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February 27, 2014

Tea Party Pointing Fingers at GOP Leadership, 5 Years In

bachmann 160 022614 445x296 Tea Party Pointing Fingers at GOP Leadership, 5 Years In

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Rick Santelli rant heard ’round the world five years ago is credited with starting the tea party, and if you ask Republicans in Congress, the conservative movement has a mixed legacy.

“There’s a reality that we have a president that is further left than any president we’ve ever had in history, and there’s a reality that Harry Reid is a compliant, willing accomplice of the president to accomplish his agenda,” Rep. Michele Bachmann told CQ Roll Call. “So knowing that, I think the tea party is doing as well as it can.”

The Minnesota Republican founded and is still serving as chairwoman of Congress’ Tea Party Caucus, but she is calling it quits this year instead of seeking re-election.

Bachmann identified the 2010 election as “clearly” the “high-water mark” for the movement: “The tea party was responsible for removing the gavel from Nancy Pelosi’s hands and putting it in John Boehner’s hand and making him speaker. That effectively put the brakes on the Obama agenda in a very forthright way.”

But five years in, the political movement is not easy to evaluate. Among the sentiments we heard from Republican lawmakers as we assessed the tea party over the past week were that it’s been successful, that it’s pushed legislative change on spending issues, that it’s still experiencing growing pains, and even that it’s “dangerous.”

Full story

November 21, 2013

CBC Amps Up Pressure on Reid to ‘Go Nuclear’

Senate Democrats are on the brink of going “nuclear” to block GOP filibusters of judicial nominees, and the Congressional Black Caucus stands ready to help.

The CBC, made up entirely of House Democrats, will have that chance on Thursday afternoon, when Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio is expected to join with other supporters of changing filibuster rules to hear from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., “his thinking” on lowering the threshold for confirming judicial nominations — according to a memo obtained by CQ Roll Call.

That meeting comes on the heels of a CBC meeting on Wednesday, where members began to plot out how to confirm a whole roster of nominations to high-level executive and judicial branch posts — especially those who are African-American.

The Senate GOP has been voting down advancing those nominations, arguing that the candidates are ill-qualified or that the positions themselves are not necessary. Democrats counter that the “no” votes are aimed at hampering President Barack Obama’s authority; CBC members say there’s an underlying issue of race.

“There are more than 50 judicial nominations that are being held up by the Senate and certainly a large portion of them are minority people,” said Fudge in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call on Wednesday afternoon. “They’re women, they’re African-Americans, they’re Hispanic, they’re gay, so it kind of runs the gamut. And so we believe that it’s time for us to express our views publicly as to what is going on in the Senate and encourage Senator Reid to take whatever steps are necessary to get these people confirmed.”

The CBC is, in particular, still reeling from the blocked confirmation vote of African-American Judge Robert L. Wilkins to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the filibuster of Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., also a member of the CBC, to serve as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Although Fudge did not get into specifics of the strategy, she suggested that approach will be two-pronged, with the CBC making “public statements” along with exerting pressure on the Senate.

“We want to make sure this stays on the front of everyone’s minds, make sure that until they do something to confirm these people that nobody forgets that these people have been languishing out here, some of them for almost a year or better,” Fudge said. “We’re gonna do everything in our power to let people know how obstructionist [Senate Republicans] are, how much they disrespect the president of the United States and how they don’t even want to comply with the constitution they say they support.”

Fudge also suggested that there would be efforts to get other congressional caucuses involved, such as the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Asian Pacific American Caucus.

October 17, 2013

Paul Ryan’s ‘No’ Vote Concerns Pelosi, Hoyer

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Ryan, left, walks to Wednesday’s House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

On Thursday morning, the four leading budget conferees ate breakfast together and told reporters afterward that they were committed to engaging in good-faith negotiations on a whole host of pressing fiscal concerns between now and mid-December.

The House’s two top Democrats, however, are already concerned that those crucial talks could be tainted by the fallout over the government shutdown and the near-missed deadline to raise the debt ceiling.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., both expressed consternation Thursday about the overwhelming House GOP opposition to the Senate’s compromise legislation to reopen government extend the debt ceiling until early next year: 144 Republicans voted “no.”

“Everyone described it as, ‘Oh, it’s just a few, it’s 30-some,’” Pelosi said at her Thursday press briefing, referring to the number of House Republicans who wanted to tie government funding to defunding Obamacare. “But 62 percent of their caucus voted to default on the full faith and credit of the United States.”

“The significant majority of Republicans voted to keep government shut down and bypass [Oct.] 17th without fully paying our debts. I thought, ‘That’s not a good sign,’” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call in an interview.

But the center of their worries is House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., a leader of the bicameral, bipartisan budget conference who also voted “no” on the Senate deal.
Pelosi and Hoyer fear that Ryan’s unwillingness to vote for the Senate-negotiated fiscal package on Wednesday could portend an unwillingness to engage in the kind of frank, bipartisan compromise necessary to finalize a fiscal 2014 budget by the Dec. 13 deadline.

“I was very disappointed that Paul Ryan voted against keeping the government open and paying our bills. It was a tough vote, but this time he took a hard-line path,” Hoyer said. “I hope after he goes into negotiations with [Senate Budget Chairwoman] Patty Murray and others in the conference, he will take a more constructive, positive solution.”

Pelosi agreed, adding that she was also bothered by the “no” vote of Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a leader on the budget conference as well.

“They did not vote for this bill that takes us to the table,” Pelosi said. “So, [it will be] interesting to see what that means, what is to be inferred.”

In a statement following the Wednesday night vote, Ryan called the bill “a missed opportunity.”

“To pay our bills today — and to make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow — we must make a down payment on the debt. Today’s legislation won’t help us reduce our fast-growing debt,” he continued. “In my judgment, this isn’t a breakthrough. We’re just kicking the can down the road.”

On Thursday, at the budget conference’s post-breakfast news conference, Ryan was asked to explain his reason for voting against the legislation, hashed out by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“Look, we want to have smart deficit reduction. We want to grow the economy. We think the budget process is the way to do that,” Ryan said. “I put a statement out last night explaining exactly my concerns. That speaks for itself.”

He added, “I want to have a budget agreement that gets this debt and deficit under control. … And we’re going to try and figure out if we can find an agreement to do that.”

Of the four House Republicans who were appointed to serve on the budget conference, Ryan was not the only one to vote against the bill, despite GOP leadership’s encouragement to vote in favor. Conferees Diane Black of Tennessee and Tom Price of Georgia both voted “no,” while Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, an ally of Speaker John A. Boehner, backed the measure.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday morning, Cole appeared hopeful that a budget agreement was within reach.

“I actually think from a Republican standpoint, we’re on very strong ground here with the sequester being something honestly that both sides want to get rid of and with the president having put some entitlement reform in his budget. I can see the elements of a deal here and I hope we can keep working and find that deal,” he said.

October 15, 2013

Cruz-Led Conservatives Put Boehner in Double Bind

Speaker John A. Boehner appears to be desperately trying to drag his Republican Conference toward a deal to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling. But will Ted Cruz let him?

The freshman senator from Texas is leading a rump group of House tea party conservatives against Boehner and a good part of the House GOP conference, taking the U.S. government to the brink of default on its debts, now only days away according to Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew and other independent experts.

On Tuesday, Boehner presented a plan to his conference that looked similar to a bipartisan deal taking shape in the Senate. Like the Senate plan, it would have funded the government until Jan. 15 and raised the debt ceiling until Feb. 7, according to lawmakers and aides.

Boehner’s version also would have suspended the Obamacare medical device tax for two years, eliminated health care benefits for lawmakers and Cabinet officials, and scrapped a Senate provision to eliminate an Obamacare fee on reinsuring health plans.

But during the GOP’s weekly conference meeting Tuesday morning — which started with a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace” led by former funeral director Steve Southerland II of Florida — the plan suffered its own kind of funeral. It became clear to leaders there wouldn’t be enough GOP votes to pass it without Democratic support, which looked fleeting.

The Cruz-led conservatives were the most obstinate obstacles. Later in the day, when leaders amended their proposal, it still wasn’t enough for conservatives. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday night had to postpone a meeting to ready the bill for the floor.

As a result, those lawmakers may be unintentionally teaming up with Democrats to prevent Boehner from having any say on the final compromise. GOP moderates are sick of it.

“These are not conservatives that do this,” Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told CNN on Tuesday afternoon. “To be a conservative, you have to know how to count. And we started off in this without even counting the votes.”

Nunes said the Obamacare-defunding strategy was doomed from the start, calling it “lunacy, plain and simple.” He said the emerging deal in the Senate would show Americans “those that came here to actually govern and make law and actually do something with their voting card versus people who just want to vote ‘no.’”

If mutiny occurs, it will likely be said to have started in the basement of Tortilla Coast, a Capitol Hill eatery. That’s where Cruz and 15 to 20 House Republicans met Monday night to discuss “our strategy going forward,” according to Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, who was at the private dinner meeting.

The lawmakers who met with Cruz were a hodgepodge of Republican troublemakers who have often been thorns in the side of GOP leadership, including: Stutzman, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas and Justin Amash of Michigan.

Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters on Tuesday that by amending the Senate plan at all, Republicans were trying to “snatch confrontation from the jaws of reasonable agreement.”

The White House also ripped the new GOP plan, once again calling the proposal a “ransom” and saying it was “a partisan attempt to appease a small group of tea party Republicans who forced the government shutdown in the first place.”

But if Democrats didn’t like that plan, then they definitely aren’t going to like the GOP’s latest iteration: No medical device tax suspension, but a continuing resolution date of Dec. 15 and the original Vitter amendment, which would eliminate health care subsidies for congressional and executive staff as well as members and Cabinet officials.

That offer is so bad in the eyes of Democrats that even if it passed the House (in no way a certain outcome), the Senate appears ready to reject it outright. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., would probably use the procedural benefits of the House measure, amend it with the Senate language and send it back to the House.

That’s if he gets a bill at all. House leaders Tuesday evening still had not decided whether they would move ahead with their revised plan or just scrap it and wait for the Senate bill. If they move ahead, House members may be doing Reid a favor by giving him a vehicle and the procedural leverage to avoid dilatory tactics by Cruz and his main Senate ally, Mike Lee of Utah.

Then Boehner will face the same dilemma he has faced all along: Allow a vote on the CR-turned-debt-limit bill and face a conservative mutiny, or delay a vote and risk pinning the party with the blame for default.

Many think Boehner will cave, including Cruz and his House followers. They fear Boehner seems prepared to pass the deal with less than a majority of Republicans and a solid block of Democratic votes — perhaps all 200 of them, according to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who told Bloomberg News her caucus is united behind the Senate plan.

That eventuality will make many inside and outside the GOP conference wonder why Republicans withstood a government shutdown and a poll numbers lashing just to accept a plan endorsed by the opposition.

Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who was a leader in a moderate blowback against the Cruz crowd, said everyone was a loser on this deal and this process.

“Nobody comes out of this a winner,” Dent said. “Everybody comes out losers. Just a matter of who loses more.”

Emma Dumain and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

October 14, 2013

Obama Dropped House GOP ‘Like a Hot Potato’

House Republicans are mulling their next move as Senate leaders look to jam them with a watered-down package far weaker than the lofty concessions Republican leaders once demanded for raising the debt limit and reopening the government.

At the end of a huddle in Speaker John A. Boehner’s office Monday, most Republican leaders remained mum on details — although one ripped President Barack Obama for doing an end run around the House GOP.

“I would say that we believed that we could have worked with the president, and then the president dropped us like a hot potato, because our deal, he didn’t want to deal with,” said Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions R-Texas. “He wanted to deal with the senators, so that’s what he’s done.” Full story

October 7, 2013

Boehner, Reid Staffers Spar Over Debt Limit and Shutdown

If the rhetoric coming from House and Senate staffers is any indication, the government shutdown isn’t ending soon — and Republicans and Democrats are miles apart on raising the debt limit.

On Monday a top aide for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent around a statement questioning Speaker John A. Boehner’s candor, particularly his claim over the weekend that a “clean” continuing resolution could not pass the House.

“Speaker Boehner has a credibility problem,” said Adam Jentleson, the Nevada Democrat’s communications director. “From refusing to let the House vote on a bill that was his idea in the first place, to decrying health-care subsidies for members of Congress and staff that he worked for months to preserve, to stating that the House doesn’t have the votes to pass a clean CR at current spending levels, there is now a consistent pattern of Speaker Boehner saying things that fly in the face of the facts or stand at odds with his past actions.”

Jentleson continued: “Americans across the country are suffering because Speaker Boehner refuses to come to grips with reality. Today, Speaker Boehner should stop the games and let the House vote on the Senate’s clean CR so that the entire federal government can re-open within twenty-four hours.”

But that did not sit well with the Ohio Republican’s spokesman, Michael Steel.

“Passing a spending bill at the level required by law* isn’t a ‘concession,’” Steel said in an email. “So it’s time for Senate Democrats to stow their faux outrage and deal with the problems at hand.”

Moreover, Steel argued that the Senate may have its own problems complying with President Barack Obama’s demand that Congress pass a debt limit increase without any extraneous riders. Full story

October 3, 2013

Boehner Works Behind the Scenes on ‘Grand Bargain’

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

House Republicans continued with the piecemeal government funding approach Thursday, even as chatter turned to whether Speaker John A. Boehner could finally pull off a “grand bargain” on government spending and the debt limit.

On Wednesday, the Ohio Republican met with groups of GOP lawmakers who want to pass a clean CR to reopen the government. Boehner and the lawmakers discussed the possibility of a “grand bargain” — a new one that would raise the debt ceiling, fund the government, address the sequester and extract concessions on Obamacare.

But later Wednesday night, the speaker met with President Barack Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the White House. And the negotiations — or lack thereof — seemed to have left a sour taste in the mouth of Republicans.

“The president reiterated one more time he will not negotiate,” Boehner said just after the White House meeting.

While it’s clear leaders were unable to immediately find a solution to reopen the government, the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, covered the CR and the debt limit, which expires Oct. 17. National Review’s Robert Costa also reported that Boehner brought up the idea of a “grand bargain” at the White House Wednesday evening.

Costa quoted a Democratic source as saying:

“Boehner raised the prospect of a grand bargain-type deal at the White House meeting and was laughed at because everyone feels like they’ve heard this song and dance before. The general feeling is, if he’s really ready to make some tough choices — read, revenue — then great. But the history of this from where we sit is Boehner talking a big game, then bailing as soon as he runs into the inevitable resistance from a certain faction in his caucus.”

Previous attempts by Boehner to craft a broad budget deal with the president have been swatted down by conservative elements of the House GOP. Full story

October 2, 2013

House Passes First 3 Mini-CRs, Daring Senate to Act

House Republicans on Wednesday night succeeded in passing three measures to reopen various parts of the government, following a failure to approve them on Tuesday.

GOP lawmakers also voted to override, 230-194, a Democratic attempt to force a vote on a “clean” short-term continuing resolution that would have put moderate Republicans on the record — and potentially would have proved that there were enough votes for a policy-rider-free CR to pass the chamber.

“You know if we had the vote tonight, it would pass,” shouted House Budget Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen in opposition to the ruling that the Maryland Democrat’s motion to recommit was out of order because it was not germane.

Though the bill to cover operations in the District of Columbia passed by voice vote, votes on a bill to fund the National Institutes of Health and one to fund national parks, monuments and museums fell mostly along party lines, passing 254-171 and 252-173, respectively.

On the national parks bill, Rep. Don Young of Alaska was the only Republican to vote against the measure, while 23 Democrats voted for it.

But Senate Democrats have indicated those proposals will not pass the upper chamber. House and Senate Democrats have been united around the idea that the House GOP’s mini-CR strategy is no substitute for a “clean” CR to fund the whole government, which has been shuttered since Tuesday. Full story

September 13, 2013

Leaders Look to Bank Leverage for Fall Fiscal Fights

boehner2091313 445x295 Leaders Look to Bank Leverage for Fall Fiscal Fights

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

As House GOP leadership tries to tamp down a revolt over funding Obamacare, a quieter battle is being waged with Democrats and within the GOP: 967, 986 or 1,058. As in billion.

That’s the difference between next year’s sequester level, the funding level in leadership’s bill and next year’s pre-sequester level, respectively, and which number makes it into the short-term continuing resolution keeping the government open past Sept. 30 will set the table for the fall fiscal fights to follow. Full story

May 16, 2013

Q&A With Gov. Brian Sandoval (Part II)

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Gov. Brian Sandoval has cut a lower, less-partisan profile than many Republican chiefs executive.

But as a Hispanic Republican and the relatively popular leader of a Western swing state that sided with President Barack Obama last November, Sandoval might be uniquely qualified to offer his party political advice as it seeks to recover in the wake of the disappointing 2012 elections.

In part two of our discussion pulled from my wide-ranging interview conducted earlier this week in the governor’s private office in Nevada’s historic Capitol, Sandoval sounded off on how efforts to change U.S. immigration law might affect the GOP nationally, and what he really thought when 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about “self deportation” as an immigration policy.

The governor revealed some of his thinking about the political landscape at home ahead of the 2014 and 2016 elections and discussed how the actions of the Congress and the White House, or lack thereof, have affected his ability to help Nevada recover from an economic downturn that was felt more acutely in the Silver State than perhaps any other state in the nation.

And we closed the interview with a short segment on Sandoval’s choice of footwear — and discovered a Capitol Hill connection.

Q. Over time, will the Senate immigration reform proposal help the image of the GOP with different ethnic demographics?

Full story

April 11, 2013

Camp Takes Aim at Romney’s Favorite Tax Break

Eliminating the carried interest provision from the U.S. tax code is on the table as a part of comprehensive tax overhaul, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp confirmed on Thursday.

In a brief interview following the Christian Science Monitor breakfast briefing with reporters, the Michigan Republican would not rule out eliminating the loophole, which famously allows hedge funds but also the more standard category of investor to pay the capital gains tax rate on their earnings, rather than the standard (and higher) income tax rate. Camp also confirmed that he favors repealing the health care law’s medical device tax through comprehensive tax overhaul, rather than as a stand-alone bill.

“We’re going to look at all of the tax code and I’ve got a working group looking at [carried interest.] And, I’m going to let them make their report to the committee and have the joint committee analyze what they’ve come up with,” Camp told CQ Roll Call. “Everything’s on the table because we’re still doing our analysis of it. … It is a very intricate set of issues. I’ve got working groups that haven’t completed their work and I’m going to let them do that.”

Full story

April 4, 2013

McConnell’s Obamacare Tax Repeal Stalls in House

House Republicans appear unlikely to move a repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax as a standalone bill, according to multiple GOP sources.

This could disappoint Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican is lobbying House GOP leaders — both publicly and privately — to act in the wake of the Senate’s overwhelming, though nonbinding, bipartisan vote to repeal the tax, which functions as a key funding mechanism for President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. That vote, passed as an amendment to the nonbinding fiscal 2014 budget resolution, was 79–20 for repeal, with 33 Democrats voting in favor.

“The House is not ready to send any tax vehicle to the Senate right now,” a Republican lobbyist with relationships on both ends of Capitol Hill said.

Full story

March 11, 2013

Interview With Speaker Boehner: The Sequester Is Here to Stay (Part II)

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Boehner acknowledged he likes a glass of Merlot from time to time, but he wouldn’t elaborate. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In part two of Speaker John A. Boehner’s question-and-answer exchange with CQ Roll Call, the Ohio Republican dishes on hot-button issues such as the sequester — he suggests it’s probably here to stay — immigration changes, gun control and the fiscal 2014 budget.

But we also discussed the public’s perception of the ambitious, impatient House Republican majority that he leads and how he feels about a conservative activist community that expects much and criticizes nearly every concession the Ohioan makes to the reality that House Republicans alone do not control all levers of the federal government.

During parts one and two of our Q&A with Boehner, he was reasonably more candid given our focus on the myriad problems the Republican Party faces today and what he can do to help fix them. But in response to our final question of part two — one of a slightly personal nature, the speaker obfuscated.

Read all the way through and check it out for yourself.

CQ Roll Call: Has it been a challenge to battle President Barack Obama on the sequester when your conference was divided between those who think it’s fine and those who are concerned that it will have a negative effect on national security and military readiness? Have you concluded that the sequester is here to stay?

Full story

Cantor Moving Legislation Aimed at Rehabing GOP Brand

cantor031113 445x291 Cantor Moving Legislation Aimed at Rehabing GOP Brand

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With House Republicans taking fire from every angle, including inside their party, for failing to connect their philosophical principles to voters’ everyday concerns, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is taking action.

With the blessing of the leadership team and top GOP committee chairmen, the Virginia Republican is spearheading a host of legislation that is somewhat remarkable both in what it does, and does not, attempt to address. In the traditional sense, these bills are not focused on reducing the deficit, shrinking the national debt or limiting the size and scope of government. They are focused on using Washington’s power levers to influence public policy.

That effort began last week with the introduction of the SKILLS Act, legislation aimed at improving job training. Whether House Republicans handled the roll out of the SKILLS Act to maximize the public relations aspect of the bill is another story. The introduction was drowned out by coverage of the continuing resolution, an East Coast snow storm and Sen. Rand Paul’s, R-Ky., filibuster. But Cantor made clear that there is more to come on this front. Full story

March 10, 2013

Interview With Speaker Boehner: ‘We Need to Do a Better Job’ (Part I)

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Boehner said he’s “far from done” with being speaker. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Since November’s electoral letdown, congressional Republicans have been under fire from inside their party over their inability to connect with voters.

Conservative thinkers have pilloried them as intellectually vapid and stuck in the 1980s, radio talkers have blasted them as politically inept and at least one GOP governor called them stupid. Speaker John A. Boehner’s response? Essentially: I hear you.

In part one of the Ohio Republican’s written question-and-answer exchange with CQ Roll Call, the Speaker discussed the current state of the GOP and the role of the House majority in rehabilitating its decrepit reputation. Boehner also talked about why he abandoned bilateral negotiations with President Barack Obama and attempted to dismiss suggestions that 2014 will be his last year as Speaker.

Check this space Tuesday morning for part two of our interview, which includes a focus on the issues currently before Congress.

CQ Roll Call: What is the role of House Republicans in helping the party achieve resurgence in popularity with voters? What is your role in helping them achieve that goal?

Full story

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