Wednesday's HOT MIC

Welcome to HOT MIC, PJ Media's new daily liveblog. Join our editors and contributors for news updates and conversation throughout the day, and add your thoughts to the mix in our comments section at the bottom or by clicking on the comment bubbles on individual posts. Scroll down or click here for Liz's Morning Briefing.

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Good Wednesday Morning!

On the president's agenda today:

  • The president will give remarks and sign the Antiquities Executive Order at the Department of the Interior.
  • The president will then have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.
  • In the afternoon, the president will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
  • The president will then participate in a federalism event with governors and signs the Education Federalism Executive Order.
  • Later in the afternoon, the president will drop by an all senators briefing on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
  • The president will then hold a National Teacher of the Year event.

Boxers or North Korean Briefs?

The entire Senate will meet today at the White House for a briefing on North Korea. Some media outlets are skeptical about the meeting, perhaps because they don't believe North Korea has been acting erratic enough to be worried?

Some aides on the Hill have expressed confusion about the circumstances of the meeting. Salon wrote, “this could be a preparation for war—or just a forced attempt at a pre-100 days photo op.”

Secretary of State of Rex Tillerson will chair the meeting and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will also be there.

The situation has appeared to only intensify over the past 24 hours. Pyongyang conducted a huge live-fire drill that involved up to 400 artillery pieces, according to Reuters. A nuclear-powered Ohio class submarine, the USS Michigan, pulled into the South Korean port of Busan for a “routine” hull check.

Japan has warned that Pyongyang has made technological advancements, and may be capable of launching a missile tipped with sarin nerve gas. Japan estimated that its people would have about 10 minutes to prepare once a missile is launched from the country. Tokyo has been practicing evacuation drills.

The briefing will take place at 3 p.m., so watch the news for leaks shortly after the meeting concludes.

This is only a drill

There will be a "full-scale" terror drill in Washington, D.C., today, so if you live here, calculate that into your transportation plans.

The drill will occur across six sites in D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland and will include hundreds of volunteer actors, emergency medical personnel, police and fire officials.

“Law enforcement officials practice and exercise their skills on their own regularly because that’s the best way to ensure we are always ready to respond quickly and professionally,” Scott Boggs, the Council of Government’s managing director of Homeland Security and Public Safety, said in the release.

“On April 26, we’ll go one step further and stage a very realistic emergency event involving multiple sites and actors posing as the casualties. However, there is no reason for residents to be alarmed because the exercise will occur in a controlled environment.”

The drill will take place between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. today, during the morning commute.

Repeal Obamacare, take two

Politico is reporting that a new Obamacare repeal and replace bill has been finalized. Is success on the horizon for this unmitigated disaster?

But it is far from clear that the fragile agreement will provide Speaker Paul Ryan the 216 votes needed for the House to pass the stalled legislation.

Optimism is growing among Republican officials on the Hill and in the White House. Leadership will likely need at least 15 to 20 new House Freedom Caucus votes to have any shot at passing the bill.

Behind the scenes, the White House has been working with the Freedom Caucus and its allies.

Privately, however, the White House started courting them and the deep-pocketed outside groups that also opposed the legislation and are close with the Freedom Caucus. Those organizations, including Heritage Action, Club for Growth and several run by the Koch brothers, signaled to the White House they wanted a deal.

The new agreement gives the Freedom Caucus some additional concessions, including waivers that allow states to opt out of major Obamacare regulations touching on essential health benefits and when insurance companies can charge higher premiums.

The consequence of negotiating with the Freedom Caucus is that the House moderates are now unhappy.

While MacArthur helped negotiate the plan, many centrist Republicans are wary of the agreement and not happy that the White House pushed the plan further right. They are concerned that it will leave people with pre-existing conditions out to dry, as states could opt out of a regulation baring insurance companies from charging sick people higher premiums.

The healthcare system in this country is broken and it is broken because the government decided to get involved with the system to "help." If we tried to move the healthcare marketplace back to a free-market system, prices would go down for everyone and then we wouldn't be faced with insurance premiums that are unaffordable, massive deductibles, and excessive out-of-pocket costs. The GOP has had seven years to figure out an alternative to outrageously expensive, government-forced healthcare.

The GOP’s new proposal would allow states to opt out of many of Obamacare’s requirements, allowing health plans to charge people more based on their age and health status. States could also opt out of enforcing a 30 percent surcharge imposed on people who don’t maintain insurance coverage, which was part of the original GOP proposal, according to a brief update sent to Energy and Commerce members. That’s the policy that the Republicans would use to replace the Obamacare individual mandate.

In exchange, states would have to set up a high-risk pool where older, sicker people could buy coverage, likely at much higher prices.

Stay tuned for developments on the continuing negations as we watch the GOP fight to take ownership of one of the biggest government-run disasters in the history of our country.

Bouncing off the ...

President Trump was backing off his demand for border wall funding on Monday night, reports Fox News.

President Trump began to edge away Monday evening from demanding that funding for his promised border wall be included in a must-pass spending bill, reducing the chances of a government shutdown at the end of the week by making clear he’s flexible on that timeline.

Instead, the funding issue could get moved to September.

Trump told a group of 20 conservative media reporters Monday evening [that didn't include anyone from PJ Media. Guys, call me!] that he would be willing to return to the wall funding issue in September, two people in the meeting said. His earlier demand that it be included represented a significant impasse in budget talks, and the latest comments potentially could pave the way for a bipartisan deal just days ahead of the government shutdown deadline.

And here's where the problem is: folks like big-government Republican Roy Blunt.

"I'm optimistic. I don't think anybody wants a shutdown," Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said as he exited a meeting of GOP leadership. "The White House and basically the minority leaders of the House and Senate have to have some level of agreement on the things that you're adding."

I want a shutdown. I want the Democrats to know that we are perfectly fine with a shutdown if that's what it takes to get a smart budget. Why take a shutdown off the table? What sort of negotiator tells their opponent exactly what their limit is??

Folks keep using Facebook as their personal snuff film theater

Another Facebook murder broadcast across the planet:

A man in Thailand upset with his wife hanged their 11-month-old daughter on Facebook Live and then killed himself, police said.

"He felt neglected by his wife because they had been fighting so he took his 11-month-old daughter to the site of the crime which is the abandoned hotel," Jirasak said Tuesday. "Then we found the bodies hanging off the hotel."

The movie has been made inaccessible by Facebook.

United Airlines' reputation: hold my beer

United Airlines is on a roll.

The 90cm-long bunny, called Simon, was found dead in the cargo hold when the flight arrived at Chicago's O'Hare airport from London Heathrow.

Reports in UK media say the 10 month-old giant rabbit was being delivered to a new "celebrity" owner.

United, which has had a torrid few weeks of bad publicity, said it was "saddened" by Simon's death.

Jackboots dragging a passenger unwillingly off your plane on video is one level. A giant bunny rabbit dying during one of your flights? Oh boy.

United Airlines said in a statement to the BBC: "We were saddened to hear this news. The safety and well-being of all the animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team."

"We have been in contact with our customer and have offered assistance. We are reviewing this matter."

The Sun newspaper reported that Simon was the 10-month-old son of the world's largest rabbit - a 1.3m-long continental giant rabbit called Darius - and was expected to have grown larger than his father.

Simon's owner, Annette Edwards, told the paper: "Simon had a vet's check-up three hours before the flight and was fit as a fiddle."

"Something very strange has happened and I want to know what. I've sent rabbits all around the world and nothing like this has happened before."

Do not ever transport your pet in a cargo hold. If your pet is too large to fly in the cabin, get in a car and drive.

And that's all I've got for Wednesday, have a great one!

My contribution for today's meme features Bill Nye and the ghosts of some fairly mortified science guys.

So apparently the apocalypse has a fifth horseman.

At the University of Akron this semester students can take a course called "Trump's Triumph." According to the school's website:

The three-credit-hour course will focus on Trump’s win, his ability to assemble a diverse coalition of supporters, his beliefs and principles, and why the polls and pundits consistently got it wrong. Students will also dig into the reasons why people supported Trump throughout the campaign and ultimately decided to vote for him.

The course is offered through UA’s Department of Political Science in association with the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. Undergraduates and graduate students of any major may enroll in the class.

Congressman Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) was a guest speaker at a recent class. Renacci, who is running for governor of Ohio, is an enthusiastic Trump supporter who cites Washington gridlock as one of the main reasons he wants to get out of Congress.

Notice how nobody in the picture is protesting or setting anything on fire? Unlike at Berkeley, they still tolerate some modicum of free speech at Ohio's government-funded schools.

Meanwhile, Kent State, that perpetual bastion of liberalism just a few miles east of UA, is offering a course called "Hillary Clinton Case Study: Perspectives on Gender and Power" and acting like it's something new and original. Sounds super fun.

UPDATE FROM NEWS & POLITICS DESK IN WASHINGTON: After tour buses shuttled senators from Capitol Hill to the Eisenhower executive office building for a White House briefing on North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declared in a joint statement that "with each provocation, North Korea jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to our allies and the U.S. homeland."

The trio, along with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford, said they briefed lawmakers on the results of a previously ordered presidential review of North Korea policy. President Trump's approach, they said, "aims to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our allies and regional partners."

"We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on the DPRK in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue. We will maintain our close coordination and cooperation with our allies, especially the Republic of Korea and Japan, as we work together to preserve stability and prosperity in the region," the Tillerson, Mattis, Coats statement added.

"The United States seeks stability and the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies."

The bell is tolling at ESPN. The sports network that recently published guidelines on how to rant about politics on air is laying off 100 people -- many of them on-air personalities.

Some tweets from a few of the more notable ESPN talent who have become a victim of ESPN's blatant left turn in politicizing sports:

Some on-air talent, like Karl Ravech, one of the premiere baseball analysts in the country, will see their on-air roles reduced.

Part of ESPN's problem has been the growth of individual sports networks like NFLTV, MLBTV, etc. Depending on the season, most die-hard sports fans would rather keep up to date with their sport on a network that supplies wall-to-wall coverage.

How much did ESPN's politicization of their network have to do with their financial fall? Hard to say, but it's equally difficult to imagine it had nothing to do with it.

The stock market didn't much like Trump's tax reform proposal and started tanking the moment Treasury Secretary Mnuchin started speaking.  The reason is unclear, since most of what Mnuchin said had been linked previously.  Partly it may be because of lack of detail and partly out of skepticism Trump can actually get his reforms passed.  Given the nature of our Congress, it's hard not to share that skepticism.  Also, there is fear of the deficit blowing up.  But there always is.  La plus ça change, la plus c'est la même.

You're welcome: Researchers say that eating boogers may help prevent cavities. In future-world, synthetic mucus "could be added to toothpaste or chewing gum." Next time you catch your kid with a finger up his nose, remind yourself that he may be saving you money on future dental bills.

President Trump is readying an executive order that would enable the US to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Politico:

A draft order has been submitted for the final stages of review and could be unveiled late this week or early next week, the officials said. The effort, which still could change in the coming days as more officials weigh in, would indicate the administration’s intent to withdraw from the sweeping pact by triggering the timeline set forth in the deal.

The approach appears designed to extract better terms with Canada and Mexico. President Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to renegotiate NAFTA, a trade deal signed in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton that removes tariffs and allows for the free flow of goods and services between the three countries in North America. Trump in recent weeks has stepped up his rhetoric vowing to terminate the agreement altogether.

“NAFTA’s been very, very bad for our country,” he said in a speech last week in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “It’s been very, very bad for our companies and for our workers, and we’re going to make some very big changes or we are going to get rid of NAFTA once and for all.”

Peter Navarro, the head of Trump’s National Trade Council, drafted the executive order in close cooperation with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. The executive order was submitted this week to the staff secretary for the final stages of review, according to one of the White House officials.

Generally speaking, I think the value of trade deals is overblown. NAFTA certainly had some intended and unintended consequences that have damaged some industries -- and boosted some others. If the president is using this executive order as a means to pressure Canada and Mexico, more power to him. But there's a chance that this will make our neighbors even more stubborn. Political leaders in both countries are democratically elected and appearing to cave in to President Trump's demands would not be popular.

It should be noted that the proximity to both Canada and Mexico means that no matter what happens with NAFTA, trade among the North American countries will continue. After all, these were our biggest trading partners before NAFTA and I suspect they would be in a world without the deal.

Update on the #CokeButtonGate  story I brought you earlier.

Ohhhhhh. Never mind.