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Essential Politics: A weekend all about wiretapping

Essential Politics: A weekend all about wiretapping
(Los Angeles Times)

President Trump, as usual, did not take the weekend off Twitter.

Instead, in the aftermath of a big dust-up about Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, Trump alleged that the Obama administration tapped the phones in his campaign office in Trump Tower, but he provided absolutely no evidence.

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I'm Sarah Wire, I cover the California delegation in Congress. Welcome to the Monday edition of Essential Politics.

President Obama denies any such surveillance took place, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Sunday that he isn't aware of any surveillance of Trump Tower and FBI Director James Comey is asking the Justice Department to publicly repudiate the president's charge.

On Sunday, the White House demanded a congressional investigation.

House Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California said a probe of the president's allegation will be added to the committee's existing investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Get the latest about the Trump administration on Essential Washington, follow @latimespolitics and keep an eye on our Essential Politics news feed for California political news.

GOP PUSHING AHEAD ON HEALTHCARE BILL

This week, Republicans are expected to begin moving legislation to replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The legislation could affect health insurance for tens of millions of Americans — not only those with Obamacare coverage, but also people with employer-provided insurance and Medicaid.

Noam Levey and Lisa Mascaro take a look at how Americans could see their insurance change under the legislation, and the challenges that lie ahead for Republicans as they try to fulfill a major GOP campaign promise.

Several House Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) joined Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) late last week as he searched the Capitol for a copy of the GOP plan, which hasn't been made public.

The Obamacare fight will also be the first major legislative test of what kind of resistance California Democrats in Congress can put together to stop Republicans' policies. I talked with the California delegation about what, if anything, they can do as members of the minority party.

GIFTS TO STATE LAWMAKERS

State lawmakers accepted $518,000 in gifts last year, including expensive meals, golf games, spa treatments, bottles of wine, tickets to pro sports events and trips to Europe, Asia and Central America, according to new financial disclosure reports.

It was a drop from the $892,000 in gifts accepted the year before. Patrick McGreevy, Melanie Mason and Chris Megerian took a look at who accepted gifts and what they got.

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STATE WORKERS MISUSING TAXPAYER DOLLARS

Patrick McGreevy reports on some of the findings of State Auditor Elaine Howle based on tips from a whistle-blower telephone line.

Tips included a state employee who used his work computer extensively to play video games, and two tax officials who improperly referred taxpayers to private businesses to prepare their taxes.

LEGAL AID FOR IMMIGRANTS

California lawmakers are trying to create what will probably be the largest legal defense program in the country for immigrants facing deportation.

Jazmine Ulloa spoke with two immigrants whose experiences having or not having a lawyer reflect the challenges lawmakers could face as they decide how much the state-funded initiative should cost and who it should serve.

COMBATING COLLEGE COSTS

Bernie Sanders made tuition-free college a cornerstone of his 2016 presidential bid, and in California, the focus on college affordability has outlasted his candidacy. Legislators have introduced at least three dozen bills to tackle college costs from all angles, including tuition freezes, cheaper textbooks and refinancing high-interest private student loans. Melanie Mason has a round-up of the proposals shaping the affordability debate in Sacramento.

POLITICAL ROAD MAP: THE SPENDING LIMIT RETURNS

During most of California's budget deficit years, critics of spending insisted Sacramento lawmakers needed a firm limit — a cap — on tax revenues they could allocate. This year, the issue could sneak up again to play a role in the budget Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators craft in the spring. In this week's Political Road Map column, John Myers takes a closer look at a decades-old spending cap enacted by voters that could suddenly play a major role in the final deal.

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ANOTHER CHALLENGER FOR ROHRABACHER

Orange County Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher has a second challenger for 2018. Businessman Harley Rouda, a Democrat who made his fortune in real estate, announced his run Thursday.

TODAY'S ESSENTIALS

— In this week's California Politics Podcast, Myers leads a roundtable discussion that kicks off with the political choices facing the governor once the state's bitter drought is officially declared over.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions should reappear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain his contacts with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said Sunday.

Rep. Steve Knight met with protests and boos outside his Palmdale town hall Saturday.

— Violence broke out Saturday at a pro-Trump rally in Berkeley.

— Former Rep. Xavier Becerra has picked his preferred successor in the 34th Congressional District, endorsing Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez in the crowded race. The special election is scheduled for April 4. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will face off in a final election June 6.

— The California Senate appointed a three-person panel to investigate GOP Sen. Janet Nguyen's controversial removal from the chamber. And Vietnamese American leaders are demanding an apology.

LOGISTICS

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