Morning, everyone, and a happy Wednesday to you. My apologies for this arriving later than usual. True story: one of the dogs managed to let the cat outside, which kickstarted a chain of events that no doubt appeared rather comical to everyone who wasn’t the cat or me. Anyway, everyone is safe and secure inside now, so away we go. —Jeffrey C. Billman


THE GIST: Following a devastating CBO score Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided he didn’t have the votes after all. At least, not yet. Yesterday afternoon, Republican leaders announced that they were delaying their push to revamp the health care system until after the July 4 recess, giving them time to cobble together the fifty votes they need.

  • Nut graph: “The delay pushes Senate consideration of the bill until after a planned recess for the Fourth of July, but it does not guarantee that Republican senators will come together. Opponents of the bill, including patient advocacy groups and medical organizations, plan to lobby senators in their home states next week. Senators are likely to be dogged by demonstrators. Democrats vowed to keep up the pressure, and some Republican senators have suggested that their votes will be difficult to win.”

WHAT IT MEANS: According to a new NPR/Marist poll, just 17 percent (!) of Americans approve of the Senate’s bill, while 55 percent disapprove. Only 35 percent of Republicans support it, and just 13 percent of independents. If nothing else, that means Republicans have done a terrible job selling the thing, and it’s hard to see how the recess and the barrage of negative press over the delay will help with that. As Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post, Republicans have long rallied around the idea that Obamacare is bad, but beyond that, things get trickier.

  • Key point: “In a worst-of-all-worlds environment, Republicans continue to struggle with what they’re selling, beyond the stated goal of repealing or revising the Affordable Care Act. Whatever overarching arguments they hope to make on behalf of their legislation have been lost in a welter of competing claims and demands among senators with different priorities and dissimilar ideological viewpoints.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The Times takes a swing at McConnell while he’s down, saying his “reputation as a master tactician” has taken a hit, but I wouldn’t be so quick to count him out. The House bill, remember, was dead until it wasn’t, and McConnell is a far more skilled legislator than Paul Ryan.

Related: If the Senate bill passes as is, 1.3 million North Carolinians stand to lose their health insurance.


THE GIST: That didn’t take long. A few hours after Governor Cooper vetoed the legislature’s budget yesterday, the Senate voted to override that veto. The House will follow suit today. That all was expected. The news is that Cooper’s veto message signals his intent to sue the legislature yet again, this time over constraints in the budget on his and his Cabinet’s abilities to hire private attorneys to challenge the General Assembly in court.

  • Kabuki theater: “I’m deeply troubled that you seem to be backing away from the hallmark promises you made to the people of North Carolina” on teacher raises and middle-class tax cuts. “I am concerned you would reject these good ideas because they were not your own.” —Senate leader Phil Berger to Cooper.

Related: As INDY alum Billy Ball writes for N.C. Policy Watch, the General Assembly’s budget mandates the firing of three public education officials with ties to Democratic former Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.

In other NCGA news:The Republican plan to gerrymander the state’s judicial districts is on hold.


Writing in The American Conservative, Mark Perry says that the broad portfolio President Trump has given his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is wreaking havoc on foreign policy and infuriating his defense secretary and secretary of state. Take the Saudi-Qatar dustup, which Rex Tillerson and James Mattis tried to smooth over, calling on the Saudis to end their blockade of Qatar. But that same day Trump contradicted his statement, calling Qatar’s emirate a “funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

  • Wow, this quote: “A close associate of the secretary of state says that Tillerson was not only ‘blind-sided by the Trump statement,’ but ‘absolutely enraged that the White House and State Department weren’t on the same page.’ Tillerson’s aides, I was told, were convinced that the true author of Trump’s statement was U.A.E. ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a close friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. ‘Rex put two-and-two together,’ his close associate says, ‘and concluded that this absolutely vacuous kid was running a second foreign policy out of the White House family quarters. Otaiba weighed in with Jared and Jared weighed in with Trump. What a mess.’ The Trump statement was nearly the last straw for Tillerson, this close associate explains: ‘Rex is just exhausted. He can’t get any of his appointments approved and is running around the world cleaning up after a president whose primary foreign policy adviser is a 31-year-old amateur.’”
WHAT IT MEANS: If this story resembles anything close to reality, American foreign policy is a first-class crap show.


SHAMELESS PLUG: About two-and-a-half months ago, I committed two of our reporters to a story on a series of lawsuits against a major pork producer in North Carolina. That story evolved into a months-long investigation and a three-part series. We made part one—which talks about those lawsuits, filed by more than five hundred poor, mostly African-American residents of eastern North Carolina, and the legislation industry-friendly politicians introduced to shut them down—live last night; it’s also this week’s INDY cover story. Part two, which will talk about some of the environmental consequences of intensive hog farming, will be out next week. Part three will look at possible solutions to the nuisance and environmental problems associated with hog farming and why they’re not being widely implemented.

THE GIST: The pork industry is obviously big business in this state. It’s worth nearly $3 billion a year and some forty-six thousand jobs. The state’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown LLC, is a subsidiary of the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, a multibillion-dollar Chinese-owned conglomerate. And yet, neighbors of the farms that house Murphy-Brown’s pigs say that the waste those pigs produce (and the pervasive stench it generates) is making their lives miserable. Scientists say that waste can lead to all sorts of adverse health effects. And yet, little is being done about it. The industry won’t even admit there’s a problem. The lawsuits contend that the Murphy-Brown should be doing more—and could afford to do more—to abate the nuisance, but isn’t.


To understand Rene Miller’s predicament, you have to start with the pigs.

Their population in North Carolina has skyrocketed in recent decades. In 1986, North Carolina ranked seventh in the country in pork production; thirty years later, it’s second only to Iowa, with an estimated 9.2 million pigs on 2,217 hog farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s quarterly hog survey and the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture. The pigs have ushered in a $2.9 billion-a-year industry that employs more than forty-six thousand people in North Carolina, but those hogs also produce millions of tons of feces. In one year alone, an estimated 7.5 million hogs in five eastern North Carolina counties produced more than 15.5 million tons of feces, according to a 2008 report by the General Accounting Office.

Nowhere are the impacts more profound than in Duplin County, where Miller and about 2.3 million hogs live—more than anywhere else in the state, according to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization.

A recent analysis of county and satellite data by the EWG found that roughly 160,000 North Carolinians live within a half-mile of a pig or poultry farm; in Duplin, nearly 12,500 people, more than 20 percent of its residents, live within that range. If you extend the radius to three miles, as many as 960,000 North Carolinians fall into that category. That’s nearly 10 percent of the state’s population.

For Miller, these numbers aren’t abstractions. They’re her life.

“That scent is so bad,” she says. “You can’t go outside. You can’t go outside and cook anything because the flies and mosquitos take over.”