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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."
6:47 p.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is blasting the White House for its decision to let Emmet Flood, President Trump's attorney working on the Russia investigation, attend two classified briefings on Thursday with Department of Justice officials.

"Emmet Flood's presence and statement at the outset of both meetings today was completely inappropriate," Schiff said. A Republican-only meeting, attended by leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), was held Thursday morning to discuss information related to an FBI informant who in 2016 talked to Trump campaign advisers linked to Russia. The White House said Flood and White House chief of staff John Kelly spoke at the beginning of the meeting to "relay the president's desire for as much openness as possible," and left before it started.

After this meeting took place, Justice Department officials briefed the bipartisan congressional leaders who make up the "Gang of Eight," including Schiff, and Flood attended that meeting, too. Schiff told reporters that "nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures or protocols." Catherine Garcia

5:33 p.m. ET
robvanhal/iStock

The nation's opioid crisis isn't limited to the landbound.

Scientists near Seattle, Washington, found that some marine creatures have absorbed drugs that end up in the waters due to human drug use, KIRO News reported Thursday.

When looking for water contamination, scientists found that mussels in the Puget Sound tested positive for oxycodone and other chemicals. Sealife can get contaminated when humans ingest opioids, because people later excrete trace amounts of drugs, which end up in wastewater. The wastewater is cleaned, but not all drugs can be filtered out.

“It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area,” one researcher told KIRO.

Researchers found that mussels in multiple locations had absorbed not only opioids, but also antibiotics and other prescription drugs. Washington officials said that the contamination shouldn't make it unsafe to eat mussels, since shellfish in restaurants are coming from different areas. Read more at KIRO News. Summer Meza

5:04 p.m. ET
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Roger Stone might be in big trouble. The former Trump adviser told the House Intelligence Committee last September that when he reached out to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 presidential campaign, he "merely wanted confirmation" that Assange had information on Hillary Clinton, but emails published by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday cast this claim into serious doubt.

The emails reveal that Stone contacted an acquaintance of Assange for "information he considered damaging" to the Democratic presidential candidate, The Wall Street Journal reports. On Sep. 8, 2016, Stone reportedly asked Randy Credico, a radio host who had interviewed Assange, to approach the WikiLeaks founder for specific emails from "State or HRC" that were dated "from August 10 to August 30 — particularly on August 20, 2011." Credico allegedly replied that "I can’t ask them favors every other day," adding that Stone should "relax." Credico maintains that he never contacted Assange or his staff, but told Stone that he had to get him to stop "bothering" him, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), said he was not aware of the email exchange, but that “If there is such a document, then it would mean that [Stone's] testimony was either deliberately incomplete or deliberately false." Stone, for his part, stated that his testimony before the committee was "complete and accurate," and that he never actually got access to any of Clinton's emails.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Shivani Ishwar

4:34 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

There's a reason President Trump's letter to North Korea's Kim Jong Un sounded suspiciously like campaign-trail Trump — the president reportedly dictated it to White House aides.

Trump released a letter Thursday announcing that he would not travel to Singapore next month for a historic summit with Kim. While it was plenty cordial, noting Kim's "effort with respect to our recent negotiations," it also struck a few distinctly Trumpian notes, boasting of the U.S. nuclear stockpile ("so massive") and blaming Kim's behavior for the cancellation ("tremendous anger").

White House sources told The Wall Street Journal that Trump dictated the letter and then ordered staffers to release it immediately, without notifying global allies. That would explain why the South Korean government appeared so blindsided by the news, with President Moon Jae-In saying he was "very perplexed" by Trump's decision. Trump didn't tell South Korea or Japan ahead of time in an attempt to avoid the news from leaking, the Journal reports. Summer Meza

4:03 p.m. ET
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company

Former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein will surrender to authorities and face charges of sexual abuse on Friday, NBC News reports.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are in the final stages of an investigation into allegations of sexual assault from actresses Paz de la Huerta and Lucia Evans. Weinstein has been accused of wide-ranging abuse by more than 50 women.

Weinstein has denied ever engaging in nonconsensual sex acts, but the New York Daily News reports that he will turn himself in to New York City police. The charges are expected to be brought in state court in Manhattan. A lawyer for Weinstein declined to comment. Summer Meza

2:53 p.m. ET

Senate Majority Leader Mitch "Cocaine" McConnell (R-Ky.) "enjoyed" his re-election campaign's taunt of Senate candidate Don Blankenship after the former coal executive and ex-convict lost the West Virginia Republican primary to the state's attorney general earlier this month. Team Mitch's taunt had raised some eyebrows at the time for apparently relishing Blankenship's nickname for McConnell, "Cocaine Mitch," as well as for featuring McConnell in Pablo Escobar Narcos-inspired attire:

"It sorta softened my image," McConnell reflected to Politico. "Don't you think?" Jeva Lange

1:46 p.m. ET
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

President Trump announced on Thursday that he would posthumously pardon Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion.

Johnson was arrested in 1912 for driving his white girlfriend over state lines. Prosecutors said it violated the Mann Act, which prohibited crossing state borders with a woman for "immoral purposes." Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to a year in prison. He then fled the country for several years before eventually coming back to serve his time. The case is now often seen as emblematic of racism entrenched in the U.S. justice system.

Johnson died in 1946. His pardoning marks the third-ever posthumous pardon in U.S. history, reports USA Today. The Obama administration opted not to pardon Johnson in part because of allegations of domestic violence against women, The New York Times reports.

Other boxing champions were invited to the pardoning ceremony, the Times reports. Sylvester Stallone was also at the White House on Thursday — his conversation with Trump in April is reportedly what inspired the president to revisit Johnson's case. Summer Meza

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