understanding of the budget process, Collins engages in banter with him about Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold. Last week, Farenthold told a radio host that he would love to challenge Collins and other female Republicans who opposed the GOP health bill to a duel.

"If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style," he said.

On Tuesday, Collins referred to the incident with a laugh.

"Do you know why he challenged you to a duel? ‘Cause you could beat the [expletive] out of him,” said Reed.

“He’s huge,” Collins replies. “...I don’t mean to be unkind, but he’s so unattractive it’s unbelievable.”

In the same email that clarified her "worried" comments, Collins' office tried to make peace with Farenthold, with a statement from Collins.

"Neither weapons nor inappropriate words are the right way to resolve legislative disputes," she said. "I received a handwritten apology from Rep. Farenthold late this morning. I accept his apology, and I offer him mine."

Media Watch: On the Right

With Sessions' job security uncertain, some conservatives question Trump's criticism

 (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

He was among President Trump’s earliest supporters, but now it appears U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions is headed for the exit.

In recent days, Trump has criticized Sessions on Twitter and during interviews for recusing himself from any investigation into possible collusion last year between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

While Trump throws jabs at Sessions, not everyone in conservative media is on board. Here are some story lines:

 Is Trump eyeing Rudy to replace “beleaguered AG” Sessions? (Rush Limbaugh)

Sessions, then a U.S. senator from Alabama, was the first in the chamber to endorse Trump during the 2016 campaign.  

Right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh homes in on this loyalty and expresses some reservations about Trump’s anger with Sessions.

“Sessions is a by-the-book attorney general, a by-the-book legal mind. That’s, I think, one of the bones of contention here, because it is arguable that he didn’t need to recuse himself,” Limbaugh said on his radio show.

Limbaugh added it’s “a little bit discomforting, unseemly for Trump to go after such a loyal supporter this way.”

Some reports, which Limbaugh notes, have pegged former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as a possible successor to Sessions.

Trump has himself, not Sessions, to blame for the limitless special prosecutor investigation (National Review)

In this piece, Andrew C. McCarthy writes that Trump must blame himself for his woes with the Russia investigation — not Sessions.

“President Trump accomplished only one thing by railing at Atty. Gen. Sessions: He added to the growing disinclination of quality people to work in his administration,” he writes. “No one with self-respect wants to work in a place where the boss not only won’t back you up when the going gets tough, but will turn on you with a vengeance — especially when there’s a need to divert attention from his own shortcomings.”

 Jeff Sessions is indeed on the way out (American Spectator)

The public criticism from Trump has baffled many conservatives.

Arnold Steinberg writes that Sessions deserves more respect.

"I myself have had occasion to relieve people of their responsibilities, that is, to fire them. But I would treat those people with respect and courtesy and surely not criticize them in semi-public or, worse, in a public situation,” Steinberg writes.

He adds: “The fact that Jeff Sessions was the first major political figure to endorse Donald Trump early in the primary season entitled (and entitles) him, at the least, to respectful consideration and professional courtesy by the administration.”

Watch live: Senate to vote on first step toward Obamacare repeal

Senate healthcare vote presents critical test for GOP and Trump

President Trump delivers a statement on healthcare at the White House. (Yuri Gripasyuri Gripas / AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump delivers a statement on healthcare at the White House. (Yuri Gripasyuri Gripas / AFP/Getty Images)

With a strong, last-minute push from President TrumpSenate Republicans face a pivotal vote Tuesday in their long bid to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act.

But the outcome remained in doubt, largely because senators have not even been told which of the various GOP plans will be considered.

Many GOP senators remain reluctant to begin formal debate on legislation without knowing where the process will end.

Trump warned senators Monday that Tuesday’s planned “motion to proceed” — the first legislative hurdle to passing a Senate bill — could be Republicans’ “last chance” to undo the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

He warned in a tweet that “the repercussions will be far greater than any of them understand!” — hinting of political fallout for senators who vote against the measure.

“For Senate Republicans this is their chance to keep their promise. Over and over again they said ‘repeal and replace, repeal and replace,’ ” he said. “There’s been enough talk and no action. Now is the time for action.”

For Trump, a failure Tuesday could expose the limits of his ability to implement his agenda, even with a GOP-controlled Congress.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare,” Trump said during an event at the White House.


Senate Committee issues subpoena for Paul Manafort to testify

The Senate Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager, saying that negotiations for him to testify voluntarily had broken down.

Manafort, whose testimony has also been requested by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, "through his attorney, said that he would be willing to provide only a single transcribed interview to Congress, which would not be available to the Judiciary Committee members or staff," the Judiciary Committee chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and its senior Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The committee could not agree to that plan, the senators said. 

The subpoena, issued Monday night, seeks to compel Manafort to appear at a hearing on Wednesday, although the statement left open the possibility that his testimony could be postponed to a later date.

Manafort could refuse to comply with the subpoena, in which case the committee could seek to hold him in contempt.

The Judiciary Committee has wanted Manafort to testify about how the government enforces the law that requires people who represent foreign governments and their agencies to register. The firm Manafort heads retroactively registered in June under the Foreign Agents Registration Act admitting that it had received some $17 million to represent the pro-Russian party that dominated Ukraine's government until it was overthrown in 2014.


CongressRussiaWhite House

The Kremlin did not order the meeting between a Russian banker and Kushner, says Putin spokesman

 (YURI GRIPAS / AFP/Getty Images)
(YURI GRIPAS / AFP/Getty Images)

The Russian bank chairman with whom Jared Kushner said he met in December in the lead-up to President Trump’s inauguration did not do so under Kremlin orders, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Tuesday.

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, disclosed during a Senate hearing Monday that he had met with Sergei Gorkov, the head of Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank, on Dec. 13. Kushner’s comments came as part of an ongoing congressional investigation into possible Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Kremlin has denied such interference.

Kushner said in his statement Monday the meeting was arranged at the suggestion of Sergei Kislyak, the outgoing Russian ambassador in Washington.

Vnesheconombank is a Russian development bank, and Gorkov was in the U.S. at the time of the meeting with Kushner for a routine roadshow. It’s “normal practice” for a senior banker to hold meetings with U.S. representatives, Peskov said during a conference call with reporters.

"These contacts do not require any authorization from the Kremlin, and they were not carried out on behalf of the Kremlin," Peskov said.

Trump accuses Jeff Sessions of taking a 'very weak' position on 'Hillary Clinton crimes'

 (Chris Kleponis / Pool)
(Chris Kleponis / Pool)

President Trump is keeping up pressure on Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, taking to Twitter at daybreak Tuesday to accuse the former senator and campaign ally and advisor of taking a "VERY weak" position at the Justice Department on "Hillary Clinton crimes."


In a post shortly after 6 a.m. EDT, the president also said: "Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign — quietly working to boost Clinton. So where is the investigation A.G." He also tweeted: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!"

The social network flares sent out from the White House followed a pattern that intensified earlier this month with Trump's harsh criticism of Sessions in an interview with the New York Times. Earlier, Trump referred to the attorney general in a tweet as "beleaguered." Trump has been angry that Sessions chose to recuse himself from the government's investigation of Russian meddling in last year's U.S. election.


McCain says he'll return to Senate for healthcare vote

Sen. John McCain. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
Sen. John McCain. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is returning to the Senate on Tuesday to vote on GOP healthcare legislation just days after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

McCain's office made the dramatic announcement late Monday in a brief statement.

Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Statement released by McCain's office

Republicans are holding a high-stakes vote on Tuesday to open debate on legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

They have almost no margin for error, making the presence of the 80-year-old McCain crucial if the vote is to succeed.

CongressWhite House

Trump slams GOP senators, 'dishonest' press, Obama and Clinton in a rambling speech to national Boy Scouts Jamboree

President Trump speaks during the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.V., on Monday. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump speaks during the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.V., on Monday. (Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump took jabs at Republican senators, "dishonest" reporters, his predecessor and his 2016 election rival in a rambling and surprisingly partisan speech before about 30,000 Boy Scouts and their troop leaders Monday evening in West Virginia. 

In one aside during remarks to the National Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W.V., the president asked, "Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" Yet he launched into an extended a critique of Washington politics.

That included jibes at senators in his own party -- including by name the home state senator, Shelley Moore Capito -- who have balked at ending the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with a still uncertain plan that would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid.

"I go to Washington and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp. In fact it's not a good place -- we should change it from the swamp to the cesspool or perhaps use the word sewer," he said.

Trump introduced several of his Cabinet members who had been Boy Scouts, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, there in Scout uniform; Energy Secretary Rick Perry' and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Price, the president said, "is going to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that's really hurting us."

 "You going to get the votes?" Trump asked Price. "He better get them," Trump told the enthusiastic youths. "Otherwise, I'm going to say, 'Tom, you're fired!'" 

He added, "You'd better get Sen. Capito to vote for it."

The Trump administration and Republican Senate leaders are pressing party colleagues to vote on Tuesday to allow debate on the House-passed healthcare measure so that they can then amend it with a different Senate version. They need at least 50 of the 52 Republican senators to consider the bill, a hurdle made more difficult with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.

Trump praised the Scouts for their pledges to be trustworthy and loyal, and encouraged them to "never quit" and to "do something you love." But repeatedly he went off script to make political points.

"We could use some more loyalty, I could tell you that," Trump said of Republicans in Congress. Within the first minute he attacked the press -- "fake news" -- twice and came back to the subject of "these dishonest people" later.

Of his predecessor, Trump interjected, "By the way, did President Obama ever come to a jamboree? The answer's no." When he vowed to kill Obamacare, the crowd chanted, "USA! USA!"

Trump criticized Democratic election opponent Hillary Clinton and recalled at length the surprise of his victory on Nov. 8, boasting of how red he'd made the TV networks' maps of the states.

In one extended tangent that surely confused many Scouts, Trump described a long-ago cocktail party conversation with pioneering real estate developer William Levitt. Levitt was "a very successful man," Trump told the Scouts, but sold his business and "lost his momentum." Although Levitt is considered the architect of postwar American suburbia, he was also known for ensuring that properties were sold only to whites and non-Jews.

Doubts on Atty. Gen. Sessions' tenure deepen amid Trump tweets and White House comments

 (Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)
(Jim Lo Scalzo / European Pressphoto Agency)

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions faced increasing questions about his future on Monday, a day that began with a fresh public slap from his boss,  President Trump, and continued with new calls to testify about his conversations with the Russian ambassador last year.

Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump and a strong influence during last year’s campaign, raised the president’s ire earlier this year with his decision to step aside from overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible cooperation by people associated with the Trump campaign. 

Sessions acted on advice from the department’s ethics lawyers, who said he should not play a role in an investigation involving a campaign on which he worked. But in a startling interview with the New York Times last week, Trump said Sessions' decision to recuse was unfair to him, and he made it clear that he blamed Sessions for the fact that he is now facing a widening special counsel investigation.

Since then, things have gotten worse for the attorney general.

On Monday morning, Trump tweeted that Sessions was “beleaguered” and questioned why the Justice Department wasn’t doing more to investigate Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia.

Later in the day, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, did nothing to allay doubts about Sessions’ future, refusing to say in an interview whether Trump wants him to resign.

"They need to sit down face to face and have a reconciliation and a discussion of the future," he said in an interview with CNN. "They need to speak and determine what the future of the relationship looks like.”

Sessions visited the White House on Monday, sparking a quick flurry of speculation that he was about to resign or be fired.

But Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions was there for a standing Monday lunch meeting with White House Counsel Donald McGahn. The attorney general had a discussion with McGahn and Tom Price, the Health and Human Services secretary, she said.

Sessions did not see Trump, she said, and no meeting with the president has been scheduled.

Sessions said last week that he has no plans to step down, saying he loved his job and would stay as long as it was “appropriate.” Flores said Monday that hasn’t changed. She had no comment on Scaramucci’s interview or on Trump’s “beleaguered” comment.

CongressWhite House

Trump takes aim at Senate Republicans on healthcare

President Trump greets people he says were  "victims of Obamacare" at White House event on Monday. (Yuri Gripas / AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump greets people he says were "victims of Obamacare" at White House event on Monday. (Yuri Gripas / AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump made a late-hour attempt to pressure Republican senators to act this week to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.

"For Senate Republicans, this is the time to keep their promise. So many times they said, 'repeal and replace,'" Trump said at a White House event carried live on cable television news channels, with people he said were "victims of Obamacare" arrayed behind him.

It was an unusual pitch, as a sitting president used the presidential bully pulpit to take his own party to task, at one point in mocking tones.

Republican Senate leaders are pressing party colleagues to vote on Tuesday to allow debate on the House-passed healthcare measure, so they can then amend it with a different Senate version. They need at least 50 of the 52 Republican senators to consider the bill, a hurdle made more difficult with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.

"Any senator that votes against starting debate is saying they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, which is what it is," Trump said.

The president stood in front of families he said had been hurt by increased premiums under the Affordable Care Act and by insurance companies withdrawing from state healthcare exchanges, and he condemned the existing program at length. But he made little affirmative case for a Republican alternative.

Trump said Democrats have provided "zero help" to come up with a solution to problems in the exchanges. 

He called Democrats "obstructionists" but also focused his fire on Republicans. "There's been more than enough talk and no action. Now is the time for action," he said.

RussiaWhite House

'I had no improper contacts,' Kushner says after speaking to senators about Russia and election meddling

President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner said Monday he "did not collude" with Russia and doesn't know of "anyone else in the campaign" who did.

Kushner, in a rare appearance before reporters at the White House, spoke within an hour of being interviewed behind closed doors on Capitol Hill by staff investigators of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is looking into Russia's meddling in the election and possible Trump campaign collusion.

"Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so," Kushner said, reading from a prepared statement.

"I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information," he added.

Kushner is to meet with both members and staff of the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday. His brief comments about his Senate session mostly repeated what he wrote in an 11-page statement he publicly released in advance of Monday's questioning.

That statement was Kushner's account of his contacts with Russians during the campaign and Trump's post-election transition. He described four meetings with Russian nationals. Two of those were with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. at the time, Sergey Kislyak.

Kushner initially did not disclose the meetings as required on forms he submitted to get a government security clearance for his White House job. He has since revised those forms several times.

In his comments outside the West Wing, Kushner added a political note, echoing his father-in-law in insisting that Trump won the election because of his appeal to voters, not because of help from any foreign government.

"Donald Trump has a better message and ran a better campaign and that is why he won," Kushner said. "Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him." 

Officials frequently speak to reporters on camera from just outside the West Wing doors, but the White House provided an unusual bit of stagecraft for the presidential son-in-law. Kushner spoke at a lectern that had been set up with a White House seal affixed.

After reading his prepared remarks, Kushner turned stiffly and walked back into the West Wing. He did not respond to questions shouted by reporters behind him.

Since the first questions were raised in March, I have been consistent in saying that I was eager to share any information I have with the investigating bodies and I have done so today. The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a unique campaign.

Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.

Jared Kushner, senior advisor and son-in-law to Trump

Watch live: Jared Kushner to give a statement following hearing on Russia

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, will give a statement at 10:15 a.m. following a closed session hearing with investigators and Senate Intelligence Committee members over Russian meddling in the election. 

Early Monday, ahead of the hearing, Kushner's representatives released an 11-page statement in which he described four meetings he had with Russians, including two with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. He confirmed a report first published in the Washington Post that at a meeting in December, he had inquired about using a secure communications line at the Russian embassy to conduct talks with Russian officials.


Kushner did not initially disclose any meetings with Russians on forms he submitted to get a government security clearance. He has since revised those forms several times.

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