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March 10, 2017
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The Republican Party's mad dash to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a new law, the American Health Care Act, is being driven by two big, related considerations: the calendar, and the Senate's budget "reconciliation" rules, which allow the Senate to pass certain pieces of legislation with a simple majority. The AHCA was written narrowly to fit within the constraints of the reconciliation rules, and whether it does will be partly determined by how much the Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will cost.

Without reconciliation, the already endangered bill won't clear the Senate. Without major changes to satisfy GOP conservatives, it may not pass the House. President Trump and some congressional Republicans have come up with a solution to this conundrum: Ignore the CBO and overrule the Senate parliamentarian, who determines which measures can be passed through the reconciliation maneuver, as long as 60 senators don't overrule her advice. This wouldn't be so much "working the refs" as ignoring them, and it would likely throw Congress into chaos.

The CBO — led by Republican appointee Keith Hall — is expected to estimate that the AHCA increases the budget deficit and cuts at least 15 million people off health insurance. The new GOP line is that CBO economists and statisticians can be ignored because their projections just aren't very good. Their main exhibit: The CBO score for ObamaCare. "If you're looking to the CBO for accuracy, you're looking in the wrong place," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Wednesday. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) made a similar argument on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. (The CBO's ACA projections were actually "reasonably accurate," according to a 2015 Commonwealth Fund report.)

"I have no idea what the CBO report will say," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), "but I find it amusing that the right-wing Trump administration would try to cast doubt about the integrity of that report when it was the right-wing Republicans who handpicked its director."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and House conservatives, meanwhile, are arguing that Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as presiding officer of the Senate, can simply override any unfavorable reconciliation ruling by parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough. Cruz said he's been discussing that plan, which would allow the GOP to scrap things like ObamaCare's ban of discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, with "a number of my colleagues." Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and vice chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) promoted the idea with Trump over lunch on Thursday.

It's not clear if either of these maneuvers will work, but that's where the fight is going. Peter Weber

7:48 p.m. ET
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On Tuesday, the House voted 419 to 3 to pass a bill that strengthens sanctions against Russia in response to its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The sanctions primarily target Russian oil and gas projects with companies based in the United States and a handful of other countries, and will be difficult for President Trump to lift because he will need approval from Congress. It now heads to the Senate for a vote, and could be sent to Trump to sign into law before August, when Congress begins its recess.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the sanctions would be "harmful" to U.S.-Russian relations. The package also includes sanctions against Iran and North Korea, due to their weapons programs. Catherine Garcia

6:43 p.m. ET
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The Senate Judiciary Committee has dropped its subpoena for Paul Manafort, President Trump's onetime campaign chairman, to publicly testify Wednesday during a hearing on Russian meddling in the election because he has agreed to meet with committee investigators, a person with knowledge of the situation told Politico Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the committee's chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), confirmed that a subpoena had been issued for Manafort after they had been "unable to reach an agreement for a voluntary, transcribed interview with the Judiciary Committee."

Both Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, met with the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday in a closed-door session that lasted several hours, detailing the meeting they attended in June 2016 with a Kremlin-linked attorney. Catherine Garcia

5:04 p.m. ET

Senate Republicans narrowly approved a motion to proceed to debate on health-care legislation Tuesday. The motion passed 51-50, with Vice President Mike Pence stepping in to break the tie after Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) joined all 48 members of the Democratic caucus in voting no.

While the vote was taking place, President Trump was at the White House meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. By the time Trump emerged for his joint press conference with Hariri at the Rose Garden, Pence had already cast the tie-breaking vote. When asked about the razor-thin margin, Trump said Collins and Murkowski's votes were "very sad — for them":

The Senate will now move on to 20 hours of debate on several Republican proposals, including the Senate's Better Care bill and a plan favored by conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would constitute a straight repeal of ObamaCare. A "skinny repeal" plan, which was introduced just hours before Tuesday's vote and would center around eliminating ObamaCare's individual mandate, employer mandate, and select taxes, could also come into play.

No single proposal is thought to have the 50 votes necessary to pass. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) returned to Washington on Tuesday afternoon for the first time since being diagnosed with cancer to cast a crucial vote in favor of the motion to proceed, but he may leave the capital by the end of the week. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) told reporters that party leadership informed him the goal is to pass a health-care plan by Friday — especially wise, given Trump's baiting of Collins and Murkowski may not be effective in spurring them to support the president's agenda. Kimberly Alters

3:42 p.m. ET

On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) returned to the Senate floor for the first time since he was diagnosed with brain cancer, and he was greeted by a bipartisan standing ovation. McCain came back to Washington just in time to to cast his yes vote on Senate Republicans' motion to proceed on debating the House-passed health-care bill.

Though Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided on the health-care issue — no Democrats voted in favor of the motion to proceed, while all but two Republicans supported it — Politico's Dan Diamond reported that a "parade" of Democrats went over to hug McCain.

After the voting wrapped up and the motion to proceed passed, however, McCain took the floor for a general speech that betrayed his simple "aye" vote on the bill. Though McCain voted in favor of the motion to proceed, he made clear that he would "not vote for the bill as it is today." "It's a shell of a bill right now, we all know that," McCain said, adding that it "seems likely" that "this process ends in failure." He scolded his party for "getting nothing done" because "we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle."

McCain's critical speech also extended to President Trump. "Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president's subordinates," McCain said. "We are his equal." Catch a snippet of McCain's speech below, and read it in full here. Becca Stanek

3:09 p.m. ET
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On Tuesday, the Senate voted in favor of a motion to proceed to debating the House-passed health-care bill. The motion passed 50-50, with Vice President Mike Pence stepping in to break the tie.

Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) were the only Republicans to vote against the measure. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, returned to Washington to cast his yes vote amid a round of applause. No Democrats voted in favor.

Lawmakers will now move to voting on the Senate's Better Care bill, along with a straight repeal bill favored by conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). A "skinny repeal" plan, which was introduced just hours before Tuesday's vote and would center around eliminating ObamaCare's individual mandate, the employer mandate, and a few of the health-care law's taxes, would come into play as a third option. Becca Stanek

2:48 p.m. ET

Protesters' shouts cut through the quiet of the Senate floor Tuesday as lawmakers convened to vote on a motion to proceed to debating the House-passed health-care bill. "Kill the bill! Don't kill us!" protesters chanted as senators began to cast their votes.

The gavel was pounded in an attempt to restore order. "Shame! Shame!" the protesters carried on.

If the motion to proceed passes, the Senate will move on to voting on Senate Republicans' Better Care bill, along with a straight repeal bill. A third option would be the "skinny repeal" plan, a pared-down ObamaCare repeal focused specifically on eliminating the individual mandate. Becca Stanek

2:37 p.m. ET

As the Senate convened Tuesday to vote on a motion to proceed to debating the House-passed health-care bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) fired off a caustic criticism of Senate Republicans' hasty and secretive process. As Sanders underscored in a retweet of Vox's Dylan Scott, the vote Tuesday happened in spite of the fact there was "no final text," " no final CBO score," and "no public hearings."

Sanders deemed the process not just "insulting" — but "undemocratic":

Just as the vote began Tuesday, several uncertain Republican senators came out in support of the motion to proceed. Becca Stanek

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