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If You Thought the Legal Challenges to the Affordable Care Act Were Over, You'd Be Wrong


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — You thought the battles over Obamacare were over after the nail-biting 2012 decision by the Supreme Court upholding a core provision of the law, right? Wrong.

In fact, the justices are meeting behind closed doors Friday to discuss a different challenge to the law that could, ultimately, be fatal to the future of the Affordable Care Act.

This challenge targets tax subsidies granted to those who seek to obtain insurance from the American Health Benefit Exchanges, often referred to simply as exchanges. The ACA grants the credits to qualifying individuals in order to defray the cost of insurance.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have established exchanges for themselves, while 34 states have opted to allow the Federal government to do so. According to the government, some 7.3 million people have obtained insurance through the exchanges.

But challengers of the law say its text grants subsidies only for those on the state exchanges, not the federal exchanges. They say lawmakers thought that every state would establish exchanges, and in fact only 16 did.

Here’s the relevant paragraph in their brief to the Supreme Court:

King v. Burwell, excerpted:

 

King v. Burwell, excerpted:

In its briefs, the Obama administration scoffs at the challenge, saying there is no way Congress would have intended such an “absurd” result. Supporters of the law acknowledge, however, if this battle is lost it's unlikely the rest of the law could survive.

There are similar cases percolating in the lower courts, and it's likely the Supreme Court will hold off for now and only step in after those courts have ruled. But supporters of the health care law are worried that two years after the Supreme Court barely upheld the law, this challenge might be the final blow.

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Rand Paul Has More Harsh Words for His Own Party


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(DETROIT) — Senator Rand Paul said Thursday, "The Republican Party brand sucks."

The comment is extreme even for the Kentucky Republican who has complained publicly that his party has done a poor job trying to be more inclusive of those who traditionally vote for Democrats.

During his visit to suburban Detroit, Paul, who is likely running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, compared his party to an admission once made by Domino’s Pizza that said roughly, "Hey, our pizza crust sucks."

He then went on to say, "The Republican Party brand sucks and so people don’t want to be a Republican and for 80 years, African-Americans have had nothing to do with Republicans."

Paul believes that when the GOP starts building a presence in communities it has shunned in the past, "We’re going to win votes like we’ve never won before."

In response, Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said the party is proud of the effort it’s made to reach out to minorities.

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Michael Jordan Says What He Really Thinks About Obama's Golf Game


David Cannon/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — President Obama has often been slammed by the GOP for spending more time on the golf course than he does trying to solve the nation's problems.

However, a new critic has joined the mix but only to add his two cents about the president's golf game.

Former NBA superstar Michael Jordan, now owner of the woeful Charlotte Hornets, was recently asked what would be his ideal foursome on the links.

Jordan responded, "I’ve never played with Obama, but I would. But, nah, that’s OK. I take him out. He’s a hack. Man, it would be all day playing with him."

Attempting to backtrack a bit, Jordan actually talked more trash by saying, "I never said he wasn’t a great politician. I’m just saying he’s a s****y golfer."

As for the ideal foursome, Jordan said it would include current PGA superstar Rory McElroy, golfing legend Arnold Palmer, the late President Teddy Roosevelt and a clone of himself.

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Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey Explain Support for 21-Day Quarantine for Troops


US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Safety concerns prompted the decision to put in place a 21-day quarantine for American troops serving in the Ebola mission in West Africa, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he and the other Joint Chiefs of Staff believe a quarantine makes sense for the 4,000 troops that will be assigned to Liberia for a six-month period.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed off on Wednesday on the recommendation made by the Joint Chiefs that the Defense Department impose a quarantine for returning troops. That order went further than guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that travelers from Liberia should self-monitor for symptoms for 21 days, but not under quarantine conditions.

“We did factor in science,” Dempsey said. “Physics is the science we factored in.”

Dempsey made a distinction between civilian health care volunteers treating Ebola-infected patients and the large military force headed to Liberia.

“This is not about small groups of people who are transient. There’s protocols for that,” Dempsey said. “It’s also not about health care professionals in direct contact with Ebola. There’s protocols for that.”

While American troops will not be providing any health care, their six-month deployments will keep them there longer than health care volunteers who stay for one to two months because of what he called the, “intense environment for them.”

“This is about a major military operation and big things on a global scale. And so we took a conservative approach and we’ll assess it in 45 days,” said Dempsey. “But we’re going to keep them safe.”

Hagel said that his decision to agree to the Joint Chiefs recommendation “was thoroughly reviewed by health care professionals in each of the services in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.”

Hagel said he was mainly focused on the security of the men and women in uniform, which is why he thought, “it was a smart, wise, prudent, disciplined, science-oriented decision based mainly on what the chairman just articulated, but also the reality of what else is going on.”

Hagel acknowledged the public debate about, “every decision, every issue, and every part of that by decision-makers.” But he said, “You have to analyze it based on what you think is the right thing to do for your people, and that’s the decision we made and why we made it.”

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Politicians Remember Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Say City Better Because of Him


Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- After former Boston Mayor Tom Menino passed away on Thursday, politicians locally and nationally remembered him fondly.

Describing Menino's, "sheer determination and unmatched work ethic," current Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said that Menino, "took a city that is not as big in size as we are in stature and put us on the world stage as a national leader in health care, education, innovation and the nitty gritty of executing basic city services."

"Because of his leadership," Walsh said of his predecessor, "Boston is a better place today."

President Obama remembered the former mayor as a "bold, big-hearted" man who was "Boston strong." The president noted that Menino's, "legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live."

Secretary of State John Kerry, a Senator from Massachusetts for 18 years, put it simply: "Tom Menino was Boston." Praising his, "big bold beating heart of a street politician" and asserting that Menino still, "is Boston today," Kerry said that while, "others talked, Tommy worked."

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Poll: Rep. Gardner's Lead Widens in Colorado Senate Race


Inset photos: (t) US Congress / (b) US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- A new Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday morning is bad news for Colorado Sen. Mark Udall in one of the most closely watched races this cycle.

The poll shows Udall's Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, leading the Democrat by seven points -- 46 to 39 percent -- in Colorado's Senate race. Seven percent are for Independent candidate Steve Shogan, while another 7 percent are still undecided.

This gap between Udall and Gardner is slightly wider than last week's poll, which showed Gardner leading by five points.

There is also a significant gender gap in this race, but it benefits Gardner more. He is leading among men 51 to 38 percent, while women back Udall 45 to 39 percent.

Only 10 percent of likely voters in Colorado could still change their mind, according to the poll. That's enough to make up the difference, but with only five days before Election Day, there's not much time to convince them.

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Iowa Senate Hopeful's RV Hits Deer on Campaign Trail


Inset photo: Joni Ernst for US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Joni Ernst’s campaign may have skyrocketed into infamy thanks to few hogs, but late Wednesday night a deer brought the Republican state senator from Iowa to a halt.

“Reports are true. RV did hit a deer. No one injured. Campaign will continue on,” Ernst’s campaign account tweeted shortly after the collision.

Ernst followed up with a tweet herself, assuring the public that everyone on the bus was safe.

Thank goodness we are all okay RT @JoniForIowa: Reports are true. RV did hit a deer. No one injured. Campaign will continue on. #iasen

— Joni Ernst (@joniernst) October 30, 2014

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was campaigning with the Iowa Senate hopeful on Wednesday and was among those onboard when the RV hit a deer just miles away from the final campaign stop.

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Charlie Crist Inches Ahead in Florida Governor's Race


Inset photos: Office of the Florida Governor(WASHINGTON) -- Florida’s gubernatorial race is still extremely tight, but former Republican governor now Democratic candidate Charlie Crist has inched ahead slightly, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday morning.

Crist leads incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott 43 percent to 40 percent. Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie has 8 percent, while 9 percent of voters are still undecided.

Last week, the two were deadlocked at 42 percent.

Crist seems to have made some inroads with independent voters and leads among them by a significant 47 to 29 percent.

Among early voters, it’s still very tight with Crist at 40 percent and Scott at 39. Only 10 percent of Florida voters say they could change their mind at this point.

As for favorability in this race, voters now give Crist a split 45 percent favorability; Scott is underwater at 41 to 46 percent.

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Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino Dies at 71


Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino died Thursday at the age of 71, ABC News has confirmed.

He passed away surrounded by his wife Angela and other family and friends.

Menino, the city's longest-serving mayor, left office earlier this year to the applause of city hall employees after two decades leading Boston.

He was diagnosed with cancer shortly after leaving office and had recently suspended his treatments.

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Presidential Grandsons Latest Legacy Candidates in State Elections


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may be flirting with a presidential run in 2016, but it’s his son George P. Bush who has the more imminent deadline as he is running for Texas Land Commissioner.

The youngest politician in the Bush family is one of two presidential grandsons whose names will be on ballots come Tuesday as former President Jimmy Carter’s grandson Jason is running for governor of Georgia.

Jason Carter has had politics in his blood from both sides of his family, since his maternal grandfather was a Georgia state senator. After serving in the Peace Corps and becoming a lawyer, the ninth-generation Georgian served in the State Senate since 2010.

Friends say it is no surprise that his famous grandfather has been helping campaign with him, as Carter faces off against incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

"They are extremely close and I would say if there’s any genetics in this, Jason has inherited all of the political genes from his grandpa," said Peter Bourne, who served as President Carter’s campaign director in 1976 and a special assistant while in the White House.

Bourne said insiders have known that Jason Carter, 39, was going to follow in his grandfather’s democratic footprints for some time since “he was the only one in the family who clearly had an interest in politics.”

"He's the oldest grandson so President Carter always sort of took a special interest in him," said Bourne, who is currently a professor at Oxford University and wrote a biography of President Carter. "I have that sense that he hoped that would be the case, that he saw him beyond his own children and his other grandchildren that he was the one to make a successful political career."

Former President George H.W. Bush told ABC News that his grandson's foray into politics was somewhat expected.

"I wasn't surprised because he had already demonstrated his abiding commitment to service through his time in the Navy," Bush said.

"I don't know if he got this from me, but 'P' is a loyal friend. So is his father, so maybe that explains that," President Bush said, going on to describe his grandson as "candid, totally honest and hard-working."

George P. Bush, 48, got his first taste of the national spotlight when he lead the Pledge of Allegiance at his grandfather’s 1998 nominating convention when he was only 12, and later, introduced his grandmother, then-first lady Barbara Bush, at the 1992 convention.

"It’s an overall positive for me," George P. Bush told ABC's Jon Karl of his family name. “But I said from day one of my campaign, 23 months ago, that I am a man of my own right, who stands on my own two feet with my vision. And I need folks to evaluate me based on what I bring to the table."

Timothy Naftali, a historian and former President George H.W. Bush biographer, said that the decision to run for a state office like land commissioner comes as a part of a larger plan as well.

"It’s obviously considered a stepping stone," he said.

"The Bushes are obviously sensitive to a sense of entitlement. Rather than running for Congress first, they're having him establish his credentials as a political figure in Texas first,” Naftali said.

"The family very much wanted to promote George P. as a public figure, if not as a politician," Naftali said of the move. "The family itself promoted him, so there’s a dynastic quality to the Bushes that we haven’t seen in a family since the Kennedys."

Carter and Bush are not the only legacy candidates hoping for some favorable returns on Tuesday. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose father Moon was the mayor of New Orleans and was the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is in a tough re-election race just like Sen. Mark Pryor, the son of former Arkansas Gov. David Pryor.

"I think in the South people kind of like dynasties more than they do in other parts of the country," Bourne said.

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Poll: In Wis. Gubernatorial Race, Walker Pulling Away from Burke


Darren Hauck/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has gained a little ground over the past two weeks on Democratic challenger Mary Burke, putting the potential 2016 presidential candidate on track to win his third bid for governor in just four years.

While a poll conducted earlier this month showed the race at a dead heat, new data released Wednesday by the Marquette Law School now shows Walker with 50 percent of likely voters compared to only 43 percent for Burke.

Among registered voters, however, the survey still shows a tight race with Walker winning 46 percent of the vote and Burke garnering 45 percent -- essentially a statistical tie within the poll's margin of error.

Walker will continue his bus tour campaign through the Green Bay area Thursday, while Burke plans to make a campaign swing through southeastern Wisconsin.

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Five Days to Elections, Conservative Super PAC Makes Final Push with New Ads


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — There are five more days until Election Day, and as candidates make their last push to gain the support of voters, political groups are running more adds in key districts.

The American Future Fund is out with three new ads in Georgia’s 12th district and Michigan’s 6th district. The conservative super PAC is also running ads for the Oregon Senate race, where Sen. Jeff Merkley is battling it out against his GOP challenger Monica Wehby.

Ads directing voter attention to the contest between Merkley and Wehby are peculiar because the race -- rated “likely Democrat by ABC News -- is no longer on the radars of most as the top and tight 11 races become more apparent.  AFF, however, is pouring $200,000 into the spot going after Merkley.

The ad, titled "Stopwatch," attacks him for not doing enough in Washington with a narrator asking the viewer, "Can you think of one thing he's accomplished?" It doesn't mention Wehby, but says at the end "Jeff Merkley's time is up."


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Check Out the Most Expensive House and Senate Races


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Elections are getting more expensive by the year.

The 2014 congressional elections, though seemingly less intense and animated than their recent wave-election predecessors in 2006 and 2010, are on pace to cost more than any midterm elections ever.

The 2014 House and Senate races will cost at least $3.67 billion, more than the $2.9 billion spent on House and Senate races in 2006 and slightly edging the $3.6 billion spent in 2010, but ranking just below the $3.7 billion spent on congressional races in the presidential-election year of 2012, the Center for Responsive Politics estimates.

The real number will likely be higher. Because of gaps in disclosure requirements, nonprofit groups like the conservative, Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity were able to spend money on "issue ads," which didn't directly tell voters to support or oppose a candidate, for most of the year without reporting them to federal campaign-finance regulators.

The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that "well over" $100 million in 2014 will have gone undisclosed, not counting toward that $3.67 billion total.

So where's all this money going? Here are the most expensive House and Senate races, as compiled by the center. As campaigns and outside groups hurriedly file disclosure reports between now and Election Day, these figures will change, so check this page for a running list.

MOST EXPENSIVE SENATE RACES

  1. North Carolina - Tillis (R) vs. Hagan (D) - $113M
  2. Colorado - Gardner (R) vs. Udall (D) - $94M
  3. Iowa - Ernst (R) vs. Braley (D) - $82M
  4. Kentucky - McConnell (R) vs. Grimes (D) - $78M
  5. Georgia - Perdue (R) vs. Nunn (D) - $65M
  6. Arkansas - Cotton (R) vs. Pryor (D) - $58M
  7. Alaska - Sullivan (R) vs. Begich (D) - $58M
  8. New Hampshire - Brown (R) vs. Shaheen (D) - $47M
  9. Michigan - Land (R) vs. Peters (D) - $47M
  10. Louisiana - Cassidy (R) vs. Landrieu (D) - $42M

Source: OpenSecrets.org/Center for Responsive Politics

MOST EXPENSIVE HOUSE RACES

  1. CA07 - Ose (R) vs. Bera (D) - $21M
  2. OH08 - Boehner (R) vs. Poetter (D) - $17M
  3. CO06 - Coffman (R) vs. Romanoff (D) - $17M
  4. AZ01 - Tobin (R) vs. Kirkpatrick - $17M
  5. AZ02 - McSally (R) vs. Barber (D) - $16M
  6. L10 - Dold (R) vs. Schneider (D) - $16M
  7. MN08 - Mills (R) vs. Nolan (D) - $15M
  8. NY01 - Zeldin (R) vs. Bishop (D) - $15M
  9. FL13 (March special election) - Jolly (R) vs. Sink (D) - $14M
  10. FL02 - MacArthur (R) vs. Belgard (D) - $14M

Source: OpenSecrets.org/Center for Responsive Politics

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Obama’s Former 'Field General' Sees Even Odds to Hold Senate


ABC News/Yahoo! News(WASHINGTON) -- With just days to go before midterm elections, President Obama’s former 2012 battleground states director Mitch Stewart says he believes Democrats have a 50-50 shot at holding onto control of the Senate.

“I tend to be an optimist under these circumstances,” Stewart, the co-founder of 270 Strategies consulting group, told ABC News/Yahoo! News. “I know the models that Nate Silver and others have that…lay out a 63 to 64 percent chance that Republicans will get a majority in the Senate. I think the rosiest scenario is you’re looking at a 50-50 proposition.”

While the polls favor Republicans’ odds for victory in Tuesday’s elections, Stewart expressed confidence that the Democrats still have the edge when it comes to field strategy -- and are capable of reproducing some of the ground game magic that helped propel Obama to presidential victory in two elections.

For one, Stewart said Democrats have made the necessary investment in field organizers.

“They have this project that they invested I think $40 million to try to get 4,000 field staff, and you're seeing some of the fruits of that labor right now,” he said.

One of the ways he expects the results of that investment to manifest is an increase in early voting -- something the Democrats have made a strategic focus this year.

“In Alaska, for example, you had 82 vote locations in 2012; in 2014 they have over 200,” Stewart said. “It's small, tactical decisions like that in a close race that can make the difference between winning and losing.”

He said the Iowa Senate race, where Democratic candidate Bruce Braley is facing off against Republican Joni Ernst, is one where the impact of increased early voting may tip the scale of the election.

“If 40 percent of the electorate votes early, and Braley has a 10 point lead, that means that his opponent is going to have to win Election Day probably by 7 points,” he said.

Advanced as the Democrats’ ground game may be, Stewart acknowledged that the party still has a ways to go to overcome the problem of midterm drop-off voters, who tend to vote only in presidential election years.

He pinpointed the non-white electorate as a particularly crucial piece of the puzzle.

“One of the really interesting things of 2008 was [that] 26 percent of the electorate was non-white,” Stewart said. “So a lot of projections then coming after 2010, which was then an older, whiter electorate, was that in 2012 it would be some sort of mix between 2008 and 2010.”

But those projections proved to be wrong. “What we had in 2012 though was 28 percent of the electorate was non-white,” he explained.

And if that trend of a growing non-white electorate continues, as Stewart expects it will, he said the voting population in 2016 could be as high as 31 percent non-white.

“Eventually the midterms will catch up; but at least for the foreseeable future, you are going to have a bipolar electorate between presidential and midterm elections,” Stewart said.

Another liability for Democrats this midterm cycle: a largely unpopular president at the head of the party. Obama has been largely unwelcome on the campaign trail, sticking to only state-wide races in deeply Democratic states.

Stewart, ever-loyal to his former boss, brushed off the Obama liability problem as one any president midway through their second term faces.

“If you look at any presidential 8 years, two four-year terms, [and] you look at that last go-around -- whether it was Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush -- there's a challenge,” he said. “I think this is nothing new to sort of what has happened to two four-year term presidents.”

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WATCH: NJ Gov. Chris Christie Tells Heckler to 'Sit Down and Shut Up'


File photo. Office of the Governor(TRENTON, N.J.) -- This is why some people love him...and some people hate him.

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, appearing along the Jersey Shore to mark the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, got heckled by a local activist and former councilman.

So Christie fired back.

“I’m glad you had your day to show off, but we’re the ones who are here to actually do the work,” Christie said from behind an official podium placed in a Belmar, N.J., intersection. "So turn around, get your 15 minutes of fame and then maybe take your jacket off, roll up your sleeves and maybe do something for the people of this state."


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Christie summed up: “So listen, you want to have the conversation later, I’m happy to have it, buddy. But until that time, sit down and shut up.”

The target of the governor’s ire was James Keady, a Democrat and former Asbury Park city councilman who interrupted Christie’s event while holding a sign that read: “GET SANDY FAMILIES BACK IN THEIR HOME – FINISH THE JOB.”

Known for his pugnacious style (he’s publicly argued with a boardwalk passerby while holding an ice cream cone), Christie saw his national profile and local popularity soar because of his in-command leadership in the wake of Sandy.

Though critics have questioned his administration’s performance in dealing with the storm, Christie points to the post-Sandy period as Exhibit A for why he’s been a success.

Not everyone along the Jersey Shore sees it that way.

Keady was not immediately available. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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