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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."
11:04 a.m.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is obviously happy Democrats flipped 37 House seats these past midterms. Otherwise, she says President Trump might've "declare[d] the election illegal."

"Had it been four or five seats, he would've tried to dismantle" the Democrats' victory, Pelosi tells The New York Times Magazine. But Democrats are now safely in the majority, and, with Trump's surprising endorsement, Pelosi is gearing up to lead them.

Pelosi's bid for speaker of the House faces the opposition of 16 House Democrats who released a letter Monday saying they'd vote against her, putting the 218 votes Pelosi needs to secure the speakership in jeopardy. But battling the odds isn't exactly new for the former speaker. When she first ran for her seat in 1987, her Democratic primary opponent tried to label her a "pampered and unserious 'party girl,'" the Times Magazine writes. She conquered that image to become one of 26 women in a House where "sexual harassment ... was part of the deal," Pelosi's first chief of staff said.

In Pelosi's early House days, fellow Democrats in the House never encouraged her to aspire for leadership roles. "They didn't ever invite me to a meeting," she insisted to the Times Magazine, adding that "the only time I was ever in the Democratic speaker's office was when I became speaker."

Still, Pelosi became the first woman to lead the House in 2007, and she's confident Democrats will elect her again this year. After all, with 2018 being called "the second generation of Year of the Woman, do you really think they're going to say, 'Let's not have a woman as speaker?'" a Pelosi associate said. Read more at The New York Times Magazine. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:47 a.m.

A bombing in Afghanistan's capital has left at least 40 people dead and 60 injured, BBC News reported Tuesday.

An explosion went off at a wedding hall in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where religious scholars and clerics were gathering on the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, according to the Afghan Ministry of Public Health. Hundreds of Muslims were gathered for the occasion, TIME reports, and The Washington Post cites an Afghan official who said a suicide bomber was responsible for the deadly blast.

"The victims of the attack unfortunately are all religious scholars who gathered to commemorate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad," Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief told The Associated Press.

This comes after ISIS claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Kabul that killed or wounded more than 100 people in August, per BBC News, and after six Shiites were killed in a bombing during a protest there, reports the Post. No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack. Brendan Morrow

10:41 a.m.

Retail giant Walmart withdrew its support from Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) Tuesday morning in a tweeted response to actress Debra Messing. The company said it is requesting Hyde-Smith return all funds Walmart donated to her campaign.

Hyde-Smith finds herself in a competitive run-off after she said she'd "be on the front row" if a supporter invited her to "a public hanging." The senator has defended her remark as "an exaggerated expression of regard" with no negative meaning, but it has been widely linked to Mississippi's history of lynching.

Later, Hyde-Smith said making it difficult for "liberal folks" to vote sounded like a "great idea." Her campaign said it was a joke unconnected to the state's record of black voter suppression. Hyde-Smith's campaign rival is Democratic former congressman and agriculture secretary Mike Espy, who is black.

Walmart contributed $2,000 to Hyde-Smith's campaign on Nov. 18, after both comments became public. The runoff election is Nov. 27. Bonnie Kristian

10:18 a.m.

President Trump's daughter and senior White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, reportedly used her personal email account for government business last year — which wouldn't be such a big deal had her father not made endless political hay out of his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, doing the same thing.

But former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) argued on CNN Tuesday it's not the same at all.

"To ignore the obvious differences here is, I think, a little hypocritical," Santorum told host Chris Cuomo. "Hillary Clinton went out and established her own server in full knowledge that what she was doing was wrong." Trump used her personal email account after Clinton's actions had been analyzed and debated in detail for months on end.

Furthermore, Santorum continued, Clinton "was a political person who had political aspirations, who was doing things in her own interest as a political figure, as opposed to Ivanka, who is not a political figure, who is the daughter of the president, yet she was not the secretary of state dealing with a variety of very sensitive and classified information."

Trump is not paid for her White House work and does often on domestic policy, like the family leave Santorum mentioned, but she has accompanied her father on state visits abroad, held his seat at a G20 summit, and met with the United Nations secretary-general.

Watch Santorum's comments in context below. Bonnie Kristian

9:54 a.m.

Get ready for another contentious investigation into a government official's email use.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Tuesday called for "some kind of investigative effort" after The Washington Post reported that Ivanka Trump in 2017 used a personal email account to send hundreds of emails about government business. Blumenthal told CNN that either the Office of Government Ethics or Congress itself should conduct an investigation into this matter because Trump "in a sense" has put herself "above the law." He also said "there's no way that she had no knowledge of the rules."

The report on Ivanka Trump's email use naturally drew comparisons to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was hammered during the 2016 election for her use of a private email server while at the State Department. Blumenthal agreed with this comparison and decried "hypocrisy," while Trump's lawyer says her situation is not like Clinton's because she didn't have a private server in her house and didn't send classified material, per CBS News' Mark Knoller.

But Trump's email use, which the Post reports violated federal records rules, is drawing criticism even from some past members of the administration, with former communications director Anthony Scaramucci calling it "hypocritical" and former legislative affairs director Marc Short saying it "certainly looks bad." Watch Blumenthal's comments below. Brendan Morrow

8:55 a.m.

Some Republicans are beginning to worry they may lose a Senate seat to Democrats — in Mississippi.

Voters in the state are set to participate in a runoff election on Nov. 27, as neither Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith nor Democratic challenger Mike Espy captured a majority in the midterm election. But Hyde-Smith has been mired in controversy in recent weeks, first for a remark about a "public hanging" and then for saying that making it difficult for liberals to vote sounded like a "great idea." Her campaign dismissed the former comment as an exaggeration and the latter as a joke.

After these gaffes, Republicans are reportedly "nervous" that Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to her seat earlier this year and is now running for a full term, could cost them a Senate seat, with one top party member in the state telling Talking Points Memo that the race "is definitely tighter than what it should be." Talking Points Memo also reports that some private polls show the race has tightened and Hyde-Smith is only up by a few points.

Democrats are engaging in a last-minute push to get out the vote, Politico reports, hoping to increase turnout, specifically among black voters. President Trump appears not to be taking Hyde-Smith's win for granted, as he plans to travel to the state for two rallies on Monday. Trump won Mississippi by 17 points in 2016.

If Espy, the former agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, were to actually defeat Hyde-Smith, he would be the first Democratic senator to represent the state in nearly three decades, and the first black senator from Mississippi since Reconstruction. The candidates will square off in a debate Tuesday night. One Republican told Talking Points Memo, "It's all about whether we can get through the debate without saying anything that makes it worse." Brendan Morrow

8:13 a.m.

The main U.S. stock indexes plunged on Monday, weighed down by negative news about Apple and Facebook.

Facebook shares fell by nearly 6 percent in continued fallout from a New York Times report on the social network's aggressive response to criticism over its handling of fake news and other efforts to influence public opinion. Apple shares fell by 5 percent after a Wall Street Journal report that disappointing sales had prompted the company to cut orders for its latest iPhones. Shares of Google-parent Alphabet also fell by 4 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down by 1.6 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 3 percent and the S&P 500 dropped by 1.7 percent. Stock futures fell further early Tuesday, Fox Business reports, suggesting more tech-fueled selling. Harold Maass

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