Kimmel tells viewers: ‘We have until Sept. 30’ to stop GOP health bill

Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday said it’s not his job to talk about health care — but he’s doing it anyway, until Senate Republicans’ last-ditch bill to repeal Obamacare is stopped.

“I should not be the guy you go to for information on health care,” the late-night TV host said on Thursday’s show. “And if these guys … would tell the truth for a change, I wouldn’t have to.”

Kimmel devoted another seven minutes of his monologue to criticizing legislation backed by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), his onetime ally and guest, while urging Americans to call Congress and tell their senators to oppose the proposal. Kimmel also sharply mocked several Republicans, including President Donald Trump, who say the bill will improve health care. Kimmel instead said that it could roll back key insurance protections and lead to millions of Americans losing their coverage.

“We have until Sept. 30 to dodge this,” Kimmel said, referencing the deadline when the Senate’s budget reconciliation provisions expire. After that date, Republicans will need 60 votes, not 50, to pass an Obamacare repeal measure.

Kimmel has now focused more than 24 minutes of his program across the past three nights on the health care fight, emerging as the celebrity face of the resistance to Republicans’ bill. Kimmel has also been much louder, longer, than other high-profile Americans as Republicans try to win enough support for their repeal effort. Trump has confined his public comments to tweeting several times, while former President Barack Obama briefly criticized the bill in a reserved, indirect way, saying in a speech on Tuesday that he was frustrated about Republicans’ effort to repeal his signature law.

Kimmel first got involved in the nation’s health care fight after he delivered an emotional monologue in May about his newborn son’s surgery for a rare heart condition, and how the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, similarly provided for people with pre-existing conditions. Cassidy appeared on Kimmel’s show later that month, pledged to protect people with pre-existing conditions, and in frequent media appearances touted his package of reforms as “the Jimmy Kimmel test.”

Although their war of words escalated this week — with Kimmel calling Cassidy a liar and the Louisiana senator countering that Kimmel didn’t “understand” his bill — Kimmel tried to distance himself from those attacks, saying that he respects Cassidy’s career as a physician. “He’s done good things,” Kimmel said. “I just want him to keep doing good things. This plan is not a good thing.”

Kimmel repeatedly acknowledged that he’s not an expert on health care. “You know, a lot of people have been saying I’m not qualified to talk about this,” Kimmel said. “And that is true – I’m not qualified to talk about this. But I think those people forget Bill Cassidy named his test after me!”

Analysts from a range of health care organizations earlier this week told POLITICO that Kimmel, not Cassidy, was more accurately describing the reach of the bill.

The funnyman repeatedly tried to use humor to lighten up his serious remarks.

“We haven’t seen this many people come forward to speak out against a Bill since Cosby,” Kimmel said, with the logos of about 20 health care organizations that oppose the bill, like the American Cancer Society, arrayed behind him.

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Last-ditch Obamacare repeal bill has ‘worst elements’ of earlier plans

The last-ditch Obamacare repeal bill has almost every divisive proposal that doomed previous bills.

The big difference: a Sept. 30 deadline to use a rule that allows Senate Republicans to pass a measure with just 50 votes.

Like earlier, failed plans, the Graham-Cassidy measure would allow states to dismantle rules that prevent older, sicker people from being charged higher insurance premiums.

It would cap the federal outlay for traditional Medicaid, which could jeopardize coverage for the most vulnerable. And it would almost certainly lead to millions more Americans lacking insurance, health care policy experts say.

“It has all of the worst elements of the House bill that was passed in May and the Senate bill that was defeated in August,” said John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan.

But none of that may matter to Republican senators facing extreme pressure to finally pass something — anything — that scraps the health law and fulfills seven years of campaign promises.

Next week’s expiration of the rule allowing Republicans to pass a bill without any Democratic support has “concentrated Republican minds,” said Dean Clancy, a conservative health policy analyst who supports the plan. “This is their last chance to show they can govern on health care, and if they can’t govern on health care, what can they govern on?”

“They all hate health care,” said a GOP lobbyist on background. “They don’t know where to go on it. They just want to take a vote and be done with it.”

Yet with little more than a week until the witching hour, the effort is still uphill. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are widely expected to vote against the bill, meaning Republicans can’t afford to lose a single additional vote. Even if the measure clears the Senate, the House would then need to pass the package without making any changes to it — a highly uncertain prospect.

But the fact that the bill remains alive — with Senate leaders and the White House scrambling to secure 50 votes for a vote next week — speaks to how desperate Republicans are to scrap Obamacare and notch a legislative victory.

“The substance really doesn’t matter,” said Kathy Hempstead, who oversees coverage programs for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, likening it to frenzied efforts to kill a zombie in the movies. But she added: “We’re not talking about killing a zombie. We’re talking about how we finance health care for 100 million people.”

Republicans might fear the political consequences of not taking action — including potential primary challenges in 2018 — more than the fallout from passing a bill that could lead to problems for their constituents further down the road.

Most are acutely aware that Obamacare repeal remains a galvanizing issue for the GOP base. More than half of Republicans surveyed in the latest POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll said scrapping Obamacare should be a top priority for Congress — a higher percentage than for any other issue surveyed.

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, crystallized the conflict in unusually candid comments on Wednesday.

"You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered," Grassley told reporters. "But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill."

Which explains why many of the concerns that torpedoed earlier bills may be getting overlooked now.

Most notably, health care policy experts argue the plan doesn’t do enough to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions, a linchpin promise of President Donald Trump and other Republicans. That’s because it would allow states to seek waivers from Obamacare’s rules to permit insurers to hike premiums for individuals with costly medical conditions, potentially making coverage prohibitively expensive.

“The bill’s broad language opens the door to theoretically unlimited premium upcharges based on any factor other than gender, race, religion, or national origin,” reads an analysis by policy experts at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “This includes surcharges upon renewal of an existing policy — so if you’re healthy at enrollment but get sick mid-year, you may get a premium hike for your trouble.”

The Senate’s repeal package would also make big cuts to Medicaid by scrapping Obamacare’s expansion of the program and overhauling the funding formula so that it’s no longer an open-ended entitlement program.

States would receive block grants instead, which Republicans argue would allow them to deliver coverage in cheaper, innovative ways, unshackled from burdensome federal rules. But roughly two-thirds of states would end up with less funding to deliver coverage — a total of $160 billion in cuts over a decade, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Flexibility doesn’t matter if you don’t have the resources to carry out an innovative program,” said Daniel Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross, which does business in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Thirty-one states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare would see average funding reductions of 11 percent, while those that didn’t implement the program would see revenues rise by an average of 12 percent, according to Kaiser.

“We’re being punished for having done Medicaid expansion,” said Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite Salazar. “That’s what it comes down to, essentially.”

The Graham-Cassidy bill also targets Planned Parenthood. Specifically, it would eliminate federal funding for states to cover Medicaid family planning at Planned Parenthood clinics for one year — a provision likely to antagonize Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who helped kill the last Senate repeal bill, and other moderates.

Murkowski’s support will be crucial if the Graham-Cassidy bill is going to have any chance of passage.

The biggest unknown is how many Americans would lose coverage if the bill is enacted. That’s because the Congressional Budget Office has said it doesn’t have time before the Sept. 30 deadline to assess how many people would be covered under the law.

Health care experts say it’s inevitable that more people would be uninsured given the measure’s funding cuts.

“States could do virtually anything,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Anticipating what states will do with this money is a bit of a crapshoot.”

In the face of those and other questions, some conservatives are unhappy with the rush to pass the measure in the next week.

“I don’t think it’s anywhere near the promise of repeal we were given,” said Chris Jacobs, a conservative health policy analyst, arguing that Republicans could simply overrule the Senate parliamentarian’s deadline and keep working on repeal. “I reject the premise that this has to be done by Sept. 30.”

Jacobs, for one, is critical of the control that Washington would still retain over states under the measure since they would still have to seek waivers for their plans: “This is a corruption of the idea of federalism.”

Most Republicans, however, pooh-pooh the notion they’re acting irresponsibly to move forward quickly.

"I’d love to get an analysis from everybody who’s ever thought about health care, but we don’t have the time,” John Kennedy (R-La.), a backer of the bill, said earlier this week. “If I’ve learned anything in my time in government, [it] is that for every economist, there’s an equal and opposite economist, and they’re usually both wrong."

None of the concerns about the Graham-Cassidy bill may ultimately matter, in any case, given the political imperative to repeal Obamacare.

“This is the last train out of the station,” said Joe Antos, a health policy analyst at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, who is critical of some parts of the measure. “If you’re not on it, what are the consequences?”

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

Grassley to FBI: Did you try to warn Trump about Russia?

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley wants to know whether the FBI took any steps to warn the Trump campaign about Russian connections to some of the campaign’s top officials, including Paul Manafort.

The Iowa Republican released a letter Thursday to FBI Director Christopher Wray asking whether the bureau “ever provided the Trump campaign with a defensive briefing or other warning regarding attempts to infiltrate the campaign by people connected with, or compromised by, Russian intelligence.”

“If the FBI did provide a defensive briefing or similar warning to the [Trump] campaign, then that would raise important questions about how the Trump campaign responded,” Grassley wrote. “On the other hand, if the FBI did not alert the campaign, then that would raise serious questions about what factors contributed to its decision and why it appears to have been handled differently in a very similar circumstance involving a previous campaign.”

His letter cites a report in the news website Circa that says Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 was warned by U.S. intelligence agencies about the foreign connections of people with ties to the campaign, including Manafort.

Manafort, who would go on to be chairman of the Trump campaign for several months last year, is now being investigated by the FBI over his lobbying work for pro-Russian interests.

Grassley notes that the FBI started investigating Russian attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election, including the possibility of coordination with the Trump campaign, in July of last year.

The senator asks the FBI to respond to questions by Oct. 4 on whether it provided any “defensive briefings” to the Trump campaign.

“Such briefings are one of the tools that the FBI often uses to thwart attempts by foreign intelligence services to infiltrate organizations or compromise U.S. citizens,” Grassley wrote.

DHS rejects call to halt security detail for top officials

The Department of Homeland Security has rejected a call from its internal watchdog office to suspend or end security details for the heads of two of its most significant components: Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a report released Thursday, DHS Inspector General John Roth said there’s no clear legal authority for the executive protection arrangements and a perception they may have little to do with mitigating any real threat.

"Because these security details incur substantial monetary and personnel costs, provide transportation and logistical services not necessarily tied to any demonstrated security concern, and are often authorized by those receiving the services, these details give the appearance to some observers of being more related to executive convenience and status than protection," Roth wrote. "It is axiomatic that no government employee can use government resources for his or her own private benefit, and every government employee has the duty to protect and conserve government resources and only use them for authorized purposes. The current situation is based on questionable legal authority and invites abuse."

In a letter sent to the IG in June, DHS management said it was reviewing the security arrangement, but intends to keep the details for now due to threats faced by top officials in the immigration-focused agencies.

"It is important to note that the very nature of both the CBP and ICE positions subject them to intense attention and hostility, and increases the likelihood that they may be the subjects of attack while performing their official duties at any number of events or publicly known government offices," wrote Jim Crumpacker, a DHS official who handles responses to oversight reports.

DHS said the ICE and CBP officials face a variety of dangers, including threats posed by demonstrators and even the agency’s own employees.

"CBP’s headquarters is also the site of numerous protests, at least one per month, with unknown protesters sometimes entering the building and remaining just outside of CBP office space," Crumpacker wrote. "Even within that office space, agency leadership could easily become the target for an insider threat. For example, during the course of imposing routine discipline, CBP management regularly encounters employees, some of whom are armed law enforcement officers, who are discontented with the real or perceived loss of their livelihood, opportunity for advancement, and reputation. "

The divisions are currently headed by ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan and CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. However, many details in the report appear to refer to those officials’ predecessors during the Obama administration. The IG report was triggered in part by whistleblower complaints that law enforcement agents were being diverted from their ordinary duties and instead assigned to protect CBP or ICE leaders during their travels.

The IG report says DHS may be understating the cost of the protective details, which the watchdog agency said "could exceed $1 million" apiece. Roth also noted that Congress has strictly limited the number of government officials entitled to door-to-door transportation between home and work and neither the ICE director nor the CBP commissioner is on that list.

DHS’ response points to several specific incidents causing concern about the CBP and ICE officials’ safety. The agency said last year CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske received threats telling him to "resign or please die soon" and threatening to rape his wife and sexually molest his grandchildren. Former ICE directors and an acting director "have been victims of ‘doxxing,’" involving publication of personal information on the internet, Crumpacker said.

In addition, "CBP and ICE leadership oversee large law enforcement agencies that regularly incite emotional, familiar, and professional turmoil among their law enforcement targets and affiliated individuals," he wrote.

Roth said he’s "sympathetic" to those concerns, but systematic, professional security assessments are needed to determine who should have protection. The IG also said it was troubling that the top leaders of ICE and CBP appear to authorize and approve their own security arrangements.

DHS management has pledged to issue a department-wide policy on security details by June 20 of next year, but Roth called that timetable too drawn out. "DHS has not articulated the reasons a fairly simple policy should take a year to issue, particularly given that the department has been aware of the issue since at least November 2016," he declared.

Spokespeople for DHS, ICE and CBP did not respond to messages seeking further comment on the report.

45 After Dark: The Gambler edition

In the context of the Trump administration, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been cast as a quiet, cautious force. Much as the Kentucky Republican has been throughout his rise to power.

This week is changing that.

As POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan report, this week — in a touch-and-go Alabama Senate run-off and an equally touch-and-go push to repeal Obamacare — McConnell is taking the sort of big risks that simply do not dot his long Washington career.

It might be just what President Trump needs.

“McConnell could have sat back and let (Sen. Luther) Strange fend for himself against (former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy) Moore in the race to replace former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Likewise, the GOP leader could have snuffed out the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill weeks ago, rather than expose himself to another embarrassing defeat. It would have been defensible for him to announce that Republicans were moving on to tax reform — safer ground for a party in dire need of a legislative win.”

Instead, McConnell is all in — and happens to be perfectly aligned with President Trump. The next week will tell whether the bets pay off.

Elsewhere in President Trump’s orbit:

JUNO THE TARGET: In an effort to win Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s support for the GOP healthcare bill, it includes carve outs that prevent Alaska and four other states from Medicaid cuts before 2026.

STEEP PRICE: Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price has traveled on private planes at least 24 times — costing taxpayers more than $300,000.

FACE-ING UP: Facebook has agreed to show congressional investigators the ads purchased during the 2016 election that it has linked to a Russian troll farm.

ROCKET FUEL: President Trump announced new sanctions that target countries and businesses doing work with North Korea. Kim Jong Un responded by calling President Trump “deranged.”

ER ON THE SIDE OF PRAISE?: President Trump praised Turkey’s controversial leader Reycip Tayip Erdogan saying he “gets very high marks.” Erdogan has led a crackdown on dissent in his country.

CAMPAIGN HANDS: At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, President Trump has hired a slew of former campaign aides — rather than scientists and farmers — to fill out key roles at the massive agency.

BETS PRACTICES: Education Sec. Betsy DeVos has flown in a private plane — her own — throughout her tenure as education secretary, at no cost to taxpayers her spokeswoman said.

There you have it. You’re caught up on the Trump administration. Happy Wednesday.

GOP Senate candidates face off in Alabama debate

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Sen. Luther Strange and former state Chief Justice Roy Moore squared off in a heated debate Thursday evening just days before the Republican primary runoff for U.S. Senate in this deep-red state.

Both public and private polls show a tightening race between Strange and Moore, though most have Moore leading slightly. The debate also comes as top surrogates for the two candidates swoop in to give each a last-minute boost.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was set to appear with Moore in a rally on Thursday after the debate. President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold a rally for Strange on Friday, and Vice President Mike Pence plans to campaign for the senator on Monday.

Moore is prevailing in the contest despite millions spent by the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.), to boost Sen. Luther Strange’s chances. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama and a number of other Senate Republicans have also taken steps to help Strange.

But Moore has remained a competitive opponent of Strange, and over the past two weeks the former judge and firebrand conservative has methodically rolled out endorsements from members of Congress. Further complicating the divide between Strange and Moore is Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist now running Breitbart News, who has actively endorsed the former judge and stayed in contact with him during the runoff. Moore has also been endorsed by conservative grass-roots favorites like Palin and Phil Robertson, star of the reality show “Duck Dynasty.”

As a result, the runoff has become a sort of proxy war between competing factions of the Republican Party. The Senate seat is likely to stay in GOP hands, but Moore’s winning the primary on Tuesday would energize anti-incumbent Republicans. Allies of McConnell argue that if Strange wins, it will show lockstep support among Trump supporters for Senate leadership.

Kim Jong Un: ‘Deranged’ Trump will ‘pay dearly’ for threat

UNITED NATIONS — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called President Donald Trump "deranged" and said in a statement carried by the state news agency that he will "pay dearly" for his threats.

Kim said that Trump is "unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country." He also described the president as "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire."

"I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK," said the statement carried by North’s official Korean Central News Agency in a dispatch issued from Pyongyang on Friday morning.

DPRK is the abbreviation of the communist country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement responded to Trump’s combative speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday where he mocked Kim as a "Rocket Man" on a "suicide mission," and said that if "forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea."

Kim characterized Trump’s speech to the world body as "mentally deranged behavior."

He said Trump’s remarks "have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last."

Kim said he is "thinking hard" about his response and that Trump "will face results beyond his expectation."

It is unusual for the North Korean leader to issue such a statement in his own name. It will further escalate the war of words between the adversaries as the North moves closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike America.

In recent months, the North has launched a pair of intercontinental missiles believed capable of striking the continental United States and another pair that soared over Japanese territory. Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date drawing stiffer U.N. sanctions.