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February 16, 2017
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On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on legislation to "modernize" the Endangered Species Act, part of a push by Republicans to roll back environmental regulations and protections. The Republicans on the committee, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and three of the five witnesses at the hearing argued that the 1973 law to keep animal species from extinction impedes oil drilling, mining, and farming, and infringes on the rights of states and private landowners. The proposed legislation would make it harder to list animals on the endangered species list and limit legal action under the 1973 law, among other changes.

Barrassso painted the bill as a way to cut "red tape," while Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said the Endangered Species Act makes it too hard to take animals off the list, arguing that only 50 of the 1,600 species listed as endangered or threatened have been removed. Jamie Rappaport Clark, head of the conservation nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, testified that the Obama administration removed 29 species from the endangered list in eight years, in a sign that the law is working. "For more than 40 years, the ESA has been successful, bringing the bald eagle, the American alligator, the Stellar sea lion, the peregrine falcon, and numerous other species back from the brink of extinction," she said. "Based on data from the (Fish and Wildlife Service), the ESA has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction."

There's a parallel push to scale back the Endangered Species Act in the House — House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wants to repeal it entirely, arguing that "it has never been used for the rehabilitation of species" but instead has "been used to control the land." On Wednesday night's Full Frontal, Samantha Bee was puzzled at the constituency for killing the Endangered Species Act. "The vast majority of Americans support wildlife protection," she said, citing a Defenders of Wildlife poll showing 84 percent support for the law (an American Farm Bureau Federation poll was more nuanced.) "'Animals are awesome' is the only safe topic of conversation most American families have left. Left-right, old-young, black-white, Americans agree: Four legs, good."

President Trump, who has already delayed adding an endangered bumblebee to the endangered species list, is expected to sign any legislation that comes to his desk. Peter Weber

2:24 p.m. ET

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) took to the floor Thursday to passionately attack the Republican Senate's ObamaCare replacement, the "Better Care" act. "Senate Republicans wrung some extra dollars out of kicking people off tax credits that help them afford health insurance," Warren said. "They raked in extra cash by letting states drop even more protections and benefits, like maternity care or prescription drug coverage or mental health coverage."

"And then they got to the real piggy bank," Warren added. "Medicaid. And here, they just went wild."

Warren noted that 1 in 5 Americans is on Medicaid, and that the program serves 30 million children. "These cuts are blood money," she said. "People will die. Let's be very clear. Senate Republicans are paying for tax cuts for the wealthy with American lives." Watch below. Jeva Lange

2:15 p.m. ET

Hours after Republican Senate leadership released a proposal for replacing ObamaCare, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) announced they would not support their party's bill.

"Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation," the senators wrote. They added, though, that "it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise made to Americans: to repeal ObamaCare and lower their health-care costs."

The GOP cannot lose the support of more than three senators for the bill to pass, as no Democrats or independents are expected to back the plan. A vote is expected next week. Jeva Lange

2:12 p.m. ET
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A 92-year-old from Washington state has finally graduated from her old high school. Mary Matsuda Gruenewald was an honors student at Vashon Island High School in 1942 when, like some 120,000 other Japanese-Americans during World War II, she was sent to an internment camp. Matsuda Gruenewald graduated from the camp's makeshift school and went on to become a nurse. But she always wanted her diploma from Vashon. When the school's principal heard her story recently, he invited her to walk in the class of 2017's commencement. "This eliminates all the heartaches," she says. Christina Colizza

1:14 p.m. ET

President Trump confessed Thursday on Twitter that he does not have tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey. In May, shortly after firing Comey, Trump tweeted a threat: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" Comey then called the president's bluff during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying, "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."

On Thursday, Trump finally came clean:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a friend and ally of Trump's, told The Associated Press earlier Thursday that he thought Trump's threat was simply "his way [of] instinctively trying to rattle Comey."

"He's not a professional politician," Gingrich said. "He doesn't come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: 'I'll out-bluff you.'" Jeva Lange

1:09 p.m. ET

University of Minnesota graduate student Victoria Fiorentino pinpointed a particularly alarming line in the Senate Republicans' health-care replacement bill, which was unveiled Thursday:

Medicaid covers roughly 50 percent of all births in the country. Jeva Lange

12:50 p.m. ET

The Senate Republican health-care bill was released Thursday, revealing its steep cuts to Medicaid and slashing of essential health benefits to the American public. The bill's drafting had been shrouded in secrecy for weeks, to the point that even several Republican senators had expressed frustration with the process.

Shortly after the bill was released, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) admitted to MSNBC that he had only "started to read" the bill, but he nonetheless offered a rather unflattering assessment: "In some ways it's more evil, in some ways it's even dumber than the House proposal," Murphy said, adding the Senate's bill "largely mirrors" the House's version, but scales up cuts to Medicaid. The House bill passed with a razor-thin margin early last month.

Murphy also noted the Senate bill's lack of an individual mandate, which he said "makes any protection for people that are sick meaningless," and said the bill "logistically" didn't make sense. "I just think it's an absolute monstrosity of a bill," he said.

Watch below. Kimberly Alters

12:43 p.m. ET

After Senate Republicans released the text of their health-care bill Thursday, approximately 60 protesters — including several in wheelchairs — stormed the hallway outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office.

The sit-in was organized by Arc, a group that "promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities."

Security soon began removing protesters, even physically dragging some people away:

Even as they were being escorted out, many protesters turned to reporters' cameras to demand "no cuts to Medicaid." "Medicaid covers 30 percent of non-elderly adults with disabilities and 60 percent of children with disabilities," Slate writes. Jeva Lange

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