Senator John McCain joined Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski in wee-hours vote. (More)

“I thought it was the right vote. I do my job as a senator.”

POLITICO’s Seung Min Kim, Burgess Everett, and Jennifer Haberkorn report that McCain rejected pleas from GOP leaders including the God-King himself:

Paul Ryan couldn’t persuade him. Neither could Mike Pence. And in the end, President Donald Trump couldn’t reel in John McCain either.

The president made a last-ditch effort, calling the Arizona senator and key holdout on the GOP’s Obamacare repeal measure, as the bill’s fate hung in the balance, according to two sources familiar with the conversation. After Pence had spent about 20 minutes working McCain, the senator went off the floor to speak with Trump by phone, those sources said.

Whatever the men said, it didn’t work. Shortly before 1:30 a.m. Friday, McCain strode to the well of the Senate, and gestured his hand downward to vote “no.” Stunned gasps echoed throughout the chamber.

“I thought it was the right vote,” McCain told reporters as he left the Capitol. “I do my job as a senator.”

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Sean Sullivan, and Kelsey Snell report that McCain later called for what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan had rejected from the outset – working with Democrats, state governors, and experts to fix the Affordable Care Act:

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” McCain said in a statement explaining his vote. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly agreed:

“We are not celebrating. We’re relieved,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. “Let’s turn the page and work together to improve our health care system.” He also said Democrats would be willing to help expedite bipartisan legislation and to advance Trump administration nominations.

McConnell pulled the bill after this morning’s vote:

“Our only regret is that we didn’t achieve what we hoped to accomplish,” McConnell said after the failed vote. In a dejected tone, he pulled the entire legislation from consideration and set up votes on nominations that will begin Monday.

“It is time to move on,” McConnell said, culminating a nearly 75-minute set of roll calls.

The God-King was predictably outraged:

Sqeeqee CEO Jenny Ta reports that a superhero stepped into the process:

But the real heroes were Sens. Collins and Murkowski:

In a historic first, the vice-president, Mike Pence, was called to the Senate floor. His job was to cast a tie-breaker vote, after two Republicans split with their party on an issue of critical importance to Donald Trump personally and to his agenda.

The rogue senators were Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and the issue was the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. With Pence’s help, DeVos was confirmed. But it would not be long before a revolt by Collins and Murkowski would once again require Pence’s intervention.
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In multiple votes, Collins and Murkowski have formed an even smaller team of two: the only two to try to block debate on healthcare, the only two to try to block a generational threat to public schools and the only two capable, it has sometimes seemed, of blocking Trump.

They blocked him again last night … with a last-minute assist from McCain. Let’s make sure he doesn’t get all the credit….

“GAO accepts your request as work that is within the scope of its authority”

Meanwhile, the Post’s Greg Sargent reported that the Government Accountability Office will investigate Health Inhumane Serve Us Director Tom Price for using HHS money and resources to push the repeal effort:

The Government Accountability Office, the leading auditor of the federal government, has formally agreed to a request by Democrats for an examination of whether the Trump administration has been violating the law by using government resources to promote the Republican replacement plan, I’ve learned.

If the GAO concludes that the administration’s conduct is violating the law, that could put increased pressure on it to refrain from these tactics, or on congressional Republicans to exercise their own oversight of them. Given that the repeal push could drag on for weeks or months longer, this could matter.

The GAO has sent a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) announcing its formal intention to examine the conduct of the Department of Health and Human Services for possible lawbreaking. Murray and three other Democrats recently sent their own letter to the GAO and the U.S. inspector general requesting an examination of whether HHS is engaging in a “pattern” of “using federal resources to advance partisan legislation.” The Democrats’ letter cited the use of HHS’s official Twitter accounts to attack the ACA and promote the GOP replacement. It also raised questions as to whether HHS is using taxpayer funds to produce video testimonials of people criticizing the ACA, which would violate the prohibition on an agency “engaging in covert propaganda,” the Democrats’ letter says.

The GAO will now examine this conduct. “GAO accepts your request as work that is within the scope of its authority,” the GAO’s letter says, adding that the work of providing a “legal opinion” on HHS’s conduct will begin “shortly.”

The Daily Beast’s Sam Stein reports that this is part of a comprehensive HHS strategy to undermine the ACA:

The Trump administration has spent taxpayer money meant to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act on a public relations campaign aimed at methodically strangling it.

The effort, which involves a multi-pronged social media push as well as video testimonials designed at damaging public opinion of President Obama’s health care law, is far more robust and sustained than has been publicly revealed or realized.

In addition to using the official HHS Twitter account to push anti-Obamacare messaging, and allegedly producing the critical videos, Price has changed the official HHS websites to make it more difficult to for people to find, compare, and buy insurance plans through the federal exchange:

Perhaps the most glaring efforts to publicly undermine the ACA, has come on the Department of Health and Human Service’s own website. In the Obama administration, this piece of online real estate featured direct links for consumers to apply for coverage and infographic breakdowns of the ACA’s benefits and critical dates. Since Trump was inaugurated, it has been retrofitted into an bulletin board for information critical of the law.

Currently, for example, the banner image on the site leads to a page explaining the ways in which the ACA “has done damage to this market and created great burdens for many Americans.” The “Health Care Home” section no longer contains a page on “Delivery System Reform” and “Facts & Figures.” And instead of a readily available link for visitors to access the main sign-up portal for obtaining health care coverage, the site has a post criticizing the now infamous healthcare.gov and encouraging people to use private sector web brokers.
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Ultimately, the HHS website is a place to obtain information on Obamacare but not a vehicle of obtaining coverage under the law. But changes have been made to healthcare.gov as well, and they’re directly related to consumer education. Under the “Get Answers” section of the site, there no longer is a “Cost & Savings” tab that allows visitors to find out where to find prices, if they have to pay penalties, or if they qualify for savings.

98-2, 419-3

And those were the Senate and House majorities, respectfully, passing a bill that approves sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea and prohibits the God-King from lifting them unilaterally:

The Senate on Thursday delivered Donald Trump the first big bipartisan rebuke of his presidency, giving final approval to a package of sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea that constrains his bid to defrost relations with Moscow.

The Senate voted 98-2 to approve the sanctions bill that cleared the House earlier this week. Trump must now decide whether to sign a measure that allows Congress to block any attempt to ease or end penalties against Vladimir Putin’s government and imposes new sanctions in response to a Russian electoral disruption campaign that the president continues to dispute.

The House passed the sanctions package on Tuesday in an overwhelming 419-3 vote, and an intra-GOP squabble that threatened to delay its passage was quickly resolved Wednesday night.

The White House has avoided taking a clear position on the sanctions legislation all week, with communications director Anthony Scaramucci telling CNN on Thursday that Trump “may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.”

Yeah, good luck with that veto.

In response, today Russia seized U.S. embassy properties:

Russia announced Friday it would seize U.S. diplomatic properties and demand that the State Department reduce its staff in Russia, a tit-for-tat punishment that the Russian Foreign Ministry said was spurred by a financial sanctions bill now awaiting a signature from President Trump.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok should reduce the number of their “diplomatic and technical employees” to 455, in apparent parity with the number of Russian diplomatic staff in the United States.

The Foreign Ministry also said it would seize a Moscow warehouse and dacha complex used by the U.S. Embassy.

In a sane administration, a foreign nation seizing U.S. property would a Major International Incident, prompting a Stern Official Statement, or at least a Twitter tantrum. So far … nothing.

“I believe that these new sanctions [on Iran] could endanger the very important nuclear agreement”

Oh, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was one of only two senators to oppose the sanctions bill. (The other was Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Sanders hasn’t yet said why he voted against this bill, but he issued a statement last month after voting against a similar bill:

I am strongly supportive of the sanctions on Russia included in this bill. It is unacceptable for Russia to interfere in our elections here in the United States, or anywhere around the world. There must be consequences for such actions. I also have deep concerns about the policies and activities of the Iranian government, especially their support for the brutal Assad regime in Syria. I have voted for sanctions on Iran in the past, and I believe sanctions were an important tool for bringing Iran to the negotiating table. But I believe that these new sanctions could endanger the very important nuclear agreement that was signed between the United States, its partners and Iran in 2015. That is not a risk worth taking, particularly at a time of heightened tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia and its allies. I think the United States must play a more even-handed role in the Middle East, and find ways to address not only Iran’s activities, but also Saudi Arabia’s decades-long support for radical extremism.

My guess is that he voted against the new bill for the same reason he opposed the one last month: concerns that new sanctions on Iran may undermine the P5+1 agreement negotiated by President Obama. That deal has been working well enough that national security aides have so far kept the God-King from repudiating it, although the God-King is pushing for more inspections to “enforce” the agreement (read: produce a confrontation that lets him declare Iran in default).

Sorry wingnuts, but it looks like Sanders’ vote was about protecting the P5+1 deal, rather than protecting Russia.

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Photo Credit: AFP

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Good day and good nuts