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Congress Faces a Ticking Clock as Recess Looms

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
Image: Large Storm System From Midwest Makes Its Way East
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: Storm clouds fill the sky over the U.S. Capitol Building, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC. Potentially damaging storms are forecasted to hit parts of the east coast with potential for causing power wide spread outages. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Mark Wilson / Getty Images file

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

Tick-tock, tick-tock: So much to do, so little time

As House Freedom Caucus members try to resuscitate last month’s failed health-care effort, here’s an important reminder: Per NBC’s Alex Moe, Congress goes on recess starting Friday, and it doesn’t return until April 25 — three days before government funding expires on April 28. So not only does Congress have to cram to keep the government open later this month, this also means that ANY window to make another health-care push is very small this month, especially if Republicans want to minimize the noise they get from their constituents back home.

Still, if the GOP is going to try to get a deal, doing it now — as the political world is focused on the Supreme Court fight and Russia — is probably as good as any time. And we have to say, this activity from the House Freedom Caucus and the Trump White House, even if it’s all for naught, appears to be a recognition of the fear of not trying health care one more time.

Trump thinks he can get a health-care deal

NBC’s Kristen Welker on her impromptu Oval Office meeting with Trump yesterday: “President Trump told me he is serious about working on health care reform. He said his conversation with Sen. Rand Paul on the golf course went very well and they did discuss specifics although no details given. The president said the notion that he has given up on health care is false, noting that he is still negotiating. When I asked if he is currently eyeing Democrats to build a coalition, the president said not at this time. The president said he is talking to moderate and conservative Republicans and thinks he can get a deal.”

Boy, that escalated quickly — Russia edition

The leaks and counter-leaks are something else right now. Consider these three stories in the past 24 hours:

  • Blackwater founder, the Seychelles, and Russia: “The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials,” the Washington Post reports. “The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.” The Trump White House has said that it wasn’t aware of Prince’s meetings, and that he had no role in the transition.
  • Carter Page is back in the news: “A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013,” per Buzzfeed. “The adviser, Carter Page, met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant.” Per NBC’s Kristen Welker, Page released this statement: “Consistent with the politically motivated unmasking standards seen in the Obama administration which have recently been exposed, my personal identity and earlier assistance of federal authorities in the 2015 case of USA vs. BURYAKOV, SPORYSHEV and PODOBNYY was framed in an easily identifiable way that amplified the reputational damage against me.”
  • Susan Rice is back in the news, too: “White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign,” Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported. “The pattern of Rice's requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government's policy on ‘unmasking’ the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like ‘U.S. Person One.’”

Unmasking isn’t leaking — and it certainly isn’t wiretapping

The New York Times: Trump’s “broadside against his predecessor coincided with a string of reports in conservative news media outlets that Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, requested the identities of Americans who were cited in intelligence reports about surveillance of foreign officials, and who were connected with Mr. Trump’s campaign or transition. Former national security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, described the requests as normal and said they were justified by the need for the president’s top security adviser to understand the context of reports sent to her by the nation’s intelligence agencies. The process of ‘unmasking’ Americans whose names are redacted in intelligence reports, they said, is not the same thing as leaking them publicly.”

Still at DEFCON 1: Democrats now have enough votes to filibuster Gorsuch

With yesterday’s Senate announcements, NBC’s Capitol Hill team can now count 42 Democratic senators saying they will vote to filibuster Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court — enough to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. If Senate Democrats filibuster his nomination we will likely see Republicans use the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold to invoke cloture, something Senate Democrats did in 2013 for all nominees other than Supreme Court nominees. That would likely happen on Thursday, setting up a final confirmation vote on Friday.

Democrats who support Gorsuch and cloture (3)

  • Joe Manchin
  • Heidi Heitkamp
  • Joe Donnelly

Democrats who support cloture but are undecided on Gorsuch (1)

  • Michael Bennet

Democrats against Gorsuch and cloture (42)

  • Chuck Schumer
  • Bob Casey
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Tammy Baldwin
  • Tom Carper
  • Jeff Merkley
  • Ron Wyden
  • Elizabeth Warren
  • Ed Markey
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Kamala Harris
  • Patty Murray
  • Tom Udall
  • Sherrod Brown
  • Sheldon Whitehouse
  • Jack Reed
  • Al Franken
  • Bill Nelson
  • Mazie Hirono
  • Debbie Stabenow
  • Gary Peters
  • Dick Durbin
  • Cory Booker
  • Chris Van Hollen
  • Chris Murphy
  • Jeanne Shaheen
  • Amy Klobuchar
  • Maggie Hassan
  • Tim Kaine
  • Martin Heinrich
  • Maria Cantwell
  • Catherine Cortez Masto
  • Tammy Duckworth
  • Richard Blumenthal
  • Brian Schatz
  • Claire McCaskill
  • Jon Tester
  • Dianne Feinstein
  • Mark Warner
  • Pat Leahy
  • Chris Coons
  • Ben Cardin

Democrats who are undecided/unannounced (2)

  • Angus King
  • Bob Menendez

Trump’s Day

At 10:45 am ET, President Trump hosts a town-hall meeting with CEOs… And at 12:30 pm ET, he makes remarks at the American Building Trades Unions National Legislative Conference.

What were other presidents doing on April 4?