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Once Champions of Sunlight, GOP Pens Health Care Plan In the Dark

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.
Image: Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell (C) walks to his office from the Senate floor following a vote, on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 10, 2017. The Senate convenes the day after US President Donald J. Trump fired James Comey as Director of the FBI. Senate Democrats strongly criticized the decision and are calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to take over the inquiry into Russia's interference in the US presidential election of 2016.Michael Reynolds / EPA

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.

Once champions of sunlight, GOP pens health care plan in the dark

Guess who said this about health care. “This is a very important issue. You know, we shouldn't try to do it in the dark. And whatever final bill is produced should be available to the American public and to the members of the Senate, certainly, for enough time to come to grips with it… And we are going to insist — and the American people are going to insist — that it be done in a transparent, a fair and open way.”

Chuck Schumer? Dick Durbin? Nancy Pelosi?

Try Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell — in a news conference on Oct. 2, 2009, nearly three months before the Democratic-led Senate originally passed its health-care bill. (And that McConnell comment came after Senate Democrats held numerous hearings and tried to woo Republican senators like Olympia Snowe and Chuck Grassley.)

The political opposition always complains about process and a lack of transparency. But what’s extraordinary about Senate Republicans as they try to craft and vote on a health-care bill before July 4 is that there’s been no hearings, no open committee work, and no bill as of yet. It is, without question, the most secretive major legislative effort we’ve seen since covering politics, especially for a chamber dubbed “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” And the votes on the legislation might start as soon as next week.

Senate Republicans planning for marathon votes on health care starting next week

The reporting from NBC’s Capitol Hill team: “Republicans are preparing for a marathon of votes on their Obamacare repeal starting next week. There's no written bill yet, and there isn't even an agreement that has leadership comfortable they have 50 votes to pass a bill. But the new expectation on Capitol Hill is there will be an outline of a proposal as soon as Wednesday. Why? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows that if the Senate doesn't deal with health care, there's little chance of any other GOP priority ever seeing the light of day. It's an incredibly tough issue that's been a bad political storyline for both Congress and the White House, and he's essentially betting that when faced with voting yes or no on Obamacare repeal, he'll have the votes he needs. And if those votes aren't there — well — they'll at least have moved on to other things. Keep in mind there's pressure to lift the debt ceiling in July and then there will be a government funding crisis in September. (And they're gone in August.)”

“In the Trump Era, business in Washington is happening behind closed doors”

And it’s just not the Senate’s health-care effort that’s in the dark, according to the Washington Post. “Officials at numerous agencies of the Trump administration have stonewalled friendly Republicans in Congress — not to mention Democrats — by declining to share internal documents on sensitive matters or refusing to answer questions. President Trump, meanwhile, is still forbidding the release of his tax returns, his aides have stopped releasing logs of visitors to the White House and his media aides have started banning cameras at otherwise routine news briefings, as happened Monday. Trump even refuses to acknowledge to the public that he plays golf during his frequent weekend visits to his private golf courses.” The Post adds, “More and more in the Trump era, business in Washington is happening behind closed doors. The federal government’s leaders are hiding from public scrutiny — and their penchant for secrecy represents a stark departure from the campaign promises of Trump and his fellow Republicans to usher in newfound transparency.” And by the way, there’s not a White House press briefing taking place today…

Could tonight’s GA-6 special election influence the Senate process on health care?

As we wrote yesterday, Democrats and Republicans have A LOT on the line in today’s special congressional runoff in Georgia. But perhaps the most immediate consequence of tonight’s outcome could be on this health-care process in the Senate. If Democrat Jon Ossoff wins, you could very well see some Senate Republicans — who are uncomfortable with the in-the-dark process, because they ran against it — want to tap the brakes. But if Republican Karen Handel holds on, you could see Republicans more determined than ever to jam something through.

What’s at stake in Georgia

What an Ossoff victory could give Democrats:

  • a tangible win for the resistance opposing Trump;
  • a warning shot to Senate Republicans pursuing health care, especially since it’s been a major issue in this race;
  • and unquestionable momentum heading into the midterms.

What a Karen Handel victory could give Republicans:

  • confidence their candidates can win in a challenging environment, perhaps boosting recruiting;
  • a green light to continue pursuing health care;
  • and deal a demoralizing blow to Democrats (that they spent all that money and energy and got nothing in return).

Polls close in Georgia at 7:00 pm ET.

The GOP’s spaghetti-on-the-wall approach to GA-6

There’s one more potential consequence of tonight’s vote in Georgia: If Republicans win, you’ll see them try to replicate their spaghetti-on-the-wall approach to GA-6. As it turns out, they’ve thrown almost everything at Ossoff — Han Solo, Nancy Pelosi, Kathy Griffin, anarchists, Osama bin Laden. And a win might lead them to believe that’s the way to survive in the Trump Era. A loss, on the other hand, might lead them to go back to the drawing board.

“The Forgotten Special Election”

That’s what Roll Call is calling today’s other special election — in South Carolina. “Just 200 miles northeast of suburban Atlanta where local and national media are trailing Democrat Jon Ossoff, South Carolina Democrat Archie Parnell — accompanied by a sitting congressman — was passing out campaign literature at a fish fry here on Saturday with just one reporter in tow,” Roll Call writes. Parnell faces off against Republican Ralph Norman, who’s considered the favorite.

Trump White House finds a surprising ally in the New York Times’ David Brooks when it comes to Russia

David Brooks this morning: “[A]s the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred — that there was any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians. Everything seems to be leaking out of this administration, but so far the leaks about actual collusion are meager.”

How will Trump respond to Otto Warmbier’s death?

The Washington Post’s Fred Haitt writes, “I can’t stop thinking about Otto Warmbier. And the more I think about him, the more I remember all the smart people I’ve heard over the years explaining why the North Korean regime — the regime that ‘brutalized and terrorized’ Otto, as his father said last week — shouldn’t be challenged or destabilized… We don’t know whether North Korean guards beat Warmbier into a coma or whether his abuse and maltreatment came in some other form. What we do know is that a healthy young man flew to Pyongyang, was unjustly seized and then became lost to the world — with no one bothering to inform his parents.” Then again, North Korea has nuclear capabilities, and is near U.S. allies in South Korea and Japan. It’s a very tricky situation. Trump issued this statement yesterday: “Otto’s fate deepens my Administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.”