First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
How health care is playing in Georgia’s special election
The long-awaited congressional runoff in Georgia takes place on Tuesday, and one way to look at the contest is as a referendum of sorts on the health-care debate, especially now with Senate Republicans working on their own bill. Democrat Jon Ossoff opposes the repeal-and-replace legislation the House passed last month, while Republican Karen Handel supports it. Here’s an exchange from their debate earlier this month:
Handel: The system we're under now under Obamacare is collapsing. And I know because my husband and I get our insurance on the exchange. The premiums are skyrocketing and we are seeing a complete collapse in choice of plans, as well as physicians. Steve and I have seen our monthly premium go up from about $350 a month to nearly $1,200 a month. Our deductible from $2,500 to $10,000. So the status quo is unacceptable…
Ossoff: I met a little boy about a month ago named Matt who came out to canvass with us, knock on some doors. He is 7 years old, and he was born with a heart condition -- a pre-existing condition. And he is able to get coverage right now because there are protections for children like that with pre-existing conditions. But Secretary Handel supports a bill that would gut the protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions…
Handel: My sister has a pre-existing condition; she was born without an esophagus, and for you to suggest that I would do anything that would negatively affect her is absolutely outrageous and unacceptable. The facts are, ladies and gentlemen, that the bill in the Senate right now it provides more protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions...
Ossoff: When it comes to pre-existing conditions, I'm afraid you're mistaken. The bill that passed the House guts protections for pre-existing conditions for Georgians.
According to the recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of this race, more than 80% of likely voters said health care is an “extremely important” or “very important” issue regarding their vote, and just 1-in-4 voters said they approved of the House health-care plan. And remember, this is the race to fill the seat vacated by Republican Tom Price, who is now Trump’s HHS secretary — and that’s another way health care is an issue in this contest.
The latest developments in the Trump/Russia probe
- The New York Times: “Members of President Trump’s transition team were ordered on Thursday to preserve documents and other materials related to the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election.”
- NBC’s Hallie Jackson: “Vice President Mike Pence has hired a private lawyer to represent him in the special counsel's investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, the vice president's office confirmed Thursday. Pence has retained Richard Cullen of the law firm McGuireWoods to ‘assist him in responding to inquiries by the special counsel,’ according to a statement from Pence's communications director, Jarrod Agen.”
- The Washington Post: “Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, as part of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.”
- And per NBC’s Kristen Welker, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein released this unusual statement last night: “Americans should exercise caution before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous ‘officials,’ particularly when they do not identify the country – let alone the branch or agency of government – with which the alleged sources supposedly are affiliated. Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations.”
Does Rosenstein need to recuse himself from the Russia investigation?
Given Rosenstein’s statement above, don’t forget this reporting from MSNBC’s Ari Melber: “An FBI inquiry of the Comey firing makes it more likely Rosenstein could be a witness, and thus potentially meet the parameters for recusing himself from overseeing Mueller's investigation. Rosenstein told The Associated Press in an article published on June 3 that he would rescue himself if he were to become a subject of Mueller’s investigation. ‘I've talked with Director Mueller about this,’ Rosenstein told the AP. ‘He’s going to make the appropriate decisions, and if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there’s a need from me to recuse I will.’”
Now under investigation, Trump lashes out at Hillary Clinton
Yesterday, we noted that Trump’s closing argument in the final days of the 2016 election was that Hillary Clinton presidency would result in endless investigations and scandals. Now? Well, Trump finds himself under investigation for possibly obstructing justice. And NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes that Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to lash out at … Hillary Clinton.
Tweet #1: “Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?”
Tweet #2: “Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, 'bleached' emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?”
Trump to announce overhaul of Obama’s Cuba policies
At 1:10 pm ET, President Trump gives remarks from Miami about his changes to Barack Obama’s policies toward Cuba. “In an overhaul of one of his predecessor’s signature legacies, President Donald Trump will redraw U.S. policy toward Cuba on Friday, tightening travel restrictions for Americans that had been loosened under President Barack Obama and banning U.S. business transactions with Cuba’s vast military conglomerate,” the Miami Herald writes. “Trump’s changes are intended to sharply curtail cash flow to the Cuban government and pressure its communist leaders to let the island’s fledgling private sector grow.” Note, however, that Trump’s change of policy isn’t popular with Congress, including Republicans from outside of Florida. “We have a bill to lift the travel ban completely, to have no restrictions at all. That has 55 co-sponsors,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said on “MTP Daily” yesterday. “If it came to a vote on the Senate floor, I'm convinced we would be between 65 and 70 votes in favor of that.”
On health care, Democrats can’t hit what they can’t see
NBC’s Benjy Sarlin: “Despite the stakes, some Democrats and activists opposed to the GOP plan say Republican efforts to hide the legislative process and a relentless tide of major news elsewhere have made it harder to draw attention to the issue. ‘If you’re a voter sitting at home looking at your newspaper’s front page, it’s possible to have no idea the 'Trumpcare' train is barreling down the tracks at you,’ Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn, told NBC News in an interview. MoveOn and a variety of other grassroots groups are warning members that a bill is imminent and sounding the alarm with events, petitions and phone calls to senators. Democrats have been giving floor speeches, holding town halls, and tweeting all week about the expected legislation. But some are expressing frustration that their message is getting lost in the noise.”