House Democratic leaders seek to change the subject on ‘Medicare for All’

Rep. Anna Eshoo

Rep. Anna Eshoo, an ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, brushed off the Medicare for All fanfare as simply evidence that the House “is a very big place — you’ve got 435 people and we all have ideas.” | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Health Care

But progressives are amping up the pressure for hearings as they push to enshrine single-payer health care in the 2020 agenda.

House Democratic leaders gave their liberal lawmakers what they wanted on health care. Now they’re fighting to keep “Medicare for All“ from devouring the party.

Progressives emboldened by this week’s bill rollout are vowing to turn up the pressure on fellow Democrats to back the single-payer blueprint and build momentum ahead of the 2020 election. That’s already creating headaches for top Democrats who fear the political blowback of the plan’s most liberal elements, including abortion funding and the elimination of most private health insurance.

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The leaders are trying instead to keep the chamber united behind popular but narrower proposals aimed at strengthening Obamacare and lowering drug prices. But Medicare for All has grabbed most of this week’s health care headlines and energized the party’s progressive base — leaving top Democrats to look for ways to avoid criticizing the bill publicly even as they express little enthusiasm.

“Everybody has the right to introduce a bill on any given issue,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic caucus chair. “Our strategic focus remains on articulating our for-the-people agenda, centered on the concept of lowering health care costs.”

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, brushed off the Medicare for All fanfare as simply evidence that the House “is a very big place — you’ve got 435 people and we all have ideas.”

“But there’s got to be a sense of order and priorities that have been out there in the campaign: Reducing drug prices, strengthen the ACA, all of that,” Eshoo added.Those are consensus items because we not only campaigned on them, it was the No. 1 issue in every single congressional district.”

The leaders have long sought to avoid an intraparty clash on Medicare for All, first by committing in January to hold a pair of first-ever hearings on the proposal in an olive-branch offering to its rowdy left wing. But those hearings will be in two committees — Rules and Budget — that don’t have the power to send the bill to the floor.

Leadership will probably allow a third hearing in front of the more powerful Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subpanel, said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the fourth-ranking House Democrat.

But that appeasement strategy appears to have only further invigorated single-payer advocates inside and outside of Congress, who now want more concessions.

Liberal lawmakers are pressing for Medicare for All hearings in front of the full Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees — the chamber’s two main health care panels, both of which are helmed by lawmakers skeptical of the single-payer push.

Outside groups, meanwhile, are vowing to turn their fire on a range of Democrats whose support they view as essential to speeding the Medicare for All bill to a House vote over the next year.

“There will be growing pressure on Democratic leadership to urge their fairly out-of-touch Democrats, who did not really have to feel the dynamics of the 2018 election, to get with it and at least schedule hearings,” said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which maintains close ties to House progressives. “That is like, literally the least House Democrats can do … to keep peace in the land.”

Rank-and-file Democrats will have few places to hide, as supporters try to add enough co-sponsors to the legislation’s original 107 supporters to justify a floor vote. Reps. Colin Allred of Texas and Haley Stevens of Michigan — Democrats’ freshman class co-presidents — are among the early targets.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, a lead author of the bill, downplayed the prospect of a vote in the weeks leading up to the legislation’s release. But she told supporters Wednesday night she’s aiming for as many as 160 co-sponsors, and expressed greater confidence earlier this week about the odds of getting legislation to the floor this year.

“If I had to guess, I would say yes,” Jayapal said.

That’s touched off fresh anxieties among moderate Democrats fearful that the party’s leftward turn could cost them their swing-district seats — and the House majority.

“That’s one-fifth of our economy, so I don’t think we move there on a dime,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a New Jersey freshman whose district went for Trump in 2016. “I want to know, any move we make, how it’s going to be paid for and how it’s going to be fair.”

One centrist Democrat prior to the bill’s introduction likened the prospect of voting on Medicare for All to the politically painful 2009 vote on cap-and-trade legislation that factored in Democrats losing the House the following year. Pelosi, the centrist member said, wouldn’t make vulnerable lawmakers walk the plank again.

Top Democrats feel the same way, with some dismissing the bill as a meaningless gesture that would divide the caucus and expose vulnerable swing-district members to a fresh wave of GOP attacks.

“I think there’s an electoral risk in trying to throw out bills that are $50 trillion,” said Budget Chair John Yarmuth of Kentucky. “I know that a lot of people want to move faster than we’re going to be moving, but they can get over it.”

And there’s little enthusiasm within the establishment for giving the bill more attention than necessary and risking raising thorny questions about legislation that would wipe out out employer-based health coverage amid a broader economic restructuring. That’s especially after Democrats retook the House on more modest promises to lower drug prices and strengthen the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, House Republicans trying to recover from deep voter mistrust over their failed Obamacare repeal efforts are already trying to brand Medicare for All as the Democratic Party’s main health care vision.

“Now we know what’s available in the bill, and unfortunately it is perhaps even worse than we anticipated,” Energy and Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) told reporters, pointing to the proposed elimination of private health insurance and the tax increases probably required to pay for the plan. “This is obviously a huge priority for them to have a full federal takeover of the system.”

Yet Democratic leaders remain wary of stifling a progressive wing that’s fueling voter enthusiasm and is made up of members with no qualms about speaking their minds.

“The worst thing that anyone could do — an outside group or leadership on the Hill — is to shut the conversation down entirely,” said Brad Woodhouse of Protect Our Care, the pro-Obamacare group that works closely with leadership on health care messaging. “The American people in the end, in elections, will make a judgment not about the differences within each party, but about the differences between each party.”

Top progressive leaders sought as well to prevent any rifts from bubbling up by showering praise on Democratic leadership following the bill’s introduction.

“She seems very happy with what we’re doing,” Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said of Pelosi. “And we know maybe not everyone in the caucus is there yet, but the good news is it’s our job to show everyone that this is what people across the country want.”

Still, Democratic leaders took pains this week to downplay the bill’s significance, characterizing it as just another idea to add to the growing pile of ambitious Democratic health care proposals.

They’ve consciously tried to redirect the hype over single payer toward more the inclusive calls for “universal health care” that the party believes will play better in key districts.

“It’s a conversation about ideas, of what we can get done,” Lujan said. “Our larger goals, which are universal coverage, greater access to affordable quality care — that’s what we should be talking about.”

Moderate Democrats are mounting their own health care push too. Two hours after progressives introduced the Medicare for All bill, the centrist New Democrat Coalition rolled out a set of priorities backed by the group’s 101 House members. The aims are more modest, they allowed, but also more practical.

“There’s a lot of reality to come in terms of where the rubber hits the road — the practical, pragmatic approach to how we get from here to universal coverage,” said Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), a co-chair of the New Democrats’ health care task force. “There’s not a switch in Washington, D.C., where we go from here to there.”

Still, the leaders have yet to roll out major legislative packages either expanding Obamacare or slashing drug prices — delayed by internal policy debates and a resolve to methodically move bills through the House committees.

That’s frustrated some who hoped to make quicker progress on signature issues for Democrats this Congress, two individuals familiar with the discussions said, especially after a government shutdown consumed the opening weeks of the session. Others have countered that it’s imperative to get the policy right first if it’s going to have maximum political impact.

“We’re going to give our members the opportunity to say that they’re voting for strong legislation that would lower health costs, protect pre-existing conditions,” a senior Democratic aide said. “To have our own conversation about the things House Democrats are doing and the things Senate Republicans are standing in the way of.”

Medicare for All advocates are stepping into that vacuum in the meantime to build the case for their bill. Democratic leadership has given progressives plenty of leash to push single-payer health care into the mainstream, liberal lawmakers said, praising Pelosi in particular as a key ally. But the high-volume Medicare for All push in Congress is much closer now to the beginning than to the end.

“Some people are inherently afraid of everything,” Pocan said. “But the fact that every presidential candidate who’s running across the country — and has to run in red states and blue states — is talking about Medicare for All tells them that they can probably return the box of Depends they bought and be comfortable that this is an issue the public supports.”

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HHS demands apology from House Ethics chair for comments on abuse of migrant children

Ted Deutch

The rare standoff between a member of Congress and a federal agency arises from accusations that Rep. Ted Deutch leveled during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on the Trump administration’s family separation policy. | Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo

Health and Human Services officials refused Thursday to meet with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), saying the House Ethics Committee chair must first apologize for stating publicly earlier this week that HHS staff sexually abused migrant children in agency custody.

“By deliberately or negligently mischaracterizing the data during a televised hearing, you impugned the integrity of hundreds of federal civil servants,” Jonathan Hayes, the HHS refugee director, wrote Deutch on Thursday, in a letter obtained by POLITICO. HHS has been seeking an apology for two days.

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Deutch said he stands by his remarks, arguing that he sufficiently clarified that he was referencing contractors as well as staff. Deutch added that he will keep pushing HHS for a meeting on the sexual abuse data.

“Our job is to conduct oversight,” Deutch told POLITICO. “I’ve never seen a response like this, that simply refuses to come talk to members of Congress … I think they’d be interested in discussing [this] because people are outraged.”

The rare standoff between a member of Congress and a federal agency arises from accusations that Deutch leveled during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday on the Trump administration’s family separation policy. In an exchange that went viral on social media, Deutch pointed to data that he said showed that thousands of migrant children suffered sexual abuse in HHS custody over a four-year period, including hundreds of assaults by HHS staff.

“This works out, on average, to one sexual assault by HHS staff on an unaccompanied minor per week,” Deutch claimed Tuesday. The Florida Democrat further suggested that HHS deliberately placed migrant children in environments where they knew they’d be abused by agency staff.

The children were placed in shelters that were overseen by HHS contractors, not agency staff — a point that Deutch acknowledged after a witness disputed him, but that Deutch said did not change the thrust of his claim.

“That statement is false,” Jonathan White, a career civil servant, shot back at Deutch. “You are speaking of allegations of sexual abuse against members of my team.”

“I saw thousands of cases of sexual abuse, if not by HHS staff, then by the people that HHS staff oversees,” Deutch countered, referencing data that HHS shared with his office. “I will make that clarification, it doesn’t make what happened any less horrific.”

HHS received 4,556 allegations of sexual abuse over the most recent four-year period, and the agency said the “significant majority” were for “inappropriate sexual behaviors,” like verbal harassment, between children in custody. HHS has said that there were 178 allegations of serious sexual abuse by adult contractors over that period, which involved roughly 0.1 percent of all children placed in HHS custody over that period.

“These allegations were all fully investigated and remedial action was taken as appropriate,” Hayes wrote to Deutch on Thursday.

Hayes added the agency won’t meet with Deutch until he apologizes to staff and publicly corrects the record.

“On behalf of these dedicated employees of HHS assigned to the [refugee children] program, we request that you apologize to these career civil servants for your untoward and unfounded comments,” Hayes wrote to Deutch. “Acknowledging that you were in the wrong is the moral, decent and right thing to do.”

Deutch said he won’t apologize and argued that HHS is seeking to obscure his investigation. “What I find so shocking and so disconcerting is the seeming acceptance of any number of staff on unaccompanied minor cases of sexual assault,” he told POLITICO. “The tolerance for those horrific acts should be zero.”

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House intel interrogates Cohen for eight hours

The Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee privately grilled President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen for nearly eight hours Thursday, capping a weeklong marathon of closely-watched appearances on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers were tight-lipped about the closed-door discussions, but some signaled it yielded new information relevant to the panel’s revived probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

It also ended with the promise for Cohen to return to complete the testimony next Wednesday — forecasting more headaches for the White House as the president’s onetime ally and “fixer” continues public appearances in Washington.

“We had a long day, but it wasn’t a long enough day,” Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhy Pelosi is unlikely to try to impeach Trump House Democrats file legislation to ensure Mueller report released Hannity echoes Bill Maher, invites Schiff to appear on show MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters after the interview concluded at roughly 5 p.m.

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“And I think we all feel it was a productive interview today where he was able to shed light on a lot of issues that are core to our investigation. We were able to drill down in great detail,” continued Schiff, who said they plan to publicly release his transcript sometime in the future.

Schiff also revealed Thursday the committee would publicly question Trump business associate Felix Sater, who was involved in efforts with Cohen to build a Trump property in Moscow, on March 14.

Cohen, who has cooperated in special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into Russian interference, is expected to help the committee shine light on questions about Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia.

Cohen, who appeared tired as he emerged the secure room after the interview concluded and declined to answer questions, told reporters that he set out to tell the truth and that “there is more to discuss.”

Cohen has become a focus of Democrats in Congress after he pleaded guilty to a series of crimes last year and implicated Trump in a scheme to pay off women who alleged affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.

Last November, Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about plans to build a the property in Moscow, and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s probe. For one, Cohen admitted that the talks extended into June 2016 — six months later than he initially testified and at which point Trump was the presumptive GOP nominee.

“I’m really convinced he is going to play a major role in helping us truly understand what happened, what role the president played during the campaign in terms of Russian interference and into his presidency,” Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsGun violence in America: This carnage must stop Five takeaways from McCabe’s allegations against Trump Dems seize on Times bombshell to push allegations of Trump obstruction MORE (D-Fla.) told The Hill during break from the interview to vote House floor about an hour and a half in.

But lawmakers offered few details on what was discussed, as is typical with closed-door interviews in sensitive investigations.

“We talked about a lot of things,” Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierTransgender service members testify before Congress about Trump’s possible ban The Memo: 5 takeaways from Cohen’s explosive day of testimony Cohen says Trump asked him to make as many as 500 ‘threats’ to people MORE (D-Calif.) said about an hour before the interview wrapped, but added that the committee had only gotten through “a quarter” of its questions.

“We are just now getting into some of the more substantive issues,” she said.

Rep. Chris StewartChristopher (Chris) Douglas StewartBill Kristol resurfaces video of Pence calling Obama executive action on immigration a ‘profound mistake’ GOP lawmaker calls Trump emergency declaration ‘a mistake’ The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine – Will there be any last-minute shutdown drama? MORE (R-Utah) also acknowledged that the committee was “learning some new things.”

But some signs suggested partisan divides — which consumed the Intelligence panel in its first Russia investigation that Republicans abruptly shuttered last year — could again fester in the new Congress.

“Ugly — not with Cohen, but with ours,” Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyHouse lawmakers roll out bill to make court records free Lawmakers beat lobbyists at charity hockey game Dem: ‘Disheartening’ that Republicans who ‘stepped up’ to defend Mueller are leaving MORE (D-Ill.) said while heading to vote partway into the interview.

Lawmakers and committee staff both took turns questioning Cohen, with Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeFBI’s top lawyer believed Hillary Clinton should face charges, but was talked out of it The family secret Bruce Ohr told Rod Rosenstein about Russia case Dems seize on Trump feud with intelligence leaders MORE (Texas), the only new Republican on the committee and a former prosecutor, taking the lead on questioning for the GOP members.

Cohen’s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee followed his explosive public testimony before the House Oversight Committee, during which he detailed what he described as nefarious and illegal behavior by his former boss.

Lawmakers’ questions largely focused on the president’s conduct and and business, and particularly Cohen’s allegations about Trump’s involvement in a scheme to pay off women who claimed they had affairs with him before the election.

The hearing did, however, yield some new tidbits relevant to probes into links between Trump and Moscow and the possibility his campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 election.

For one, Cohen testified that he did not have “direct evidence” that Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians but that he had his “suspicions.”

Cohen said he believed Trump had advanced knowledge of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that is eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpFox News panelists get into heated exchange after Cohen testimony: ‘I’m gonna throw you off the set’
 The Memo: 5 takeaways from Cohen’s explosive day of testimony Cohen misidentified Trump Organization exec from charging documents: WSJ MORE, arranged with a Russian lawyer after being offered damaging information on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump blasts Cohen, but ‘impressed’ with collusion comments Sanders’ first 2020 campaign rally will be in Brooklyn Hillicon Valley: Cohen stuns Washington with testimony | Claims Trump knew Stone spoke to WikiLeaks | Stone, WikiLeaks deny | TikTok gets record fine | Senators take on tech over privacy MORE.

Trump seized on that detail in remarks to reporters in Hanoi Thursday, labeling Cohen a liar but saying he was a “little impressed” that Cohen “didn’t lie” on collusion. The president has long denied his campaign colluded with Moscow and derided Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt.”

“He lied about so many different things. I was actually impressed that he didn’t say, ‘well I think there was collusion for this reason or that,’” Trump said.

Cohen also claimed he overheard a phone conversation between Trump and Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneTrump blasts Cohen, but ‘impressed’ with collusion comments Santorum: It’s not ‘out of character’ for Trump to lie about Russia because he lies ‘consistently’ Fox News panelists get into heated exchange after Cohen testimony: ‘I’m gonna throw you off the set’
 MORE in which the longtime Republican operative said he had talked to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that they were planning to release a tranche of Democratic emails that would hurt the Clinton campaign.

Both WikiLeaks and Stone, who is entangled in the special counsel’s investigation, have disputed Cohen’s account.

Cohen said Trump did not direct him to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump property in Moscow, but gave him cues to do so. Cohen also suggested that Trump’s attorneys made changes to his 2017 congressional statement about the timing of the talks, which Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow firmly denied that later Wednesday.

Cohen also revealed that he briefed the Trump family about a half-dozen times on the plans between January and June of that year and that Trump asked him for updates. Cohen also testified that he discussed the plans with Trump Jr. and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpCohen claims batter Trump DC attorney general subpoenas Trump Inaugural Committee: report Cohen said he briefed Trump children on Moscow project MORE, the president’s daughter.

Cohen spent three days on Capitol Hill this week testifying publicly and privately on Trump, all while the president was overseas meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization. He also testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in connection with its Russia investigation.

Cohen worked for Trump for roughly a decade in roles at the Trump Organization and as his personal lawyer, but their relationship fractured dramatically last year. Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, a campaign finance violation and other crimes and implicated Trump in a hush-money scheme. The president has denied wrongdoing and labeled his onetime confidante a “rat” lying to investigators to reduce his prison time.

Cohen is slated to report to federal prison in May to serve a three-year sentence.

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Trump’s ticking clock on North Korea

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump blamed the impasse on North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s demand for “sanctions lifted in their entirety” in return for dismantling North Korea’s main — but not sole — nuclear weapons facility at Yongbyon. | Tuan Mark/Getty Images

north korea nuclear summit

The collapse of the nuclear summit puts off a long-sought nuclear deal even further as reelection and the president’s scandals crowd in.

Time is not on President Donald Trump’s side if he still hopes to put a stop to North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions after the collapseof his summit with Kim Jong Un.

Negotiators seeking to lay new groundwork for a potential agreement will probably have to proceed in a far more plodding fashion than the breakneck pace of the diplomatic process that relied so heavily on Trump and Kim’s personal involvement over the past year, former diplomats and veterans of North Korea policy said Thursday.

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And Trump’s rising domestic demands, as he gears up for reelection with midling approval ratings and the cloud of multiple investigations, mean his capacity to make a breakthrough where his predecessors failed could steadily erode.

“Obviously, Trump has a pretty big growing number of competing priorities at the moment,” said Jenny Town, a research analyst at the Stimson Center and former assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “The failure to get an agreement at this summit may actually lose the momentum for continuing negotiations in a sea of all these competing priorities.”

She added that she fears the two countries may be in for “a waiting period where both sides try to recalibrate and figure out how to come back to this.”

One initial hurdle will be overcoming the bad blood in the aftermath of the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, the two leaders’ second meeting in less than a year.

Trump blamed the impasse on Kim’s demand for “sanctions lifted in their entirety” in return for dismantling North Korea’s main — but not sole — nuclear weapons facility at Yongbyon.

“They were willing to de-nuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that,” he told reporters afterward.

But hours later, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho denied in a rare news conference that his government had demanded a lifting of all sanctions. He said North Korea sought only for the “U.S. to lift articles of sanctions that impede the civilian economy and the livelihood of our people” in return for dismantling the nuclear plant.

If the diplomatic effort can be revived, the consensus is that it will require far more legwork at the “working level” to iron out a detailed framework. That would need to happen before the two leaders can reconvene a third time to reach a deal they would be willing to accept.

Indeed, a major criticism of the process to date has been that so much of the diplomacy between the two countries has hung on the freelancing of Trump and Kim, whose relationship has yawed between personal rapport and threats of nuclear warfare.

“I think the problem here is it is a little bit dicey with President Trump, who sees himself as the master negotiator and only he can reach really the deals,” Joel Wit, a former State Department negotiator with North Korea and founder of 38 North, which analyzes the country, told reporters Thursday. “And I’m sure Kim Jong Un thinks of himself as the master negotiator, too. It is a combustible thing.”

Nevertheless, the second Trump-Kim summit appeared to rely on more preparatory work by others than their first meeting — including by Steve Biegun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea, huddling with his North Korean counterparts.

“I think they’ve learned some of the lessons of the first summit and they actually empowered Steve Biegun and the negotiating team to get some things done,” said Jon Wolfsthal, who served on the National Security Council for President Barack Obama and specializes in nuclear weapons. “I think they did make progress.”

Still, others said too much was left to the whims of the two unpredictable leaders.

“I have been very unhappy with the idea that the president and the chairman were going to do this in a high-profile meeting in a matter of hours,” Ambassador Robert Gallucci, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, told reporters Thursday, referring to Kim’s other role as chairman of the Workers’ Party in North Korea. “It just didn’t seem plausible. And then it is turning out not to look like a good process.”

In his view, Biegun simply didn’t have enough time before the summit to maximize the chances of a breakthrough.

Biegun “was essentially given in what American football we call the two-minute drill to try and win the game,” Gallucci said. “And that’s very hard … to get things settled so that the president and the chairman can roll in and sign a piece of paper because it’s all been negotiated. It would have never happened like that before and it didn’t happen that way this time.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who invested significant time trying to bring the two sides together, dismissed the notion that Trump’s aides hadn’t done enough prep work before the two leaders met in Vietnam.

“We were sawing at it from both ends of the tree,” he told reporters afterward. “We cleared away a lot of brush over the past really 60, 90 days at the working level. And then we were hoping we could take another big swing when the two leaders got together. We did. We made some progress. But we didn’t get as far as we would have hoped we would have gotten.”

Rep. Jimmy Panetta, a California Democrat who formerly sat on the Armed Services Committee, said Thursday on a panel at the American Enterprise Institute that he envisions “there will be continued negotiations, not necessarily at that high of a level, but underneath that to where we actually get … complete denuclearization.”

But it probably won’t be a swift process.

“This challenging work will take time,” said former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a veteran of the Obama administration’s Iranian nuclear negotiations who is now CEO of the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative. He called for “sustained efforts and detailed negotiations, given the complexity of the issues and the long history of mistrust between the two countries.”

Some of that distrust also resides within the Trump administration, where key aides like hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton have been deeply skeptical that North Korea, which has cheated repeatedly on past nuclear agreements, will live up to any pact. Some have even accused Bolton of trying to torpedo the talks.

“What we are seeing is basically factionalism and guerrilla warfare inside the administration and the results are predictable,” said Wolfsthal, who is now a senior adviser to Global Zero, a nuclear disarmament group. “You basically have chaos.”

Other factors said running out the clock poses risks for Trump as he heads into 2020 with no guarantee of another term.

For one thing, members of Congress have made it clear they expect to weigh in on a North Korea deal, as they did with the Iran agreement, which could slow things down.

Much will also depend on what sort of deal Trump decides to strike if he can. An agreement that permits North Korea to permanently keep part of its nuclear arsenal would probably be widely viewed as a failure. And any disarmament deal would by definition be phased in over time — raising the chances it could fall apart, especially with North Korea’s history of deceit.

“Any deal will take a while to verify, and the more nuclear facilities North Korea agrees to close, the longer it will take,” said Mike Fuchs, an Asia analyst with the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “The U.S. must recognize that this is an incremental process.”

Then there are the political scandals weighing down on Trump personally and politically that may sap his authority and weaken his hand with Kim.

Wit believes that the scandals have real implications for Trump’s North Korea diplomacy. “My concern is the president and others being engulfed by domestic political problems,” he said.

In the meantime, Pompeo acknowledged that a breakthrough is no longer imminent. “We have always known it was a long ways,” he told reporters Thursday, adding that there is “still a lot of work to do.”

Nahal Toosi and Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.

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Exclusive: Inside Joe Biden’s campaign in waiting

Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden: Trump ‘did the right thing by walking away’ from North Korea deal Biden responds to criticism over calling Pence ‘a decent guy’ Exclusive: Inside Joe Biden’s campaign in waiting MORE has a campaign-in-waiting as soon as he decides to launch a White House bid.

In recent weeks, the former vice president’s longtime advisers Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon have led a string of meetings with potential aides to fill out the campaign if Biden makes a decision to enter the race, sources tell The Hill.

Many of the positions would be filled by long-running Biden aides, a number of whom worked in the White House during the Obama administration and are acutely familiar with his style. 

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“Whenever the VP makes a decision, we’ll be ready to go,” said one source with direct knowledge of the planning.

Greg Schultz, who has run Biden’s PAC American Possibilities and served as his political director in the White House, is expected to be campaign manager, sources say. 

Donilon is expected to play the role of chief strategist, while Ricchetti, Biden’s chief of staff in the White House, is set to help oversee much of the campaign in the same capacity.

Kate Bedingfield, who was Biden’s communications director in the White House, is also expected to run his communications shop and longtime advisers have been talking to other Biden alumni for other press jobs. 

Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime foreign policy adviser who accompanied the former vice president on his recent trip to Munich, is also expected to take on a senior role. Sources say he is more than likely to be surrounded by old policy hands in Bidenworld including Sarah Bianchi and Stef Feldman. 

Biden has yet to officially announce a White House bid. But sources close to the former vice president told The Hill earlier this month that he’s almost certain to enter the race. 

In mid-March, he is scheduled to give the keynote address at the Delaware Democratic Party’s dinner, his first political event since campaigning for Democrats in the midterm elections last year.

Earlier this week, Biden said he was “very close” to making a final decision. 

“The first hurdle for me was deciding whether or not I am comfortable taking the family through what would be a very, very difficult campaign,” Biden said at the University of Delaware during a public interview with historian Jon Meacham.

But his family members have come to their own decision: “There is a consensus that they want me to run.”

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