A new set of Senate polls from Democratic-aligned firm Public Policy Polling shows close races for three closely watched Democratic-held seats.
In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has 44 percent support, against Republican Rep. Cory Gardner with 43 percent, within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent. The poll was conducted from July 17-20. The pollster's analysis describes the political mood in Colorado: "The Democratic incumbents aren't very popular, but their Republican challengers aren’t exactly setting the world on fire either."
In North Carolina, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan leads Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis, 41 percent to 34 percent, plus another 8 percent support for Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh. The survey was also conducted from July 17-20, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent. The pollster's analysis attributes Hagan's lead to the unpopularity of the state legislature: "The big question though is whether she’ll be able to sustain this bigger lead once they’ve gone home," or if the race will tighten up again.
And in Montana, Republican Rep. Steve Daines leads Democratic Sen. John Walsh — who was appointed to the seat earlier this year — at 46 percent to 39 percent. This survey was conducted July 17 and 18, with a margin of error at plus or minus 4.1 percent. In a somewhat interesting twist, the last time PPP checked in on this race was way back in November of last year — and previously had Daines leading Walsh by an even wider margin of 52 percent to 35 percent, showing that Walsh might be starting to at least close the gap a little. Eric Kleefeld
Before the sun came up on Wednesday, members of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance were dropped off by U.S.-led coalition aircraft near a dam west of Raqqa, Syria, taking Islamic State fighters by surprise, the Pentagon said.
The area near the Tabqa dam is believed to be a base for foreign fighters, and where ISIS plots international attacks. In a statement, the SDF said fighters have seized four villages south of the Euphrates River and a highway that links Raqqa with Aleppo.
For the first time since December 2014, members of the 68-nation coalition also met Wednesday in Washington, D.C., where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. policy is to "demolish and destroy" ISIS. He told attendees that they should be heartened by the fact that over the past year, the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS is down by 90 percent, and since almost all of his deputies are dead, it's "only a matter of time" before ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is killed. Catherine Garcia
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Wednesday it is "deeply troubling" that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, briefed President Trump about his transition team's communications that may have been picked up during "normal foreign surveillance" before sharing the information with the committee.
"The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct, which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House," Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said at a news conference. "Because he cannot to both." Nunes was a member of the transition team, and said the information he saw came from an unidentified source. He did not reveal whose communications were intercepted or what they said.
Because Nunes kept the reports from the committee, it's "impossible" to evaluate the communications, Schiff said. It also makes it clearer than ever that there needs to be an independent commission into Russia's alleged meddling before the presidential election, he added. FBI Director James Comey has confirmed there is an investigation into Russia and the election, and there is no evidence to back up Trump's claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower before the election. Catherine Garcia
The House Republican leadership is planning to forge ahead with a Thursday floor vote on the American Health Care Act, the party's proposed health-care bill to replace ObamaCare. As of Wednesday afternoon, the bill is facing long odds in the lower chamber, with more than two dozen GOP members — mostly from the far-right House Freedom Caucus — stating their intention to vote against the bill.
The White House has remained optimistic about the bill's passage, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer saying during Wednesday's press briefing that "member by member, we're seeing tremendous support flow in our direction." Despite the mounting defections, "the count keeps getting stronger for us," Spicer insisted.
Mere hours after Spicer's Wednesday briefing, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) tweeted this:
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 22, 2017
Republicans can only afford to lose 22 votes in the lower chamber if they want to push the American Health Care Act through. If the bill does pass the House on Thursday, it will move onto the Senate — where it also faces a steep uphill battle. Kimberly Alters
Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch is facing the Senate Judiciary Committee for a third day of confirmation hearings Wednesday. While he's been praised by Republicans for his strong conservative record and boasts a sterling academic pedigree, Democrats have pointed to the federal appellate judge's rulings on workers' rights and women's issues as points of concern. Some Democrats have also cited the unfair treatment of Judge Merrick Garland's nomination to the same seat by former President Barack Obama as reason to obstruct Gorsuch's nomination.
The Garland argument holds little weight at this point, as Obama has left office and President Trump has nominated Gorsuch to the seat, as is his constitutional right. But if Democrats cannot use the Garland argument or Gorsuch's own judicial record to delay the confirmation, it seems they have developed a third tactic: delegitimizing President Trump's right to nominate Gorsuch in the first place.
In light of FBI Director James Comey's disclosure Monday that the bureau is actively investigating whether the Trump campaign has any untoward ties with Russia, both Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have indicated they believe Gorsuch's nomination is illegitimate because of the ongoing probe:
— Matt House (@mattwhouse) March 21, 2017
Looks like Elizabeth Warren wants to postpone Gorsuch's nomination while the Trump campaign is under FBI investigation pic.twitter.com/airpuB3Cmu
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 21, 2017
Apparently Republicans haven't concocted a health-care back-up plan. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Wednesday that the American Health Care Act — which is dangerously close to not having enough votes to pass the House in a scheduled floor vote Thursday — is the GOP's one and only bet for repealing and replacing ObamaCare. "There is no plan B," Spicer said at Wednesday's press briefing. "There's a plan A and plan A. We're going to get this done."
Republicans can only afford to lose 22 GOP votes and still get the health-care bill through the House, and at this point 25 members of the House Freedom Caucus have said they will oppose the bill. But when asked if Republicans were "100 percent confident" the bill was going to get through, Spicer insisted the GOP was "going to get it done." "That's it," he said. "Plain and simple."
Watch it below. Becca Stanek
Spicer on healthcare bill that appears to be in trouble: "There's plan A and plan A. We're gonna get this done." pic.twitter.com/6kFKrjvzLc
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) March 22, 2017
Just a day ahead of the House's scheduled vote on the GOP health-care bill, conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks announced its opposition to Republicans' ObamaCare replacement plan. In a letter, FreedomWorks urged Republican lawmakers to vote 'no' on the American Health Care Act, arguing it "does not go far enough to permanently dismantle the ObamaCare framework."
"There are parts of the American Health Care Act that bring about positive reforms, including the expansion of health savings accounts (HSAs), the repeal of most of ObamaCare's taxes, and Medicaid reforms," the letter said. "Unfortunately, even with recently submitted changes, the American Health Care Act has too many ObamaCare-like flaws." The letter warned Republicans that Americans will judge the bill based solely on whether health-insurance premiums decline; if premiums don't go down because the AHCA "leaves in place parts of ObamaCare that have caused premiums to rise, Republicans will pay a price."
FreedomWorks is just the latest conservative group to come out against the GOP health-care bill. Earlier this week, both Heritage Action and Club for Growth warned Republican lawmakers the AHCA does not go far enough to undo ObamaCare.
Trump communications may have been picked up in legal, 'normal foreign surveillance,' House Intelligence Committee chair says
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that it's "possible" President Trump and his transition team's communications were picked up through "incidental collection" by intelligence officials doing "normal foreign surveillance." Nunes said the surveillance was legal and does not seem to be connected to the ongoing FBI investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. This surveillance is also unrelated to Trump's allegations that former President Barack Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower.
Nunes said he learned of the possibility from "sources," and he said he was "alarmed" when he found out. However, Nunes noted it's not yet clear whether the surveillance — which apparently happened in November, December, and January — was "beyond routine foreign surveillance," The Washington Examiner reported.
Nunes said he plans to go to the White House later Wednesday to brief President Trump on the matter. Becca Stanek