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Congress

Senate confirms Loretta Lynch as attorney general; Grassley and Ernst vote no

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 18:55:20 PM CDT

The U.S. Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch as attorney general today, more than five months after President Barack Obama nominated her and nearly two months after the Senate Judiciary Committee forwarded her nomination. The confirmation vote was held up in part because of a dispute over abortion-related language in a separate human trafficking bill. Senate Democrats filibustered that bill several times in March. Compromise wording that allowed both sides to claim victory led to a unanimous vote to approve the trafficking bill yesterday.

Lynch has had more than 50 senators backing her confirmation for some time, but whether her nomination could get to a final vote on the floor was another question. This morning, twenty Republicans joined the entire Democratic caucus to approve cloture on Lynch's nomination by 66 votes to 34 (roll call). As expected, Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the motion; they've been on record for weeks opposing the attorney general nominee. According to a report by Alexander Bolton of The Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "worked quietly to round up more than 60 votes" for cloture in order to avoid "publicly validating" a rules change Democrats implemented in 2013, which allowed most presidential nominees to reach a floor vote with support from a simple majority of senators.

The Senate confirmed Lynch later today by 56 votes to 43 (roll call). The ten Republicans who supported her included four who are considered among the most vulnerable incumbents up for re-election in 2016. Grassley and Ernst voted no again. I enclose below Grassley's floor statement explaining his opposition and Ernst's official comment after the vote.

The three GOP presidential candidates now serving in the Senate--Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz--all voted against cloture on Lynch's nomination. Paul and Rubio then voted against her confirmation, while Cruz was absent for that vote.

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Grassley, Ernst vote for Medicare reimbursement deal

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 15, 2015 at 19:30:00 PM CDT

Changes to entitlement programs rarely attract strong bipartisan support, but on Tuesday the U.S. Senate approved a bill to change how Medicare sets reimbursement rates for doctors by 92 votes to 8 (roll call). All of the no votes came from Republicans, but Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported the bill. Follow me after the jump for background and details.
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Rod Blum and Steve King voted against Medicare reimbursement deal

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 30, 2015 at 09:44:53 AM CDT

A rare event happened on Thursday, as the U.S. House approved by a large bipartisan majority a bill changing a major entitlement program. Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01) and Steve King (IA-04) were among those who opposed the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.
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IA-01: EMILY's List backing Monica Vernon

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 27, 2015 at 09:40:30 AM CDT

A leading political action committee for pro-choice Democratic women has endorsed Monica Vernon in Iowa's first Congressional district. EMILY's List announced their support today in a statement I've posted after the jump. The PAC didn't endorse any of the three women who sought the IA-01 nomination in 2014, but donated $10,000 and bundled another $233,283 to Staci Appel's campaign in IA-03.

Vernon finished second in the 2014 primary and is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination this cycle. However, she may not be the only pro-choice woman in this race. Former State Senator Swati Dandekar, who finished third in last year's primary, is considering another Congressional bid.

Please share any comments about the IA-01 campaign in this thread.

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Iowa voting and reaction to the House Republican budget

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 26, 2015 at 13:32:15 PM CDT

The U.S. House approved a draft budget yesterday with some drama along the way. Details on the important budget provisions and how the Iowans voted are after the jump.
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House still going after EPA's science advisors: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 17, 2015 at 19:20:00 PM CDT

Today the U.S. House passed a new version of a bill to change who can serve on the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific advisory board. As happened last year, the Iowans split along party lines.
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Steve King discusses "retribution" from House leaders over immigration stance

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 11, 2015 at 07:26:03 AM CDT

According to Representative Steve King (R, IA-04), he and other House conservatives are facing "retribution" from House Speaker John Boehner after they insisted that any Homeland Security funding bill must include language against President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration.
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IA-03: Matt McCoy confirms he's thinking about it

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 06, 2015 at 20:30:00 PM CST

State Senator Matt McCoy has confirmed that he may seek the Democratic nomination in Iowa's third Congressional district next year. At least two other Democrats are thinking about challenging first-term Representative David Young as well.
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Iowa Republicans vote against Amtrak funding

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Mar 06, 2015 at 07:00:02 AM CST

The U.S. House approved $8 billion in funding for Amtrak passenger rail on Wednesday. Keith Lang and Cristina Marcos reported for The Hill,

Since its inception in 1971, Amtrak has historically received about $1 billion per year from the government for operations and construction projects.

The measure would authorize about $982 million per year for the company's national network and another $470 million annually for its popular Northeast U.S. routes.

The bill, which would expire in 2019, sets another $300 million per year for construction on Amtrak routes in the rest of country and about $24 million per year for the company's inspector general.

All 184 Democrats present voted yes, including Iowa's Dave Loebsack (IA-02). But as the 316 to 101 roll call shows, more than 100 House conservatives voted against the Amtrak bill, including Iowa's Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04).

Young should know better. Currently, the only Amtrak routes across Iowa travel through the southern part of the state, calling at stations in the third and second Congressional districts. (King used to represent some of those southwest Iowa counties, but he hasn't since the last redistricting.) Anyway, Young has lived on the east coast long enough to understand how important passenger rail is for the U.S. transportation system.  

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Keystone XL bill dead for now but will be back

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Mar 05, 2015 at 15:58:52 PM CST

As expected, the U.S. Senate failed yesterday to override President Barack Obama's veto of a bill that would clear the way for building the Keystone XL pipeline. Supporters of the bill managed 62 votes, five short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted yes, along with all of their Republican colleagues and eight Democrats (roll call). Republicans will now try to attach the Keystone language to some bill the president won't want to veto. Laura Barron-Lopez reported for The Hill,

"If we don't win the battle today, we will win the war, because we will attach it to another piece of legislation," Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who wrote the bill, said Wednesday.

Hoeven said Republicans are likely to try to attach the legislation to a long-term transportation funding bill. Congress faces a May 31 deadline to approve new transportation funding.

"This is coming back in the form an infrastructure bill, a road bill that we are all voting for," said Manchin.

Keystone supporters are optimistic that Obama won't veto a six-year highway bill if it includes Keystone, despite vows by the president to veto any attempt to circumvent the federal review process of the pipeline.

If attaching Keystone to a transpiration bill doesn't work, supporters say, they will try to link it to a broader energy package.

That sounds like a good strategy. I suspect Keystone XL is a price Obama would be willing to pay for a long-term transportation funding bill. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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Grassley, Ernst oppose Loretta Lynch for attorney general

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Mar 02, 2015 at 15:06:28 PM CST

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch appears likely to be confirmed as the next attorney general after clearing the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, but both of Iowa's U.S. senators will oppose her confirmation. Senator Chuck Grassley voted against Lynch on the Judiciary Committee, saying she had not convinced him that she "will lead the department in a different direction" from outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. In a statement I've posted after the jump, Grassley said that as "the nation's top law enforcement officer," the attorney general's job is "not to be the President's 'wingman.'" He then cited several news headlines about Lynch defending President Barack Obama's executive orders halting deportations for some undocumented immigrants.

Today Senator Joni Ernst confirmed that she will also vote against confirming Lynch. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

"I have some very serious concerns with Loretta Lynch," Ernst says, "especially during her testimony when she had stated that she does uphold what the president has done and his decisions, especially when it comes to executive amnesty."

Late last week, Ernst and Grassley voted against the "clean" bill to continue funding the Department of Homeland Security, stripped of language opposing Obama's immigration policies.

Three Republican senators (Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, and Jeff Flake) voted to forward Lynch's nomination from the Judiciary Committee to the full Senate. Assuming all 46 Democrats are present for her confirmation vote, she will need only one more GOP supporter to reach the 60-vote threshold.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Iowa's U.S. Representatives Steve King (IA-04) and Rod Blum (IA-01) signed a letter urging Senate Judiciary Committee members to reject Lynch. To my knowledge, Representative David Young (IA-03) did not sign the letter.

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How the Iowans voted on the Homeland Security funding bills (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Feb 28, 2015 at 14:22:09 PM CST

Funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been bogged down in a dispute over how far Congressional Republicans should go to overturn President Barack Obama's executive orders on immigration. The rest of the federal government is funded through the end of this fiscal year (September 30), under a deal the previous House and Senate members approved in December. But conservatives held up funding for Homeland Security to preserve leverage for the new Congress.

Last night, a partial shutdown of the department was averted when senators approved a one-week funding measure and House members followed suit. Whether a majority can be found next week for a longer-term bill remains unclear.

Iowa's own Steve King (R, IA-04) has been beating the drum for weeks urging conservatives not to give in and pass a "clean" Homeland Security funding bill. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have been less vocal about the matter, but they opposed the clean bill approved by a majority of senators yesterday (which didn't come to a House vote).

Follow me after the jump for details on where the Iowans stood on all the recent Congressional votes related to this standoff.

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IA-01: Monica Vernon campaigning against ... Steve King

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 27, 2015 at 09:53:04 AM CST

An e-mail appearing to come from the sender "Stop Steve King" popped up in my in-box this week. I opened it, wondering whether a Democratic candidate was ready to announce already in Iowa's fourth Congressional district. King's last challenger, Jim Mowrer, raised a huge amount of money in 2013 and last year, partly through mass e-mails coming from "Stop Steve King" or "Stop Steve King 2014." Getting voters to read messages from political campaigns is increasingly challenging, and "clickbait" subject headings don't always do the trick. Of all Iowa Republicans, King is probably the most hated by Democrats.    

As it turned out, the February 24 "Stop Steve King" message wasn't from a potential challenger in IA-04. New Blue Interactive sent it on behalf of Monica Vernon's Congressional campaign in Iowa's first district. The e-mail urged recipients to sign a petition demanding that Congress fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with a "clean" bill, not including "anti-immigration amendments." Clicking through the embedded link takes you to a petition page titled, "Tell the Tea Party to stop playing games with our national security!" Vernon's opponent, Representative Rod Blum, is mentioned as standing in lock-step with King, House Speaker John Boehner, and "tea party" Republicans. I've enclosed screenshots of the mass e-mail and the petition after the jump.

Within the House GOP caucus, King has been one of the loudest voices demanding that Congress use the Homeland Security funding measure to make a point on immigration policy. Blum has indicated that he also supports using the Homeland Security budget bill to withhold funding from programs related to the President Barack Obama's executive orders granting temporary legal status to some undocumented immigrants. In Blum's view, holding the line on this matter "will not impact national security" because even after current funding expires at the end of February, "85 percent of the federal employees funded through Homeland Security are deemed essential and will continue work without pay until the funding issue is resolved."

So it seems fair for Vernon's campaign to lump Blum in with King and other Republicans engaging in brinksmanship over Homeland Security funding. Clearly "Stop Steve King" will catch the eye of many more Democrats than "Stop Rod Blum" or "Vernon for Congress." Whether this exercise in list-building will eventually translate into lots of new donors or volunteers for Vernon is anyone's guess.

Any comments about the race in IA-01 are welcome in this thread.

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Obama vetoes Keystone XL pipeline bill, with Iowa reaction

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 25, 2015 at 19:20:00 PM CST

As expected, President Barack Obama vetoed a bill that would have forced approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. In his message to Congress, Obama said the bill "conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment."  

Republican leaders will attempt to override the veto, but those efforts will almost certainly fail, since the bill didn't muster a two-thirds majority in either the House or the Senate. The next likely step is for Congressional Republicans to attach language on Keystone XL to some other "must-pass" bill. I am concerned that under those conditions, language on the pipeline would not be a deal-breaker for Obama.

All four Iowans in the U.S. House supported the Keystone XL bill, as did Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. I haven't seen any official comment on the veto from Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), David Young (IA-03), or Steve King (IA-04). After the jump I've posted the full text of the president's veto message, along with reaction from Grassley and Ernst. I will update as needed.

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Ravi Patel seeking Democratic nomination in IA-01

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 17, 2015 at 15:59:40 PM CST

Entrepreneur Ravi Patel made his Congressional bid official yesterday in Iowa's first district. His campaign is on the web at PatelforIowa.com, on Facebook here and on Twitter here. Pat Rynard profiled Patel at the Iowa Starting Line blog; excerpts are at the end of this post. Patel has indicated that his campaign will "be data-driven and heavy on social media." His biggest challenges will be convincing voters that he's not too young at age 29 to do this job, and connecting with voters in northeast Iowa, since he grew up and spent much of his adult life in cities that are part of Iowa's second district.

At least three Democrats are likely to compete for the chance to face first-term Representative Rod Blum. The front-runner will be Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon, who finished second in last year's IA-01 Democratic primary. She was the first to announce in this race and has been endorsed by some prominent Iowa politicians. UPDATE: Former State Senator Jack Hatch, who picked Vernon as his running mate in last year's gubernatorial race, officially endorsed her for Congress in a February 17 e-mail. I've added that to the end of this post.

Former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Gary Kroeger seems ready to enter the race too. I had to laugh when the Des Moines Register's Michael Morain reported this past weekend that Kroeger may run for Congress. The Register's article did not mention that Iowa Starting Line broke that news way back on January 19.

Former Governor Chet Culver has said he is thinking about running for Congress in the northeast Iowa district as well.

Any comments about this race are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Online ads for Patel's campaign are already running on various websites. At the end of this post, I've enclosed an ad that appeared on a page with Iowa weather information.  

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House extends some tax credits: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 17, 2015 at 08:55:00 AM CST

Before adjourning for a weeklong recess for Presidents' Day, the U.S. House of Representatives approved two bills extending some tax credits that had expired at the end of 2014. Follow me after the jump for key points of the legislation and how the Iowans voted.
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Grassley, Ernst vote to confirm new Defense Secretary

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Feb 16, 2015 at 16:20:00 PM CST

Catching up on news from last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed Ashton Carter as secretary of defense by 93 votes to 5 (roll call) on February 12. Only five Republicans opposed the nomination, which is rare for President Barack Obama's administration. Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported Carter, and I've enclosed their statements after the jump. Grassley emphasized that he will "continue to press for clean, accurate audits at the Defense Department," while Ernst praised Carter's "strong support and dedication to our service members and their families." Ernst serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which unanimously forwarded Carter's nomination earlier in the week. Kristina Wong reported for The Hill, "Republicans on the committee were particularly pleased that Carter said he would consider recommending that Obama modify his Afghanistan troop drawdown schedule, if necessary, and that he was inclined to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression."

I've also enclosed below Carter's official bio, summarizing his extensive Pentagon experience.

On February 9, Grassley and Ernst joined their colleagues in unanimously confirming Michael Botticelli as director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Grassley's statement on the country's new "drug czar" is after the jump too. He praised Botticelli for recognizing "the dangers of smoking marijuana." In recent testimony before a U.S. House committee, Botticelli said "The [Obama] Administration continues to oppose attempts to legalize marijuana and other drugs."

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Mid-week open thread: Combat veterans edition

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 11, 2015 at 21:23:21 PM CST

Iowa's new U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is often described as the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, but Andrew Reinbach took issue with that label in a recent commentary for the Huffington Post. I've posted excerpts after the jump, along with Ernst's response. Reinbach's main point is that while Ernst technically qualifies as a combat veteran, she should not use that label, never having come under enemy fire during her service in Iraq and Kuwait.

No one will ever mistake me for a big fan of Ernst, but I disagreed with those who grumbled about the "combat veteran" label last year, and I disagree with Reinbach now. Ernst served in a war zone during wartime. Lots of Americans were severely wounded or killed while performing supply or supporting roles during the Iraq War. Fortunately, the Iowa National Guard's 1168th Transportation Company was not ambushed and never drove over a bomb. That fact doesn't diminish the real risks facing everyone who served in the company.

Reinbach did make one valid argument, in my opinion: Ernst should correct those who say she "led troops into combat," because that phrase gives a misleading impression of her role. Speaking to Radio Iowa about the criticism, Ernst did not directly acknowledge the point but said in her defense, "I have never once claimed that I have a combat action badge. I have never claimed that I have had a purple heart. What I have claimed is that I have served in a combat zone."

Far too many combat veterans take their own lives after completing their wartime service. Congress recently addressed this national disgrace by approving the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act unanimously in the U.S. House and Senate. This bill should have become law last year, but a jackass who has since left the Senate blocked the bill from passing by unanimous consent during the lame-duck session.

Meanwhile, new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald put his foot in his mouth in a huge way during a House committee hearing today. Pete Kasperowicz reported for The Blaze,

At the end of a few minutes of sniping, McDonald ended by barking at [GOP Representative Mike] Coffman, "I've run a large company, sir. What have you done?"

As it turns out, Coffman is a combat veteran who started his own company, and is the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars.

The comments from McDonald, who once ran Procter & Gamble, were later described by Coffman's office as "obnoxious."

Hey, corporate genius: next time you go up to the Hill, have your staff brief you ahead of time on who will be asking the questions.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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House votes for more business input on federal regulations: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 06, 2015 at 17:28:53 PM CST

The U.S. House approved two more anti-regulation bills this week. On February 4, all the Republicans present and nine Democrats passed the "Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act of 2015" by 250 votes to 173 (roll call). The following day, nineteen Democrats joined the whole GOP caucus to approve the "Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act of 2015" by 260 votes to 163 (roll call).

Iowa Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voted for both bills. Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed them both; he also voted against last year's version of the unfunded mandates bill.

The bill claiming to deal with unfunded mandates "would further require agencies to consult with private sector entities impacted by the proposed rules," Cristina Marcos reported. The bill approved on Thursday "would require federal agencies to calculate the direct, as well as indirect, costs of proposed rules."

I haven't seen any public comment on these votes from the Iowans in Congress, but after the jump I enclose open letters from leaders of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, an alliance of more than 150 "consumer, small business, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups." They urged House members to reject the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act, because it "neither improves nor streamlines the regulatory process" and "would rob the American people of many critical upgrades to public health and safety standards, especially those that ensure clean air and water, safe food and consumer products, safe workplaces, and a stable, prosperous economy." The same coalition opposed the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act, because it "would increase unnecessary and lengthy regulatory delays, increase undue influence by regulated industries and encourage convoluted court challenges."

Votes like this fly under the radar as media pursue more news stories that interest the "core demographic." That's unfortunate, because this kind of non-glamorous policy-making could affect millions of people. Few Iowans will learn that under the guise of "cutting red tape," our state's Republicans in Congress would jeopardize rules that are meant to protect the public interest. Loebsack deserves credit for standing up against these bad bills. Major corporations and industries already have too much influence over government rules.  

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House repeals Obamacare again: How the Iowans voted

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 04, 2015 at 06:35:00 AM CST

Yesterday the U.S. House approved a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act by 239 votes to 186 (roll call). No Democrats supported the bill, and only three Republicans broke ranks with their party to oppose it. By some counts, it was the 56th time the Republican-led House has voted to repeal all or part of the 2010 health care reform law. Still, many newly-elected GOP lawmakers wanted a chance to weigh in after campaigning against Obamacare.

Iowa's four representatives split along the usual party lines, with Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) voting yes and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) opposed. Loebsack has occasionally voted for Republican bills that reverse specific provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but he has never supported any of the broad repeal bills.

I enclose below statements released by King and Young on yesterday's vote.  During last year's campaign, Young suggested that Obamacare was "here to stay" and said he would be "at the table trying to fix" the law if elected to Congress. In yesterday's press release, Young advocated several GOP proposals on health insurance but added that Republicans "must continue to ensure coverage is provided to individuals even if they have preexisting conditions and that young people still struggling in the job market are able to continue to receive coverage under a parent's plan." King's official comments said nothing about preserving any aspects of the current law. He emphasized that he filed the very first Obamacare repeal measure on the day after House members approved the bill in March 2010.

I highly recommend Dana Milbank's entertaining account of the House debate on the latest bill. Excerpts are after the jump, but you should click through to read the whole Washington Post column.

UPDATE: According to Sahil Kapur,

The [Republican] party is divided on whether it should even attempt to craft a contingency health care plan of its own. Illustrating the dispute, Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Jeff Duncan (R-SC) tried to propose an amendment that strips out the language calling for "replacement legislation."
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