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The war over Obamacare resumes

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.
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WASHINGTON — On Sunday, the Trump Justice Department concluded there wasn’t sufficient evidence that President Trump committed obstruction of justice.

On Monday, the same department said the entire Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, was unconstitutional — turning the political conversation once again to health care.

In a filing to the 5th Circuit, three Justice lawyers said they backed a lower court ruling contending that the entire law was now unconstitutional, because its individual mandate had been reduced to a tax penalty of $0, the Washington Post writes.

The controversial reasoning here: Given that the Supreme Court upheld the ACA’s mandate as an exercise of Congress’ power to enact taxes, a tax penalty of zero means the whole law is invalid.

The political consequences: “If the Justice Department’s position prevails, it would potentially eliminate health care for millions of people and cause disruption across the U.S. health-care system — from removing no-charge preventive services for older Americans on Medicare to voiding the expansion of Medicaid in most states,” the Post adds.

“A court victory would fulfill Republican promises to undo a prized domestic accomplishment of the previous administration but leave no substitute in place.”

Democrats who hoped the political conversation would change from Mueller to something else in their wheelhouse — like coverage for those with pre-existing conditions — got their wish.

A recent Fox News poll found just 37 percent of registered voters approve of Trump’s handling of health care, compared with 52 percent who disapprove. That’s a lower approval score than the president receives on his handling of the economy (50 percent), taxes (42 percent) and immigration (41 percent.)

And as more and more Republicans are defending the status quo of Obamacare – as Dem presidential candidates press for some version of “Medicare for All” – Trump and the GOP find themselves in a particularly awkward position with this lawsuit.

The questions Mueller still hasn’t answered

Of course, Mueller hasn’t exactly disappeared from the news.

Back in February and again last week, we posed 10 questions that we hoped special counsel Robert Mueller would answer in his report.

The list is a reminder of what we still don’t know – as we continue to await for release of the full report, rather than Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary.

  1. Will anyone else be charged for allegedly not telling the truth to Congress (Donald Trump Jr., Erik Prince)? Answer from Mueller: Most likely no.
  2. Was there kompromat? Was President Trump compromised by his business dealings with Russia (including the Trump Tower Moscow)? No answer.
  3. Did Paul Manafort really share 2016 polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik (who has ties to Russian intelligence)? And if so, what did Kilimnik do with it? No answer.
  4. Who at the Trump campaign directed Roger Stone to get information about upcoming WikiLeaks disclosures against the Clinton campaign? No answer.
  5. Did anyone in Trump’s orbit help WikiLeaks analyze/organize/curate its email dumps? NO ANSWER.
  6. Did Trump know about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer? And when did he know it? No answer.
  7. Do Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates fit into this investigation? No answer.
  8. What about the NRA? No answer.
  9. Will the president of the United States be subpoenaed? Answer from Mueller: No.
  10. Why has the president — throughout it all — obfuscated, attacked and misdirected as much as he has? In other words, why has he acted like somebody who has something to hide? No answer.

So out of the 10 questions, Mueller has answered only two.

Still, it’s amazing how it appears Trump and the GOP have already won the narrative of the Mueller report without even reading a full sentence from it.

NBC’s Alex Moe and Rebecca Shabad report that six Dem House chairs have sent Attorney General Barr a letter requesting that he submit the full Mueller report to Congress by April 2.

Capitol Hill Watch

The House votes today to override Trump’s veto of the passed legislation that reverses the president’s emergency declaration at the border.

It’s expected that the House won’t have the two-thirds support to override Trump’s veto.

Meanwhile, the Senate is set to vote on the Green New Deal.

“All 53 Republicans oppose the Green New Deal. All 47 Democrats (including the 2 independent senators) plan to vote "present" as part of a strategy led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.,” per NPR.

2020 Vision: Dems avoid tough primary in AZ-SEN

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee can breathe a sigh a relief in AZ-SEN – Mark Kelly isn’t going to receive a primary from the left.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who was considering running against Kelly for the Dem nomination to challenge appointed Sen. Martha McSally next year, told the Arizona Republic he would remain in the House.

“I don’t want to engage in a bitter primary all the way until the general election, and then turn around and try to run, whether it’s me or Kelly, against McSally in a year when the Democrats need to win the Senate seat and take the state,” Gallego told the newspaper.

“It’s just not in the best interest of the state or the Democratic Party to be engaging in that. … If Republicans are excited to see a spirited and nasty primary, they’re going to have to look somewhere else because I’m not going to take part in that.”

This was the formula that was successful for Arizona Dems in 2018: Without a primary, Kyrsten Sinema was able to focus on the middle of the electorate.

On the 2020 campaign trail today

Joe Biden, in New York, speaks at the Biden Courage Awards… Bill Weld, meanwhile, meets with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu in the Granite State.

As for Biden’s activities yesterday, NBC’s Mike Memoli reports that he acted as an interviewer plugging Janet Napolitano’s upcoming book.

“Biden posed her questions for about an hour, injecting occasionally his own views on Trump administration policies related to national and homeland security. He then read audience questions to Napolitano, none of which directly asked about Mueller or 2020,” per Memoli.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $13,500


That’s the average increase in pay, per person, that Kamala Harris hopes to give teachers under a huge $315 billion proposal to increase teacher salaries over the next 10 years.

The proposed average $13,500 increase would bring teacher salaries to parity with other employees who have college degrees.

The plan would be paid for by changes to the estate tax, according to the Harris campaign.

Read more about the plan from our colleague Benjy Sarlin here.

The Lid: Ch-ch-changes

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, in which we tried to answer this question: The Mueller report has been submitted. But will it change anyone’s mind?

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Mike Pence has had to talk Dan Coats out of quitting, our own Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube report.

The Trump administration is turning their post-Mueller fire on critics and the media.

The latest round of Mueller wrangling is making plenty of Trump critics ask: Is William Barr impartial?

Barack Obama is telling freshmen House Dems to take a look at the price tags of their most sweeping progressive plans.

Conservative fundraiser Fred Malek has died.

Other news that’s out there…

Trump agenda: Acting defense secretary approves money for border fencing

The acting defense secretary has approved $1 billion for border fencing help.

The New York Times offers a profile of Martha McSally in the wake of her disclosure that she was raped by a superior while serving.

Dem agenda: How to expand health coverage

House Democrats are preparing to unveil their own plan for incremental health care steps.

Here’s a quick primer on why Michael Avenatti is being charged because of his threats to Nike.

2020: It’s personal

Is Bernie Sanders going to get personal or not?

Mark Udall won’t run for reelection.

The first quarter fundraising deadline is a-loomin’.

Bill Weld says he’ll decide on a Trump challenge in April.