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White House, GOP split over how to handle Comey

WASHINGTON — A surprising dynamic to the Senate’s negotiations on a new health care bill. Questions about the President’s political and legal strategy regarding the Russia investigations. And a big winner in Georgia’s special congressional election.

These topics and more make up this week’s “Inside Politics” forecast, where you get tomorrow’s headlines today.

1) Some Republicans ‘queasy’ on Comey

President Trump is attacking James Comey’s credibility. So is the President’s private attorney. Staff at the White House and the Republican National Committee are, too.

But the White House isn’t getting much help from elected Republicans, despite sending around some talking points.

CNN’s Sara Murray says the GOP has worries about the White House strategy regarding the fired FBI director.

“A number of Republicans are feeling pretty ‘queasy’ about how the GOP is handling this,” Murray said.

One Republican who received talking points after Thursday’s testimony reacted with “disgust,” telling Murray, “I feel like I live in the twilight zone.”

2) Senate Republicans’ unlikely ally

As Senate Republicans try to craft their own version of an Obamacare repeal and replace bill, there are giant policy and philosophical differences.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is tasked with trying to bridge differences between conservatives and moderates — no easy task.

But as the talks continue, CNN’s Manu Raju notes a dynamic that veteran Senate watchers would fund hard to believe if not unthinkable: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is an active player in the conversations — and so far even part of the effort to somehow find a deal.

“They’re actually finding an ally of sorts in Ted Cruz,” Raju said of the Republican leadership.

“This is significant because, already, Republicans are probably down two votes in the Senate, with Rand Paul and Susan Collins unlikely to vote for whatever they can come up with,” Raju said. “That means they cannot lose anyone else.”

3) Why health care is key to 2018 midterms

Comey’s riveting testimony before a Senate committee Thursday and President Trump’s Rose Garden rebuttal are dominating political coverage and discussion at the moment.

But as the health care debate continues on Capitol Hill, there are many lawmakers and staffers who believe the Obamacare repeal debate will be as important, if not more so, as the 2018 midterms get closer.

Jackie Kucinich of the Daily Beast notes that moments that don’t get as much attention now — such as new testimony from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — could yet prove to be key pieces of the policy and political clashes down the road a bit.

4) An ‘uproar’ over Trump judicial picks?

One area where the President has won constant praise from the GOP’s conservative base is his judicial nominations. His allies on Capitol Hill are looking to clear the way for more, especially in areas where Democrats still hold sway.

Senate tradition calls for White House consultation with home-state senators on vacancies. So for a federal opening in New York state, for example, tradition would suggest outreach to Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

But veteran Hilll watcher Carl Hulse of The New York Times reports there is a move afoot to do away with the so-called “blue slip” — the form and process a senator can use to veto a judicial pick.

“Republicans don’t want these Democratic senators to be able to block this push for Trump judges,” Hulse said.

But, he warned, should Republicans scrap the rule, there would likely be a Democratic “uproar.”

5) The big winner in Georgia’s special election

The House seat once held by Secretary Price will be filled June 20 — a week from Tuesday — and is being viewed as a potential national bellwether.

Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District, in the Atlanta suburbs, has long been a Republican stronghold. So if a Democrat wins you can be sure it will be cast as early proof of a so-called Trump drag on the 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats enter the stretch confident, in part because of a recent poll showing Democrat Jon Ossoff with a seven-point lead.

But strategists familiar with the race say there are other polls showing a tighter race. One of those polls shows a tiny Ossoff lead; another shows a tiny edge for GOP candidate Karen Handel.

So it will be a heated dash to the finish, and this much is certain: The biggest winner won’t be Handel or Ossoff but the Atlanta TV stations who are raking in huge sums in ad spending on the race. One station even has added an additional newscast to make more ad slots available for the final stretch.