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September 20, 2017

On Tuesday, Vox interviewed nine Republican senators about the Graham-Cassidy bill, the GOP's last-ditch effort to repeal ObamaCare. Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass the bill with a simple majority vote, but 10 days out they seemed to be struggling to pin down exactly why the Graham-Cassidy bill should pass.

Though senators generally agreed that the bill would return power to the states, they had less to say on the finer points of how this could happen without millions of Americans losing insurance coverage and why the bill calls for such drastic cuts to federal spending.

Below, catch some particularly illustrative tidbits from Vox writer Jeff Stein's conversations with these lawmakers. And then head over to Vox to read the rest. Becca Stanek

  • Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on why Graham-Cassidy makes "things better" for Americans:

Pat Roberts
"Look, we're in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we're headed toward the canyon. That's a movie that you've probably never seen — "

Jeff Stein
"I do know Thelma and Louise, sir."

Pat Roberts
"So we have to get out of the car, and you have to have a car to get into, and this is the only car there is." [Vox]

  • Sen. Richard Shelby, on the bill's proposed cuts to federal funding for states by 34 percent over the next decade: "But it wouldn't cut Alabama, though."
  • Roberts on why Republicans are pushing a bill that could cause millions to lose insurance: "If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections."
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on what this bill does "right, policy-wise":

John Kennedy
"I think it's an improvement over ObamaCare."

Jeff Stein
"Why?"

John Kennedy
"My position has always been that, number one, I think ObamaCare has been a failure.

Number two: First chance I get to vote for repeal it, I'll do it.

And number three: If it's replacement, if replacement is better than ObamaCare, I will vote for it." [Vox]

  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on how he knows the "savings" from federal funding cuts "will be close to enough to protect everyone": "Well, nothing protects everyone."
11:19 p.m. ET
AFP/Getty Images

A livid diplomat told The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman that he's at "a f—king loss" over the White House refusing to rule out letting Russian officials question a former U.S. ambassador.

Russian prosecutors said on Wednesday that they wanted to interview Michael McFaul about a case against Russian President Vladimir Putin's foe, Bill Browder; McFaul said he was not in Russia during the pertinent time frame. When asked about Russia's request, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would only say there had been "some conversation" about it between President Trump and Putin Monday in Helsinki; State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later called the idea "absolutely absurd."

Ackerman spoke to several current and former State Department officials, who can't believe the White House isn't squashing the request. "It's beyond disgraceful," a current diplomat said. "It's fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means. It really puts in jeopardy the professional independence of diplomats anywhere in the world, if the consequence of their actions is going to be potentially being turned over to a foreign government."

Trump, the diplomat declared, has been "[defecating] on our NATO allies and kissing Putin's ass," because he "cares more about himself than the nation and any of us who serve it." In a callback to Trump's Access Hollywood tape, the diplomat added, "Either he's compromised by Putin or he's a pussy, in which case he should grab himself." Catherine Garcia

10:33 p.m. ET
Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

During a meeting in Trump Tower on Jan. 6, 2017, Donald Trump, just weeks from being inaugurated as president of the United States, was shown highly classified intelligence that indicated Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered cyberattacks to influence the 2016 U.S. election, The New York Times reports.

Trump was briefed by former CIA Director John Brennan; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and Adm. Michael Rogers, former director of the National Security Agency, with the evidence including texts and emails from Russian military officers and information from a source close to Putin who covertly told the CIA how Russia executed its disinformation and hacking campaign.

Several people at the briefing told the Times Trump sounded "grudgingly convinced," but since the inauguration, has been reticent to publicly call Putin out, as seen in Helsinki on Monday, yet quick to ridicule Brennan and Clapper. One of Trump's closest aides told the Times Trump is afraid if he ever admits the campaign was successful, it will delegitimize his presidency. For more about the meeting, and the lengths Brennan went to protect the human sources who funneled information to the CIA, visit The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

9:19 p.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray affirmed on Wednesday that he is confident in the assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and said Moscow is still working to sow discord in the United States.

Russia is using propaganda and fake news items to "spin up" Americans, Wray said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, and he brushed off Russian President Vladimir Putin's idea of having his country help U.S. authorities investigate 12 Russian military intelligence officials indicted last week on hacking charges. The offer is "not high on our list of investigative techniques," Wray said. Catherine Garcia

7:58 p.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Interior Department's deputy inspector general notified House Democrats on Wednesday that its internal watchdog has launched an investigation into a real estate deal involving a foundation started by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in Montana and several developers, including Halliburton Chairman David Lesar.

The probe will look into whether Zinke violated conflict of interest laws. The real estate deal involved his wife, Lola Zinke, signing an agreement allowing developers, including Lesar, to build a parking lot for a redevelopment project that could raise the value of land Zinke owned nearby, Politico reports.

Critics say Zinke and his family shouldn't be involved in any business deals with anyone connected to oil and gas, as Zinke is one of the chief regulators overseeing those industries. Catherine Garcia

6:42 p.m. ET
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court pulled a measure to split up the state from the November ballot.

Proposition 9 was sponsored by venture capitalist Tim Draper, and called for the division of California into three states: California, Northern California, and Southern California. A conservation group sued, arguing the measure would abolish the state constitution, which cannot be done as a ballot initiative. The court ruled that "significant questions have been raised regarding the proposition's validity" and the "potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election."

The court agreed to rule on the measure's constitutionality at a later date, but University of Illinois law school dean Vikram Amar told the Los Angeles Times "they would not have removed it from the ballot unless it was their considered judgment that it is very likely not a valid measure that can go to the voters."
 Catherine Garcia

5:36 p.m. ET
GOP.gov

Before Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) was a member of Congress, he hosted a radio show.

The Jason Lewis Show, which ran from 2009 until 2014, gave Lewis the chance to broadcast all sorts of compelling thoughts. One of his recurring arguments, CNN reported Wednesday, was that people should be allowed to call young women "sluts."

Lewis, whose show dubbed him "America's Mr. Right," said that women who vote based on health care that covers birth control lack "cognitive function," and suggested they were not "human beings." The congressman narrowly won his House seat in 2016, even after the Star Tribune in Minnesota published some of his misogynistic comments.

"It used to be that women were held to a little bit of a higher standard," Lewis lamented in a 2012 episode of his show. "We required modesty from women. Now, are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can't call her a slut?"

He additionally called young female voters "ignorant of the important issues in life," saying "somebody's got to educate them." While discussing the notion that women are "guided by emotion, not reason" later that year, Lewis defended his respect for women by noting, "I'm married to a woman for heaven's sake."

A representative for Lewis defended his comments, telling CNN that "this has all been litigated before ... it was his job to be provocative while on the radio." The congressman is up for re-election in the fall in his competitive district. Read more at CNN. Summer Meza

4:34 p.m. ET
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

While it's impossible to know exactly what President Trump discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin in their one-on-one meeting Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was "some conversation" about allowing Russia to question U.S. citizens.

Reporter Maggie Haberman of The New York Times asked Sanders on Wednesday whether Trump supported the idea of allowing Russia to question people like Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia. Sanders said Trump would "meet with his team" about the matter and make an announcement later if necessary.

McFaul is reportedly of interest to Putin regarding the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions against Russia. Putin has accused officials like McFaul, British-American financier Bill Browder, and Steele dossier author Christopher Steele of financial crimes, some of which he alleged during Monday's summit. McFaul and Browder have denied the allegations, but Putin said he was interested in interrogating them to be sure.

The former ambassador himself was wondering whether Trump had pushed back on the suggestion, writing on Twitter to call the allegations against him "whacko." Rather than "push back," apparently, Sanders said that Trump had discussed it with Putin, suggesting that the president was considering allowing Russia to question the U.S. citizens. "There wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States," said Sanders, without offering any other details about the conversation.

McFaul wrote that he hopes the White House will "correct the record" and denounce the "ridiculous request." Russian state media, meanwhile, published an article titled "Nervous, are we?" taunting McFaul's "defensive" tweets. Summer Meza

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