For President Trump, Sen. Mitch McConnell and tens of millions of Americans who receive health coverage through Medicaid or by buying policies as individuals, it’s all coming down to one, big gamble on the Senate floor.

Within days — most likely Thursday or Friday of next week — the Senate will vote on repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It won’t be exactly the bill McConnell unveiled Thursday for public review, but, rather, an amended version, known in full only to him and a few others, that he’ll put forward at the last minute in hopes of capturing the last two or three votes.

If it passes, probably with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote, Republicans will have succeeded in the biggest rollback of the government safety net ever.

Good afternoon, I’m David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in Washington and elsewhere in national politics and highlight some particularly insightful stories.

As Mascaro wrote, the next week will resemble a frenzied marketplace, as roughly a dozen GOP senators, including four on the right and several in the center, demand concessions in return for their votes. Here’s a list of several of those key senators.

The conservatives want more cutbacks, implemented faster, the centrists want fewer and more delays. Balancing their demands will be tricky.

McConnell’s gamble, however, is that as the final vote approaches and the number of undeclared senators dwindles, no Republican will want to cast that last vote that saves Obamacare.

The future health coverage of millions of Americans, plus hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending, hang on whether he’s correct.


Four months ago, if a Democrat had come within a few points of winning Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, in Atlanta’s heavily Republican suburbs, the result would have seemed close to a victory for the party.

But after spending tens of millions of dollars and lavishing the district with attention, the actual result, Republican Karen Handel beating Democrat Jon Ossoff by 52%-48%, came as a stinging defeat.

The Georgia race was the fourth special election in a Republican-held district that Democrats lost this spring.

What does that say about their prospects in 2018?

The answer isn’t so clear, as Evan Halper and I wrote. In all four elections, Democrats ran well ahead of their past performance. And a lot of other districts in play for the 2018 midterm elections aren’t as heavily Republican as these four.

Still, the loss disappointed many Democrats, and it’s led to another round of finger-pointing, including calls for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco to step aside.

On Thursday, Pelosi dismissed such calls. “I’m worth the trouble, quite frankly,” she said.

She may be right. It’s true that Republicans love to feature her in ads, knowing how she motivates their voters. But the argument that she’s a uniquely attractive target flies against history.

Republicans previously targeted House Speakers Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts and Jim Wright of Texas. Democrats targeted former Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

Indeed, it’s easier to come up with names of leaders the opposite party targeted than to think of ones who avoided that fate.


One move that would clearly change the electoral landscape would be to limit political gerrymandering of congressional districts.

The Supreme Court is about to look at whether to do so.

The issue before the justices, as David Savage explained, is whether the Constitution puts any limits on the ability of one party to use its control over drawing district lines to lock the opposition out of power for years to come.

Arguably, that’s what Republicans did in Wisconsin, where they packed as many Democratic voters as possible into as few districts as they could, producing big legislative majorities for their party even in years in which Democrats won significant majorities of the state’s votes.

The justices will hear arguments in the case in the fall, with a ruling likely next spring.

If the court does limit gerrymandering, they’ll be taking on a tradition as old as the American political system, Mark Barabak wrote.

But it’s a system that’s been enhanced in recent years by computer technology, which makes data on voters much easier to compile and manipulate.

Technology also can put that voter information at risk of being stolen by identity thieves or others, as a recent incident highlighted. A firm working for the GOP inadvertently left information on almost every voter in the U.S. in an unprotected file for days, the Republican National Committee admitted.

As Evan Halper and Paresh Dave reported, there’s no evidence that hackers or other nefarious characters discovered that huge file before a data security firm uncovered the problem and the contractor fixed it.

But the case highlights an uncomfortable reality — unlike other firms, companies who work for political groups have almost no liability if they mishandle personal data.


As Brian Bennett reported, Trump’s intelligence briefers sometimes have trouble holding his attention, but not when the subject turns to individual Americans held captive overseas.

“What are we doing for that kid in North Korea?” Trump repeatedly asked, referring to Otto Warmbier, a U.S. official familiar with the Oval Office meetings told Bennett.

That focus has allowed Trump to win freedom for some Americans imprisoned in other countries.

But there’s a downside, too: Trump’s attention makes Americans more valuable as hostages. North Korea released Warmbier, who was in a coma and died this week, but only after imprisoning two more Americans in April and May.

Meantime, as Tracy Wilkinson reported, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis met with top Chinese officials on Wednesday as the administration continues to try to get China to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear program.


One campaign promise that Trump has conspicuously not fulfilled — much to the displeasure of some of his backers — is his pledge to end Obama’s DACA program, which provides a shield against deportation for young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

Within the administration, sharp divisions over how to handle DACA remain, and they became very visible late last week as the Homeland Security department moved to formally end another Obama program that had been blocked in court.

As Mike Memoli and Brian Bennett wrote, the day of rumors and conflicting accounts helped highlight how much the fate of the so-called Dreamers remains a difficult issue for the president.


A new study from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center details the wide gulf in attitudes and experiences between the 30% of Americans who own guns and the majority who don’t.

Most fundamentally, a majority of gun owners don’t think that more guns generate more crime, while a plurality of non-owners do.

Slightly more than half of gun owners say that the country would have less crime if more people were armed. Only about one in eight gun owners say they believe more guns would mean more crime.

By contrast, among non-owners, nearly half say that more guns would bring more crime; fewer than one in four say that more guns would reduce crime.


Who knows what went through Trump’s mind before he sent his Twitter message suggesting that he might have tapes of his meetings with former FBI Director James B. Comey.

Thursday, he finally brought a close to his six-week game of tease, conceding, in another tweet, that “I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

As Mike Memoli noted, Trump couldn’t resist creating a new controversy, however, with a tweet that implied he believes his own intelligence and law enforcement agencies may be monitoring him.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings of my conversations,” he wrote.

Just a week ago, as Memoli and Sarah Wire wrote, Trump used Twitter to stoke speculation that he was aiming to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.


Twitter has long been Trump’s favored means of pushing his message. White House officials concede that Trump’s tweets are official statements of administration policy. We’re compiling all of Trump’s tweets. It’s a great resource. Take a look.


That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.

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Republicans aimed for Obamacare, hit Medicaid, face tumultuous debate