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Sessions: 'We whole-heartedly join in the priorities of President Trump'

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that he 'plan[s] to continue' to do his job 'as long as that is appropriate' following some harsh comments from President Donald Trump.

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McCain's absence leaves big hole in Senate

Just a day after the stunning announcement that Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with a brain tumor and will be absent from Capitol Hill to receive treatment, the feisty Arizona Republican is vowing to return to the Senate quickly.

McCain's health is critical for President Donald Trump and Senate GOP leaders, who suddenly find themselves in the position of needing McCain’s support very badly, despite the often combative relationship between the president and the 80-year-old McCain.

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McCain’s sudden departure leaves a giant hole in the middle of Republican conference. On defense and foreign policy issues, McCain is among the loudest GOP voices, largely based on his own experience as a Vietnam War hero and prisoner of war. A hawkish interventionist utterly convinced of America’s undisputed place as the world's leader, McCain has pushed to expand the U.S.'s presence overseas, not withdraw from it, which often put him in collision with the Trumpian-Bannon worldview. From Syria to ISIS to Iran to North Korea, McCain has ushed for hardline U.S. policies, including military strikes if necessary.

On other controversial topics — Trump’s behavior, immigration, treatment of terrorism detainees, torture — McCain has been one of the few Republicans willing to speak out. Due to his own stature, McCain has been able to say what others Republicans can’t or won’t.

“Well, John, as you know, is a bigger-than-life force around here on so many issues, and particularly national security issues,” noted Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I think that his absence is going to be felt, we’re going to miss him, we hope he gets back."

With only 52 Republicans, not having McCain in place means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell loses a dependable vote on advancing a repeal and replace of Obamacare, even as the Kentucky Republican vows to try to bring up the GOP health care bill early next week.

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And McCain, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, may not be able to oversee completion of the annual defense authorization bill, which had been expected to be taken up on the Senate floor as early next week.

The Pentagon, too, loses one of its biggest allies in Congress, although one who is not above bashing admirals and generals when he feels they deserve it. McCain has long supported getting rid of the 2011 budget caps and adding tens of billions of dollars to the defense budget. That’s in line with what Trump wants to do as well.

In a statement Wednesday, McCain vowed to return to the Senate as soon as possible and thanked all his well-wishers. “I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support - unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand-by!” McCain said on Twitter.

Then McCain was, well, McCain. His office issued a statement bashing

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House Republicans try to revive ban on Pentagon transgender surgeries

Rep. Vicky Hartzler is pictured. | Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

"Steps must be taken to address this misuse of our precious defense dollars," Rep. Vicky Hartzler, the author of the proposal, said in a statement. | Lauren Victoria Burke/AP

Several House Republicans are working behind the scenes to revive a failed effort to bar the Pentagon from funding gender reassignment surgeries for troops.

A mix of GOP defense hawks and conservatives are urging Speaker Paul Ryan and his team to use a procedural trick to automatically include the controversial proposal in a spending package set for floor consideration next week.

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If Ryan doesn't go along with that plan, they want him to give them a second shot at passing the amendment on the floor — a prospect that would anger the proposal's opponents.

"Steps must be taken to address this misuse of our precious defense dollars," Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), the author of the proposal, said in a statement. "This policy hurts our military's readiness and will take over a billion dollars from the Department of Defense's budget. This is still an important issue that needs to be addressed.”

Hartzler’s initiative would end a President Barack Obama-era policy that let the Defense Department pay for gender reassignment surgeries and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel. Last week, 24 mostly moderate Republicans teamed up with 190 Democrats to kill the effort to end the policy, voting 209 to 214 against Hartzler’s amendment to a defense authorization bill. Six Republicans did not vote on the measure at all.

But some Republicans can’t let it go. They’re urging leadership to tuck the provision into a rules package governing the GOP’s appropriation legislation, ensuring it would become part of the text without another vote. Or, if that won't work, they want leadership to let them try to pass it again.

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“The federal government has no business paying for that procedure,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), a supporter of the amendment who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. “A lot of us feel very strongly about that, and we want a chance to have that in the bill.”

Asked about the matter Wednesday, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, who supported the amendment on the floor, said, “I’m not prepared to discuss it because I’m not to a point that a decision’s been made.”

However, several senior Republican sources predicted leadership would reject the plea to add the Hartzler amendment to a House rule — namely because it would circumvent regular order. It’s unclear whether they would allow a separate floor amendment on the proposal.

There’s concern that the pitch could sink the entire appropriations package by triggering centrist Republicans to bring down the rule. Moderates who opposed the amendment, including Tuesday Group leaders Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Elise Stefanik of New York, are pushing back against the revived effort. They’ve argued that

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Sessions won't resign for now, but gets Trump's message

President Donald Trump’s broadside against Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a New York Times interview this week was no careless accident or slip of the tongue.

Instead, the president was sending a message, said a Trump adviser who talked with him after the interview—making a deliberate effort to convey his lingering displeasure with his attorney general, who recused himself in March from the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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“He didn’t just do that randomly,” the adviser said of the president. “There was a certain thinking behind it.”

Precisely what Trump expected Sessions to do in response remains unclear. Sessions said Thursday that he intends to remain in his position for the time being. “I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate,” Sessions said at a Department of Justice press conference. “We’re serving right now. What we’re doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue.”

One person close to Sessions said he has no interest in resigning, although he previously offered to do so in late May, following several outbursts by Trump over his recusal.

While the resignation attempt was previously reported, this person told POLITICO that Trump had demanded that Sessions submit a resignation letter. By the time Sessions did so the following day, Trump had cooled down and rejected the offer.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general and the White House did not immediately respond requests for comment on the episode.

In the interview Wednesday with the Times, Trump suggested he would have picked someone else to run the Justice Department had he known Sessions was going to remove himself from oversight of the Russia probe, which has expanded to include contacts between Kremlin-connected operatives and Trump aides and family members.

“How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you,’” Trump said, calling Sessions’ actions “very unfair.”

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Trump further disparaged Sessions’ performance at his confirmation hearing. He also suggested that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia probe in Sessions’ stead, isn’t politically loyal to the administration.

One senior administration official said Trump remained angry about the recusal because he didn’t know it was coming and that “it made him look weak.” Trump learned about the recusal from news reports and had no idea it was under serious consideration, this person said.

“He never wants to look weak or give into his critics,” this person said. “This made it seem like Sessions had done something wrong, that there was a reason to recuse himself.”

Trump is also frustrated about the string of legal defeats for the travel ban and occasionally blames Sessions for

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Five Stories That Show Why People Love John McCain

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There was something different about the torrent of grief, well-wishes and wistful anecdotes that greeted John McCain when his staff announced late Wednesday night that the Arizona senator had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Perhaps it’s because of the extraordinary heroism McCain showed as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Or maybe it’s his penchant for a delightfully barbed quip, or his habit of making shows of personal integrity in an age of partisan rancor. Maybe it’s because, unlike the scripted and staid politicians all around him, he “acts somewhat in the ballpark of the way a real human being would act,” as one scribe quoted in a famous Rolling Stone essay about McCain once put it. Maybe it’s because to many, he seems to be everything America’s current president is not.

All of the best stories about John McCain over the years have chipped away at this thing that made him feel like a different politician—authentic, an image his aides cultivated with the famous Straight Talk Express campaign bus; and honorable and brave, which the tales of his brutal torture at the hands of North Vietnamese and his refusal to leave his Hanoi prison without his comrades underscored. Here is a little bit of what has stuck with people about the maverick Arizona senator over the years—articles, videos and stories that all highlight a quality that seems vanishingly rare in American politics today:

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David Foster Wallace: “ The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain

The late David Foster Wallace plumbed the subject of McCain’s authenticity, and the inevitable question of just how authentic it was, in his 2000 Rolling Stone essay “The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub: Seven Days In The Life Of The Late, Great John McCain.” Wallace was initially struck by McCain’s unique non-politician quality on the 2000 campaign trail, marked first by the contrast of his non-dweebiness in a sea of dweeby politicians: “a guy who graduated near the bottom of his class at Annapolis and got in trouble for flying jets too low and cutting power lines and crashing all the time and generally being cool.” Given the inherent inauthenticity of the other politicians and the campaign machine around them, Wallace asks:

And who wouldn't fall all over themselves for a top politician who actually seemed to talk to you like you were a person, an intelligent adult worthy of respect? … Who wouldn't cheer, hearing stuff like this, especially from a guy we know chose to sit in a dark box for four years instead of violate a Code? Even in AD 2000, who among us is so cynical that he doesn't have some good old corny American hope way down deep in his heart, lying dormant like a spinster's ardor, not dead but just waiting for the right guy to give it to?

In the end, it becomes an essay on the fight between a voter

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