May 19, 2017
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President Trump's continued hiring freeze at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is adversely affecting operations at the agency tasked with preventing global disease outbreaks, officials told The Washington Post. The freeze, which was implemented by Trump in an executive order signed Jan. 22, has left "nearly 700 positions vacant," which is taking a toll on programs that support "local and state public health emergency readiness, infectious disease control, and chronic disease prevention," the Post reported.

The CDC isn't the only Health and Human Services agency affected, even as physicians and public health emergency responders are exempted from the freeze. At the National Institutes of Health, the freeze has hampered clinical work and patient care. At the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response — which the Post noted "regulates some of the world's most dangerous bacteria and viruses and manages the nation's stockpile of emergency medical countermeasures" — several positions remain unfilled.

The freeze is part of Trump's push for government agencies to slim down staff as he prepares to roll out a pared down budget, due out next week. Becca Stanek

8:22 a.m. ET
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Republican Rep. Mike Simpson (Idaho) told America what he really thinks of President Trump in an interview with Politico published Thursday: "I don't even pay any attention to what is going on with the administration because I don't care. They're a distraction. The family is a distraction, the president is a distraction. At first, it was 'Well yeah, this is the guy we elected. He'll learn, he'll learn.' And you just don't see that happening."

Simpson's brutal honesty poured out as he and other Republicans lamented the week's health-care crash and burn, the latest flop to stymie Republicans' agenda. While Trump is starting to hassle congressional Republicans for not getting the job done on health care, Politico reported that lawmakers are "starting to blame Trump for his handling of the Russia probe, Twitter feuds, and attacks on the media." Becca Stanek

7:48 a.m. ET
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President Trump's national security and foreign policy advisers aren't so keen on his insistence on reaching out to Russia. The Associated Press reported Thursday that there are "deep divisions" within the Trump administration on how best to approach Russia and "mixed signals" between Trump and his advisers.

While Trump has been doubting U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia meddled in the presidential election, pushing for cooperation with Russia on Syria, and meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin over dinner, the AP reported that "some top aides, including National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster, have been warning that Putin is not to be trusted":

McMaster expressed his disapproval of Trump's course to foreign officials during the lead-up to his trip to Germany. The general specifically said he'd disagreed with Trump's decision to hold an Oval Office meeting in May with top Russian diplomats and with the president's general reluctance to speak out against Russian aggression in Europe, according to the three foreign officials.

McMaster and other national security aides also advised the president against holding an official bilateral meeting with Putin. [The Associated Press]

Notably, McMaster did not attend Trump's bilateral meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit, though the AP noted that the national security adviser would typically be present at a meeting "with such critical national security operations."

Read more at The Associated Press. Becca Stanek

7:24 a.m. ET
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Two new polls on Thursday show a sizable bipartisan majority of Americans wanting Republicans and Democrats to work together on health-care legislation, rather than the GOP trying to repeal and replace ObamaCare on its own. In a CNN/SSRS poll, 77 percent of respondents said they would like to see Republicans work with Democrats to pass a health bill with bipartisan support, including 69 percent of Republicans, while only 12 percent of all respondents (and 25 percent of Republicans) wanted the GOP to continue going it alone.

When asked how they would like Congress to handle ObamaCare, 35 percent said they wanted President Trump and the GOP to just abandon trying to change the law and keep it as is, 34 percent said they wanted to see parts of ObamaCare repealed only when a replacement was ready, and 18 percent (and 30 percent of Republicans) said they wanted ObamaCare scrapped, replacement or no.

In an Associated Press/NORC poll also released Thursday, 8 in 10 respondents — including 66 percent of Republicans — said they wanted Republicans to approach Democrats to negotiate, and almost 90 percent wanted Democrats to take the GOP up on that prospective offer, including 81 percent of Democrats. In the AP poll, solid majorities of voters opposed all the major parts of the GOP replacement plan, though they also did not seem enthusiastic about ObamaCare's individual mandate. And a growing majority, 62 percent, said the federal government has a responsibility to make sure all Americans have health coverage, while 37 percent disagreed.

The CNN/SSRS poll was conducted July 14-18 among 1,019 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of ±3.7 percentage points. The AP/NORC poll was conducted July 13-17, also among 1,019 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of ±4.1 points. Peter Weber

6:25 a.m. ET

President Trump's Commission on Election Integrity met again on Wednesday, with Trump kicking things off by insisting his administration has "no choice" but to investigate voter fraud, despite there being no evidence much of it exists. Trump formed the commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, after falsely claiming that three million people voted illegally for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. "Those mythical three million illegal voters are the president's obsession, his white whale," Samantha Bee said on Wednesday's Full Frontal, "although if the whale were white, Trump would be a lot less concerned about it voting."

Before the commission even met, it raised eyebrows and hackles by requesting sensitive information on every voter in all 50 states — a request at least partly denied by 45 secretaries of state. "Since the commission wants to know so much about us, let's find out a little about them," starting with Kobach, Bee said. "Expanding the franchise was never really Kris' thing." She noted that in the 1980s, Kobach wrote his thesis at Harvard arguing against divesting from Apartheid-era South Africa — and not surprisingly, he was also the rare Ivy League-educated birther. "But Kris doesn't just talk the voter-suppression talk, he walks he voter-suppression walk," Bee said.

Also on the commission are Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams, Bee noted. The three men share in common a concerted effort to purge voter roles and frequent appearances on Fox News. "Guys like this have been playing the long game, methodically chipping away at the Voting Rights Act since the moment LBJ signed it (and then left the room to expose himself to the steno pool)," Bee said. "And now, this president has handed them the keys to the candy shop so they can run in and purge all the chocolates." You can learn more about the 12 members of the commission from NYU Law School's Brennan Center for Justice, and watch Bee's decidedly NSFW introduction below. Peter Weber

5:18 a.m. ET
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Mark Serrano, a longtime Republican operative, has been one of President Trump's most stalwart defenders on TV over the past few months, making semi-regular appearances on the Fox Business Network and Fox News. Since at least April, he has also been a paid consultant for Trump's 2020 re-election campaign, according to federal disclosure forms the Trump campaign filed last weekend, The Washington Post reported Wednesday night. In April and May, the Trump campaign paid Serrano's firm, ProActive Communications, a total of $30,000 for "communications consulting," and during that time, his ties to the Trump campaign were not identified by the Fox networks.

That's because Serrano had not told the network about his hiring by the Trump campaign until late June, people at Fox tell the Post. In his most recent appearance, on July 6, Fox Business identified him as "Trump's campaign senior adviser," and a "person familiar with the network's internal discussions" tells the Post that Serrano won't appear on the network "for the foreseeable future" because he did not disclose his hiring by Trump. "It is the policy of the network to disclose all ties our guests have to any subject matter," Fox Business said Monday, "and in the case of Mark Serrano, as soon as we were made aware of his new title last month, we made sure to disclose his role during his on-air appearances."

An official at the Trump re-election committee said Serrano was paid for communication strategy, not his pro-Trump Fox appearances, and noted, accurately, that Serrano has been speaking favorably about Trump on Fox since at least August 2015, at no charge for most of that time. Peter Weber

4:20 a.m. ET

TrumpCare died earlier this week, "but Trump won't take please-don't-do-this-it-will-cost-us-the midterms for an answer," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show. So the president invited Senate Republicans to lunch Wednesday, and he "kicked off the event with some lighthearted bullying of one of the senators opposed to the bill, Nevada's Dean Heller."

Nobody's sure if this tough-guy approach will work for Trump, but Colbert was impressed with one of Trump's tweets on the subject, or at least its final line: "The Dems scream death as OCare dies!" "Oh my god, that last part is almost poetic," Colbert said, reading it again and noting it scans in iambic tetrameter. "You know, it's true what they say: If you leave a man with the brain of 100 monkeys in front of a keyboard long enough, eventually he'll write Shakespeare." Colbert donned a Shakespearean collar, picked up poor Yorick's skull, and ran with it.

Colbert next expressed surprise about Trump's undisclosed meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a foreign rival he's accused of colluding with to get elected. "That's like if O.J. does get out on parole and immediately goes glove shopping," he said. Trump said the meeting was "brief," but it apparently lasted up to an hour. Still, the White House insists that "the insinuation that the White House has tried to 'hide' a second meeting is false, malicious, and absurd," Colbert read. "Strong words. And, I think we've also found Trump's re-election slogan: 'Trump 2020 — False, Malicious, and Absurd.'"

"Here's the thing: I want to believe Trump here, I really want to believe that the president of the United States is just shooting the breeze with a guy he's accused of colluding with for the second time that day, for an hour," Colbert said. "But here's why it's hard to believe him: He lies about everything. He lies about crowd size, voter fraud, till death do us part. He's the boy who cried Wolf Blitzer is fake news. This might actually be a nothingburger, but every time they tell us it's a nothingburger, it turns out to be a juicy quarter-pounder with sleaze."

Colbert said he is choosing to believe that nothing happened in the meeting with Putin, but just to be sure, The Late Show asked the German waitstaff what the two men talked about at dinner. (They all have flawless American accents.) Watch below. Peter Weber

3:39 a.m. ET
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A group of at least 20 Republican senators met for nearly three hours in Sen. John Barrasso's (R-Wy.) office on Wednesday night, hoping to hash out their differences on health-care legislation and revive a push to repeal and maybe replace the Affordable Care Act that had been declared dead earlier this week. At various points, Senate aides and members of President Trump's Cabinet were part of the meeting, but the get-together ended with just the GOP senators talking among themselves. "We're at our best when we're among ourselves," Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said afterward.

Several senators said after the meeting that it was productive and made them more optimistic that they could pass some form of ObamaCare repeal next week, though none of them was sure what legislation Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will have them vote on. The senators said there were no breakthroughs, however, and they still appear to be short the votes to pass either McConnell's repeal-and-replace bill or the repeal-and-delay backup plan, especially with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sidelined by brain cancer treatment. "We do have work to do to get to a vote of 50," Barrasso said.

Unidentified people familiar with the meeting told The Washington Post it had been set up by the White House to help persuade reluctant senators to support McConnell's repeal-and-replace bill, though at least two of the four GOP senators on record opposing that bill — Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — did not attend; Barrasso told Politico the meeting had been planned before Wednesday's lunch at the White House, where Trump had told GOP senators to give up their August recess to work on health-care legislation and needled senators wary of the bill. Between the lunch meeting and late-night conference, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the repeal-and-delay bill would leave 17 million more people uninsured next year and 32 million more uninsured in a decade. Peter Weber

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