Essential Politics: All eyes on the Senate for Obamacare’s fate

It took a tie-breaking vote from the vice president and the dramatic return of an ailing senator, but crucial debate on the year’s most pressing policy question has begun.

Even so, the outcome remains unclear. Will Republicans eventually coalesce around some version of a plan to repeal Obamacare?

Good morning from the state capital. I’m Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, and the political view from California continues to be much different, as Gov. Jerry Brown signs into law an extension of the state’s landmark cap-and-trade climate program.

But first, from Obamacare to the fate of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, let’s talk Washington.


It wasn’t clear until Tuesday whether Republicans actually had enough votes to bring the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to a floor debate in the U.S. Senate.

They did, but only after a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Even that wouldn’t have been enough had Arizona Sen. John McCain not returned to Washington and joined the effort. Days after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, the veteran lawmaker returned to Capitol Hill and cast what ended up being the decisive 50th Republican vote.

McCain used the opportunity to deliver a sharp rebuke to lawmakers from both parties for their rhetoric and record over the past few months.

“We’re getting nothing done, my friends,” McCain said. “We’re getting nothing done.”

The largely unified GOP action to move forward came after some public prodding of senators by President Trump on Monday. But it didn’t last long, as several Republicans broke ranks Tuesday night and rejected the first replacement proposal.

It’s unclear if any GOP healthcare plan makes it out of the Senate during the coming hours of debate. Then there’s the question of what the House would do with such a plan, and when.

Even Tuesday’s initial procedural vote carried risk for some senators. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, one of the fence-sitters on the topic the past few weeks, was quickly criticized on social media for his support of the Senate debate effort.

Check in on our Essential Washington news feed for the latest on the Senate debate.


Here in California, Brown’s decision to use the San Francisco skyline as the backdrop for Tuesday’s signing of a sweeping extension of the state’s cap-and-trade program was about more than just a good photo op.

It’s the same spot where, in the early fall of 2006, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the state’s overarching climate change plan into law. That law is what paved the way for state regulators to create the system of doling out and auctioning off greenhouse gas allowances.

Schwarzenegger joined Brown and legislators at Tuesday’s event, the culmination of months of negotiations in Sacramento on the finer points.

“California is leading the world in dealing with the principal existential threat that humanity faces,” Brown said during Tuesday’s ceremony.


Perhaps the least surprising development this week — and that’s mainly because it’s hard to be surprised any longer — was Trump’s continued public poking at his attorney general.

After he expressed disappointment last week with Sessions over the springtime recusal on all things related to the Russian election investigation, Trump’s new swipes have been both online and from behind the podium.

Most notably, the president told reporters on Tuesday that he was “very disappointed” that Sessions decided in the spring to recuse himself from the Russian election interference investigation.

“Time will tell,” Trump said at a news conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hiriri. “Time will tell.”

Trump also chastised Sessions for not ordering an investigation into the actions of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

The president’s criticism of the reliably conservative Alabama Republican isn’t sitting well with some writers and commentators in the right-leaning media.


Sessions, in the meantime, made news of his own on Tuesday. The Department of Justice waded back into the hot-button debate over “sanctuary cities,” issuing a stern warning to those local governments about the price for not cooperating on illegal immigration issues.

The new policy will require the cities to work with agents if they want to continue to receive federal grants from the Byrne Justice Assistance program. The conditions set out by Sessions’ team will no doubt be the subject of further legal scrutiny and represent a sharp new turn on the issue.


The Sessions saga seemed to quickly overshadow the big news of Monday: testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor.

Kushner took the unusual step of reading a statement in front of reporters camped out in front of the White House on Monday, strenuously denying any electoral collusion with Russia. Kushner then met privately with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

Meawhile, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday there was no directive for the meeting between a banker and Kushner.


Cathleen Decker’s analysis this week of the president’s politics goes right at one of the most fascinating contradictions about Trump’s rise: even though he’s taken great pains to promote his wealth and societal success, his “war on elites” in America has been central to his ascendancy to the nation’s highest office.

As Decker points out, it’s a key reason why Trump has maintained the loyalty of his core voters.


The success of the president’s commission to investigate his unproven voter fraud allegations won’t rest on the courts, it now appears.

On Monday, a court refused to block the panel’s request of voter information from states across the country. The ruling rejected the assertion that the federal commission’s request was neither constitutional nor fair to the privacy rights of millions of voters.

But the legal victory for the presidential panel doesn’t change the simple fact that there are a number of states where elections officials have refused to honor the voluntary request. And here in California, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reminded the commission of that — and of his refusal to go along — in a Tuesday statement.


Backers of an effort to split California off into its own nation are likely headed back to the streets to collect voter signatures on a possible 2018 ballot measure.

On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office issued a formal title and summary for the initiative, which has been revised to focus on negotiating “autonomy” for the state. It wouldn’t, on its own, attempt to secede from the United States. That “Calexit” effort fizzled earlier this year.


— “I think he’s crazy.” And that’s not all that was heard in a candid moment between two senators talking on Tuesday about Trump and a House colleague, all of it captured on an open microphone.

— It was unlike any presidential speech ever given to the annual gathering of Boy Scouts. Which was precisely the problem, said critics of Trump’s Monday remarks.

— Lawyers for the president told a federal court on Tuesday that Trump had a 1st Amendment right to urge his supporters to kick “disruptive protesters” out of his 2016 campaign rallies.

— The president added Rep. Adam Schiff to the unofficial nickname club on Monday, calling the Democrat from Burbank “sleazy” in a tweet. Schiff then decided to use it to his advantage as a fundraising tool.

— Gov. Brown walked the red carpet on Tuesday night in Los Angeles at a screening of former Vice President Al Gore’s new climate change documentary, “An Inconvenient Sequel.” The day before, Gore was in San Francisco, where he praised the governor for securing a deal on California’s cap-and-trade program.

— Meanwhile, the candidates vying to replace Brown are being pressed on their views about affirmative action by Latino and black lawmakers, potentially injecting a volatile racial element into the 2018 race.

— Did anyone notice congressional Democrats attempting to unveil a new economic agenda on Monday? The progressive-leaning agenda includes higher wages, child care and job training.