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As repeal vote nears, Obama pleads to preserve Affordable Care Act

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Former President Barack Obama pushed back against claims by Republican legislators and by the Trump administration that the bill was in a “death spiral” or was taking jobs away. | Getty

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Trump tweets NBC, ABC broadcast 'biased and fake' Russia stories

Trump tweets NBC, ABC broadcast 'biased and fake' Russia stories

President Donald Trump called reports about alleged ties between his associates and the Russian government "fake news." | AP Photo

President Donald Trump labeled reports from two major networks on alleged ties between individuals linked to his campaign and the Russian government as “totally biased and fake news” Thursday morning, continuing his tirade against allegations that his election team colluded with the Kremlin.

“Just watched the totally biased and fake news reports of the so-called Russia story on NBC and ABC. Such dishonesty!” Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. He did not dispute any of the specifics of either report, which aired on NBC’s “Today” show and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

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The president's complaint comes one day after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced that he had been given information to suggest that members of Trump’s transition team, and potentially Trump himself, had been inadvertently surveilled after the election, a revelation that Trump said Wednesday made him feel “somewhat” vindicated.

But even as Nunes went public with his discovery – a move that was itself controversial not only because he did not share it first with the committee’s ranking Democrat but also because his committee is in the midst of an investigation into possible ties between the president’s campaign and Russia – the California lawmaker said there was still no proof of Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during last year’s election.

Beyond Nunes’s decision to go public with the information presented to him, the White House was also forced Wednesday to answer questions about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who the Associated Press revealed had worked with a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to advance the interests of Putin and the Russian government.

Asked about Manafort, White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted at his Wednesday press briefing that there is “zero evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and that’s not going to be changed by the former business dealings of a campaign staffer from a decade ago.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, slammed Nunes for going public with his revelation and for briefing the president on it. At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Schiff said “The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both.”

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“I think the actions of today throw great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted,” he continued.

Both

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State Department to approve Keystone pipeline permit

State Department to approve Keystone pipeline permit

Miles of unused pipe, prepared for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, sit in a lot on October 14, 2014 outside Gascoyne, North Dakota. The Trump administration will approve the pipeline reversing a decision from President Obama. | Getty

By Ben Lefebvre

03/23/17 11:08 AM EDT

Updated 03/23/17 12:11 PM EDT

The Trump administration will approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline by Monday, reversing one of former President Barack Obama’s most politically charged environmental decisions, according to two sources with knowledge of the plan.

The move by the State Department comes 16 months after Obama blocked construction of the 1,200-mile pipeline, which would ship crude from Canada's western oil-sands region to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The pipeline became the subject of major lobbying efforts by both oil industry supporters and environmental groups, which turned the project into the focus of their climate change campaigns.

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Undersecretary for political affairs Tom Shannon plans to sign the pipeline’s cross-border permit on or before Monday, the last day for the 60-day timeline that President Donald Trump ordered in January. Secretary of State and former Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson recused himself from the process.

The approval, while long expected, will hand Trump a political victory and follows his promise to quickly approve the $8 billion project that developer TransCanada has sought to build for nearly a decade.

Keystone XL has become as much a political totem as an infrastructure project. Republicans and oil industry backers have touted its economic benefits and the thousands of construction jobs it would create, while environmentalists warned the oil artery could pose huge spill risks and would stoke development in Alberta's oil sands region, unleashing a vast amount of the carbon dioxide that scientists say is causing climate change.

While the permit will eliminate a crucial barrier for the pipeline, other hurdles still remain, including winning approval for the project in Nebraska and winning over landowners there who have denied it the right of way.

The president and his administration also continue to struggle on another of his pipeline-related promises: Where the steel for the pipeline will come from. Trump as recently as this week continued to say that he would require TransCanada to use American-made steel to build the U.S.-side of the pipeline, despite the White House’s admission earlier this month that it would not hold Keystone XL to that standard.

“If people want to build pipelines in the United States, they should use American steel and they should build it and create it right here,” Trump said at a Monday rally in Louisville, Ky. “That pipeline is going to be manufactured right here.”

TransCanada has said roughly half of the steel for Keystone XL will come from the U.S. That steel will come from Welspun Tubular in Arkansas, a subsidiary of India-based Welspun Group.

Even as it clears one major federal hurdle, TransCanada’s regulatory marathon now heads to the state level.

The company still needs the approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission

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Rep. Dent: GOP is 'probably a little short' on health care votes

Rep. Dent: GOP is 'probably a little short' on health care votes

Rep. Charlie Dent said that his parties leaders set "arbitrary deadlines" for their Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts. | AP Photo

With House Republican leadership looking at last-minute alterations to its health care legislation geared toward pacifying more conservative House members, a co-chairman of the House GOP’s moderate Tuesday Group said Thursday that his party bosses are still short of the votes they need.

“Well, I don't know. I haven't done a whip count,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I suspect if you looked at the numbers now, they are probably a little short. I can't tell you how many votes.”

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Although House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump have both expressed confidence that legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare will pass its scheduled vote on Thursday, they and other GOP leaders have been forced to scramble to shore up support for the bill. In a move to appease members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, who have opposed the bill, Ryan and Trump have offered to consider stripping certain regulations mandating “essential health benefits” in insurance plans.

Such a move would likely make the legislation, dubbed the American Health Care Act, a tougher pill to swallow for more moderate Republicans like Dent, who announced after a Wednesday meeting with Ryan that “after careful deliberation, I cannot support the bill and will oppose it.”

The GOP health care proposal, Dent said in his Wednesday statement, “will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals.” Thursday morning on MSNBC, he said the proposed cuts to essential health benefits would represent a big policy change introduced very close to the vote, adding: “I don't know what those impacts are, to be perfectly candid with you right now.”

Even with the concessions to the GOP’s conservative wing, it remains unclear whether there is enough support from members of the Republican rank and file to pass the legislation out of the House. Asked Thursday morning on CNN’s “New Day” whether the cuts to essential health benefit requirements would move the Freedom Caucus closer to a deal, one of its members, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), said only that “we’ll see.”

Asked whether he still expected a vote Thursday night on the legislation, Jordan again said “we’ll see.”

Dent complained that there has been too much focus by the leaders of his party on “arbitrary deadlines.” That Thursday’s vote on the repeal-and-replace measure falls on Obamacare’s seven-year anniversary is “more symbolism, to me, over substance, and we ought to get back to the substance of this issue.”

The Pennsylvania lawmaker also said that there is a prevalent but false notion among House members that the Senate would pass the House’s version of the bill without significant change. Dent called such thinking “ridiculous.”

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Father of autistic student: Gorsuch's views 'threatened' son's education

Neil Gorsuch is pictured. | Getty

The father of an autistic student against whom Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch ruled in 2008 told senators today that Gorsuch's views "threatened" his son's access to a quality education "and thus to a meaningful and dignified life. | Getty

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