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Republicans eye billions in side deals to win Obamacare repeal votes

White House and Capitol Hill officials are exploring potential deals to divvy up billions of dollars to individual senators’ priorities in a wide-ranging bid to secure votes for the imperiled GOP health care bill.

A Congressional Budget office score that projected 22 million fewer Americans would have insurance under the plan sent some members fleeing Monday and left the bill in jeopardy of failing to have enough votes to even be called to the Senate floor this week.

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But Republicans in the White House and in Congress were pleasantly surprised that the bill included more savings than they expected — and are trying to figure out if they can dole it out for votes.

The Senate has about $188 billion to play with.

Among the possible changes: More spending for health savings accounts to appease conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, according to three people familiar with the matter, and some additional Medicaid and opioid spending for moderates.

"We are still working with leadership to change the base bill," a Lee aide said.

Lee, Cruz and others on the right have been looking to wipe out as much of Obamacare as possible and replace it with health savings accounts, group plans and selling insurance across state lines, among other ideas. It’s not clear if the Senate parliamentarian would allow all of those proposals through under strict reconciliation rules. And Lee will likely require far more dramatic changes to be won over.

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Meanwhile, senators from Medicaid expansion states huddled after the CBO score revealed the nearly $200 billion in savings to see if they could get GOP leaders to put more money into Medicaid and to thwart drug addiction. Those modifications may take place on the Senate floor, but Republicans are divided on how to use the money.

Negotiations are likely to continue quickly behind the scenes over the next 24 hours and could draw the ire of good government groups and advocates. Republicans hammered Democrats for supposedly crafting Obamacare in secret seven years ago and for handing out goodies to wavering Democratic senators.

But the GOP bill has been roundly criticized for being negotiated and written in secret — and the final terms are leaving even some Republicans queasy.

One Senate aide said that Tuesday would be "all about side deals," and another person familiar with the discussions said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already begun talking about private deals.

"There's no one-size-fits all to getting these people on board," said one White House official. "Each of them want different things and we have to figure out if there is a path."

Defenders of the bill note that Obamacare's markets are struggling and the coverage losses are partially due to people choosing not to buy coverage, because there would no longer be a government


How the GOP health care plans stack up to Obamacare in 4 charts

Americans without health insurance could double by 2026


White House threatens Syria over possible chemical attack

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured.

Syrian President Bashar Assad denied that his regime carried out a chemical attack. | Getty


5 questions on the future of Trump's travel ban

President Donald Trump’s travel ban gained legal traction at the Supreme Court Monday after months of setbacks from lower courts, but the justices may have ushered in a long summer of confusion about the impact of the controversial policy as lawyers on both sides prepare for arguments in the fall.

Trump quickly claimed victory after the Supreme Court pared back court injunctions that had blocked him from implementing his executive order to halt issuance of visas to citizens of six majority-Muslim countries and suspend admission of refugees from across the globe.

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However, critics of Trump’s directive said they believe the majority of travelers from those countries are likely exempt from the newly reinstated rules because the Supreme Court limited the application to people without ties to the United States — at least until the justices take up the case again in October.

Here are five outstanding questions after the Supreme Court's first ruling on the Trump travel ban:

Who really won?

Despite Trump's quick claim of a "clear victory for national security," the justices may have handed the president more of a rhetorical victory than a practical one — at least for the time being.

The justices said Trump's travel ban directive can take effect while the litigation goes forward, but the Supreme Court gave an exemption to "foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

This means visa applicants who have some link to the United States, such as family members they're seeking to visit, can continue to receive visas, as can those who are admitted to U.S. universities, set to work at U.S. companies or even invited to speak by U.S. organizations.

"There's enough in that opinion for either side to claim victory, but on balance I'd say it's mostly a win for the plaintiffs" challenging the ban, said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Washington University law professor.

While Trump may now proceed with parts of the 90-day visa ban on travelers from six countries and 120-day refugee ban, immigration advocates say a majority of those seeking to visit or live in the United States would likely be exempt because they have tangible ties to people or organizations here.

Trump's travel ban had already been substantially narrowed from an initial version released in January. Green-card holders and existing visa holders—such as foreign students—were carved out by the president in March in an effort (which he has since said he regrets) to bolster the legal defense of the rules. On Monday, the Supreme Court limited the rules' application even more.

In theory, refugees could be most affected, since only about 60 percent of those admitted to the U.S. have declared family ties here. But the Supreme Court ruling appears to count those already assigned by the government to a refugee organization, so many refugee cases in the pipeline likely will be permitted to continue.



Heller’s hesitance on Obamacare repeal opens Dem divide

Dean Heller’s harsh critique of the Republican effort to kill Obamacare has broken open a Democratic divide — between those who want to unseat him and those who prefer to lock in his "no" vote first to save the health law.

The Nevada Republican senator gave Democrats a gift on Friday when he issued a stinging analysis of the Senate' GOP health plan and signaled he may vote against it. His reward: vicious reviews from Democrats who sense a chance to defeat him in 2018.

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Heller was "cowardly," not courageous, argued Democratic super PAC American Bridge. He's "taking marching orders" from party bosses in Washington, said Senate Democrats' campaign arm. Nevada Democrats assailed his comments as "desperate," and EMILY's List called him "utterly spineless."

The assault, though, isn’t sitting well with some of the party's staunchest Obamacare defenders. Heller's defiance of GOP leadership may help Democrats stave off Republican efforts to gut the seven-year-old health care law this week. Attacking one of the few Republicans likely to break ranks feels disturbingly off-key, some Obamacare backers argued.

"Democrats look awfully disingenuous by attacking him for opposing a terrible plan that would punish his state and constituents," said David Axelrod, a top adviser to former President Barack Obama. "If Dean Heller stops a disaster for his state and people across the country, I'm not going to question his motives."

The tension over how to handle Heller reflects a broader conflict for the party. Democrats in Congress are desperate to stop a GOP health care push they warn will cause devastation for millions of families. But their outside allies tasked with chipping away at GOP control of Washington are solely focused on making vulnerable Republicans pay for the controversial bill.

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To liberal advocacy groups focused primarily on preserving Obamacare, Heller's remarks Friday came as welcome news.

“We do think we need to praise members when they do something right, for whatever reason,” said Angel Padilla, policy director at Indivisible, which has waged a national campaign to thwart Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

“There are plenty of reasons to try to replace Heller,” Padilla added, “but on this he’s done the right thing.”

Another longtime Obama ally, Jesse Lehrich, called Democratic attacks on Heller "offensive" at a time when "thousands of lives are on the line."

Groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and American Bridge have their focus elsewhere — on the broader political effort to win back the Senate. In that effort, Heller is the most obvious target. He's the only Republican up for reelection in 2018 who hails from a state won by Hillary Clinton, and he's Democrats' best — if not only — shot to flip a GOP-held Senate seat next year.

"Some just are fighting for this one vote, but we're not just after his vote, we're also

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