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Trump highlights health agenda with vow to lower ‘unfair’ drug prices

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By Julie Rovner, Kaiser Health News

It was not the centerpiece, but health was a persistent theme in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address at the Capitol on Tuesday night.

Although the administration has focused more on issues of trade, taxes and immigration, the president laid out a series of health-related goals, including some that even Democrats indicated could be areas of bipartisan negotiation or compromise. Trump vowed to take on prescription drug prices, pursue an end to the HIV epidemic and boost funding for childhood cancers.

He also took a victory lap for goals promoted by his administration that had been accomplished. “We eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty,” he said, referring to the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that most people must have health insurance or pay a fine. It was eliminated as part of the 2017 GOP tax bill, despite backlash from critics that it could undercut Obamacare, after many failed attempts by Republicans to repeal the law.

And Trump noted congressional passage of a “right to try” bill that was supposed to make it easier for terminally ill patients to gain access to experimental medications, but so far few patients have been able to make the law work for them.

The most likely ground for bipartisanship will be the issue of drug prices, where Democrats are as eager as the president to do something to rein in prices that are spiraling upward.

“It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it. We will stop it fast,” he said. “I am asking the Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients.”

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Amber Rudd hits at bid to run for Tory party leadership

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The Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has hinted at the idea that she could be next in the running to become the new Tory leader.

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Lack of progress tests the limits of Trump’s immigration strategy

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — In the Trump era, there’s been a tendency to think about immigration policy as a political football. A cudgel. A weapon.

The president has certainly treated it as such. Just look at his latest proposal to transport undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities as political retribution to Democrats — and his suggestion that his immigration opponents are “treasonous.”

But if you look at immigration instead as a problem to be solved — more like health care — it may be a much better way to understand the long-term political risks of using the immigration issue to divide the electorate.

Trump and the GOP have hammered away at an immigration status quo they say doesn’t work. But Trump’s proposals to fix it have been politically unviable (the wall), legally untenable (denying the right to seek asylum), economically risky (closing the border), or the cause of public moral outrage (family separation.)

So, Trump has mostly been left with grievances. And griping about a system that doesn’t work can only get you so far politically.

Just look at what happened with health care.

Republicans had great success in the 2010 and 2014 midterms picking apart Obamacare’s flaws. But by 2018, Democrats clobbered them by running as the party that would fix the problems, after Republicans failed to come up with a workable alternative.

Sure, immigration is the defining issue for much of Trump’s base. And there’s certainly a chunk of his voters who will always stick with him on the grievances alone.

But in the middle of the electorate, voters — especially independents — are going to want to see progress.

And they’re likely to reward candidates who seem to be taking solutions seriously.

New Barr ruling withholds bail for asylum seekers

Speaking of immigration policy, here’s the latest from NBC’s Julia Ainsley and Doha Madani on a new decision from AG William Barr:

“In his decision, Barr said that asylum seekers who begin in expedited removal, in which they are not given the right to see a judge, and are then transferred to full removal proceedings, in which they wait to make their case before a judge, should not be released on bond.”

More: “It means that thousands of asylum seekers who once would have been out on bond and living in the U.S. while awaiting a decision on their status will now be kept in detention centers, where the wait times are climbing from months to a year.”

2020 Vision: Sanders catches Trump’s eye on Fox News

Trump is trying his hand at some 2020 punditry again after Bernie Sanders participated in a Fox News town hall Monday.

The president tweeted about Sanders’ appearance and speculated that the Democratic race will come down to “Crazy Bernie Sanders and Sleepy Joe Biden.”

Sanders took some heat from the left for going on Fox – particularly after the DNC rejected the network as a Democratic primary debate host because of its “inappropriate relationship” with Trump.

But he’s at least shown that an appearance on Trump’s favored news outlet is a good way to get in the president’s head.

By the way, NBC’s Josh Lederman reports that Pete Buttigieg is in talks with Fox to do a town hall, too.

On the campaign trail today

Beto O’Rourke continues his trip in Virginia … Pete Buttigieg and Kirsten Gillibrand are both in Iowa … Amy Klobuchar talks infrastructure in Nashville … Cory Booker holds an event on Voting Rights and Reproductive Justice in Atlanta … Elizabeth Warren is in Salt Lake City, Utah… and Bill Weld campaigns in New Hampshire.

Tweet of the Day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $572,516

$572,516.

That’s how much Amy Klobuchar raised for the general election during the first fundraising quarter.

Candidates are allowed to begin to stockpile general election money while running in a primary, but they can’t use any of it until and unless they win the primary.

And if they lose, they have to either refund the money or ask their donors to redesignate the dollars for a future race.

Even so, that money gets caught up in the top-line fundraising numbers. (That’s why it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the reports, once they’re released, to get a more complete picture.)

The general election designation for that chunk of change means that 10 percent of Klobuchar’s reported $5.2 million first-quarter haul isn’t available for her to spend unless she wins the primary.

The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher also points out that when Beto O’Rourke’s campaign announced they edged out Bernie Sanders for the most raised on a candidate’s launch day, they hit that record by counting $300,000 in general-election dollars.

By the way, if next-level fundraising statistics like these interest you, read our deeper fundraising dive on the MTP Blog.

The Lid: Roll Tide

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the potential reemergence of Roy Moore in Alabama.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The president is filling his free time before the release of the Mueller report commenting on television and the news of the day.

President Trump has vetoed a bill meant to end American military assistance to Saudi Arabian fighting in Yemen.

The New York Times has a talker on how anti-Sanders Democrats are worried he can’t be stopped.

Other news that’s out there…

Trump agenda: Trump v. Congress, again

Politico reports that House Judiciary Democrats are looking into the report that President Trump offered to pardon his CBP commissioner if he broke immigration law.

The White House is setting up for a clash with Congress over document requests.

2020: Trump plans Badger State trip

Endangered Republican senators are stockpiling cash ahead of 2020 too.

President Trump will hold a rally in Wisconsin on the same night as the White House correspondents’ dinner.

Kirsten Gillibrand is endorsing the Democrat challenging incumbent Illinois Democratic Rep. Daniel Lipinski.

The Daily Beast reports “not a single human being” donated to indicted New York GOP Rep. Chris Collins’ re-election last quarter.



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What’s in it, what’s not and what comes next

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By Dareh Gregorian

Almost two years in the making, a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election is expected to be made public Thursday morning.

Mueller’s team of 19 lawyers and 40 investigators interviewed approximately 500 witnesses, issued 2,800 subpoenas, reached out to 13 foreign governments and executed almost 500 search warrants in the probe, which began in May 2017.

Many of those interviewed included those who’ve been at the highest levels of the White House, including former chiefs of staff John Kelly and Reince Preibus, and ex-White House counsel Don McGahn. The probe led to 35 people and three companies being criminally charged, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the president’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

The nearly 400-page report is expected to shed light on the Russian government’s attempts to boost Trump, and any interactions Moscow’s agents might have had with his campaign, including more details about a Trump Tower meeting involving Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The report also deals with whether President Donald Trump later tried to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.

WHAT’S BEING REDACTED?

A number of categories of information are being removed from the public version of the report, including grand jury information, anything the intelligence community believes would reveal sources and methods, material that could interfere with ongoing prosecutions and details that impinge on “the privacy or reputational interests of peripheral players where there’s a decision not to charge them,” according to Attorney General William Barr.

WHO’S DOING THE EDITING?

Barr said he and members of Mueller’s team have been working on the redactions together since he received the report on March 22. The attorney general said the redactions will be coded with four colors signaling the four categories of deletions so readers will know why the items were edited out of particular sections, even if they are not privy to the info itself.

Attorney General William Barr testifies about the Justice Department’s FY2020 budget request before the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on April 09, 2019.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

HOW WILL THE REPORT BE RELEASED?

The Department of Justice says it will submit the redacted report to Congress and the public Thursday morning. NBC News will post a copy of the document on nbcnews.com as soon as it is available.

WILL NEW CRIMINAL CHARGES BE REVEALED?

No. According to a four-page summary of the investigation released by Barr on March 24, Mueller “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” On the question of obstruction of justice, Barr said Mueller wrote that “while this report does not conclude that President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Barr said that left the decision up to him, and he found the evidence was “not sufficient” to establish an obstruction of justice charge.

THEN WHAT WILL IT SHOW?

While Trump has maintained Mueller’s report is a “complete and total exoneration,” it is expected to include politically damaging disclosures. A senior law enforcement official who has spoken to Mueller’s team told NBC News earlier this month that the report includes detailed accounts of Trump campaign contacts with Russia that paint the campaign team as easily manipulated.

While Barr’s summary said that “most” of Trump’s actions in the obstruction probe have been publicly reported, that suggests some of them may not have been. An official who spoke with members of Mueller team said they believe the evidence that Trump sought to interfere with the probe was stronger than Barr had suggested in his letter last month.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks to his car after attending services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across from the White House, in Washington, Sunday, March 24, 2019.Cliff Owen / AP

And NBC News reported Tuesday that some of the more than one dozen current and former White House officials who cooperated with Mueller at the request of Trump’s legal team are now concerned they’ll be exposed for providing damaging information about the president to investigators when the report is released. “They got asked questions and told the truth, and now they’re worried the wrath will follow,” one former White House official said.

IS THIS THE END?

Not even close. Congressional Democrats have said they believe Barr is protecting Trump, and are demanding a full unredacted copy of the report. Barr, who has offered to try to work with lawmakers seeking more information than what he is making public, is expected to testify about the report’s findings in May, and Democrats have suggested they’ll call Mueller to testify as well. The House Judiciary Committee voted to authorize a subpoena for the full report earlier this month if Barr doesn’t turn the whole thing over.

“The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct,” Judiciary chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said before the vote. “That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for ourselves — not the attorney general’s summary, not a substantially redacted synopsis, but the full report and the underlying evidence.”

Trump’s legal team, meanwhile, is planning on issuing a “counter-report” on Thursday refuting Mueller’s findings, which the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Politico would be “34 or 35” pages in length. “The more concise the better. 400 pages is a novel,” he said.



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