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Updated: 5 hours 25 min ago

Trump's New Cuba Policy Affects Tour Operators, Lodging Owners Differently

6 hours 20 min ago
President Donald Trump’s new policy on travel to Cuba has winners and losers: Group tour operators could sell more trips, but bed-and-breakfast owners in Cuba say they’re losing business.

Lodging owners say they started getting cancellations after Trump’s June 16 announcement. Tony Lopez, who rents out an apartment in Havana’s trendy Vedado (vay-dah-doe) neighborhood, says the new policy is hurting Cuban entrepreneurs.

Under the new rules, only licensed tour operators can take Americans to Cuba on people-to-people trips. So some Americans who planned to go on their own are canceling trips.

On the other hand, organized tour groups are now the only game in town for people-to-people trips. One expert says tour companies should be “opening Champagne” because the new rules could increase their business.

Senate Bill Opens Door For States To Use Medicaid Funds On Roads, Bridges, Stadiums

6 hours 25 min ago

Language tucked deep in the Medicaid provisions of the Senate GOP Obamacare repeal legislation appears to allow states to funnel leftover Medicaid money for use on roads, bridges, stadiums and other projects not directly related to Medicaid’s traditional definition.

A GOP aide is already walking back the language, telling the Washington Post on Monday that it was “an inadvertent error” and that the language would be fixed before a final bill is filed for a vote.

Yet health care experts say that language points to the larger problems posed if states take congressional Republicans up on their offer to convert Medicaid’s structure into a lump sum system under the Senate GOP bill.

Read More →

Kasich: Side Deals Won't Make Up For Funding Cuts In Senate Repeal Bill

6 hours 40 min ago

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on Tuesday indicated that side deals offered to skeptics of the Senate’s Obamacare repeal bill from Republican leaders would not be enough to make up for the legislation’s funding cuts to the health care system, particularly to the Medicaid program.

During a joint press conference with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in Washington, D.C., Kasich said that he told Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) that a “few billion” dollars for opioid addiction treatment in their state would be like “spitting in the ocean,” given the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid.

The governor stressed that he sees the legislation’s main issue as a lack of resources.

“I think the bill is inadequate,” Kasich said at the National Press Club.

He said that while the Senate bill does have what he views as some good components, none of those improvements would help without sufficient funding. He said he was concerned about millions losing their health care coverage as a result of the bill, as well as the deep cuts to Medicaid and reduced funding for health insurance subsidies in the legislation.

“The problem is the resources have been significantly cut,” he said, noting that the Senate bill eliminates taxes imposed by Obamacare that provided more revenue for the health care system.

Kasich used the press conference to call on Democrats in the Senate to work with Republicans on a bill to fix issues with Obamacare.

“Today I would call on Democrat senators to hold a press conference and to state that they are willing to sit and work and constructively engage with Republicans in coming up with a sustainable solution,” he said. “If the Democrats don’t want to participate that way, shame on them, and they’re playing party politics over what’s good for our nation.”

Pressure Ramps Up On O'Care Repeal Holdouts As A Fifth Senator Bails

6 hours 44 min ago

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

Senate leaders’ plan to pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act before the July 4 recess has hit a roadblock: a mini-revolt by a cadre of Republicans from both the moderate and far-right wings of the party who announced Monday they would not vote to advance the bill as it’s currently written.

On Tuesday morning, a fifth senator joined the opposition: Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Lee had previously excoriated the bill as a “caricature of a Republican health care bill,” noting that it leaves in place many of Obamacare’s regulations and prioritizes tax cuts for the wealthy as well as payments to insurance companies. A spokesperson for Lee told TPM: “We are still working with leadership to change base bill.”

The opposition from Lee, Susan Collins (R-ME), Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) effectively halts the bill’s progress, and with several other Republicans voicing doubts and concerns, the Senate’s multi-month effort to roll back Obamacare appears to be in jeopardy if changes are not made.

In response, GOP leaders and their allies are pulling out all the stops by inviting some dissenters to dine at the White House, running attack ads against others, and issuing dire warnings that if the bill fails, the party will lose leverage on every other issue it hopes to make progress on in the years to come.

But several Republican lawmakers continue to wobble despite those carrots and sticks.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on Monday night told reporters that the bill does not do the one thing he said was his priority: reduce premiums and out-of-pocket costs for health insurance consumers. “It doesn’t,” he acknowledged.

Cassidy was not yet ready to say whether he, too, would vote no on a motion to proceed with the bill, but said that “more time would be better than less.”

“A lot of my colleagues feel, as do I, that we have a lot of questions still, and would like to have answers before we proceed,” he said.

Due to Republicans’ narrow majority in the Senate, the GOP can only afford to lose two members’ votes, and even then can only pass the bill if Vice President Mike Pence casts a tie-breaking vote. Even more Republicans may bail if the ship is seen to be sinking, not wanting to be saddled with a doomed and extremely unpopular bill going into a midterm election year.

“The bottom line is: you’re not going to get 49 [votes]. You’re either going to get 50 or probably like 35,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters Monday. He offered with a laugh that he would not be “the guy” to bring the bill down, but the same cannot be said for some of his more vulnerable colleagues.

Noting the demands for more time to consider the bill, Graham said that no amount of time could fully bridge the divisions in the Republican Party and so he believes it may be better to vote sooner rather than later.

“I don’t know if you took another year it would change much,” he said. “There seems to be a real philosophical divide. Some people think the Medicaid growth rates are not generous enough. You have people who believe there is too much Obamacare left. I don’t know how you bridge that gap.”

Trump Aims To Boost 'Energy Dominance' Of US By Increase In Oil, Gas Exports

6 hours 45 min ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — With U.S. exports of oil and natural gas surging, President Donald Trump says the U.S. is on the brink of becoming a net exporter of oil, gas and other resources.

Trump is highlighting what he calls “energy dominance” as the White House hosts a series of events focused on jobs and boosting U.S. global influence. The self-proclaimed “energy week” follows similar policy-themed weeks on infrastructure and jobs.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday the Trump administration is confident officials can “pave the path toward U.S. energy dominance” by exporting oil, gas and coal to markets around the world, and promoting nuclear energy and even renewables such as wind and solar power.

“For years, Washington stood in the way of our energy dominance. That changes now,” Perry told reporters at the White House. “We are now looking to help, not hinder, energy producers and job creators.”

The focus on energy began at a meeting between Trump and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with U.S. natural gas exports part of the discussion. Trump is expected to talk energy Wednesday with governors and tribal leaders, and he will deliver a speech Thursday at the Energy Department.

Trump has long used “dominance” to describe his approach to energy, and Perry and other administration officials have begun echoing the phrase as a short-hand for policies that “unleash” unfettered energy production on U.S. land and waters. Similarly, during his administration Obama spoke about an “all of the above” energy policy intended to reassure skeptics that he supported a wide range of U.S. energy production.

Trump signed an executive order in April to expand oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, reversing restrictions imposed by Obama. Trump has also pushed to revive U.S. coal production after years of decline. Coal mining rose by 19 percent in the first five months of the year as the price of natural gas edged up, according to Energy Department data.

U.S. oil and gas production have boomed in recent years, primarily because of improved drilling techniques such as fracking that have opened up production in areas previously out of reach of drillers.

A report released in January by the Energy Information Administration said the country is on track to become a net energy exporter by 2026. The report, issued two weeks before Trump took office, projects continued increases in oil and gas production, combined with a decline in coal and an increased market shares for both natural gas and renewable energy such as wind and solar power.

Obama signed a law in December 2015 lifting a decades-old ban on most crude oil exports, resulting in millions of barrels of exports every month to China, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries. The U.S. began exporting liquefied natural gas to India, China, Brazil and other countries in February 2016.

Ryan: CBO Is 'Important,' But 'More To The Story' Than Coverage Numbers

7 hours 13 min ago

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) expressed confidence in the director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday, but noted that “there’s more to the story” than the dramatic drop in insurance coverage that the CBO estimated would result from Senate Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill.

At a press briefing Tuesday, a reporter asked Ryan if he had confidence in CBO Director Keith Hall.

“Yeah, he is actually a Republican appointee,” Ryan said. “If I’m not mistaken, Tom Price appointed him.”

“Look, I have always had my own complaints about methodologies and score keeping,” he continued. “We all have our preferences and our opinions on these things. But it is important that we have a scorekeeper. We can always complain about the nature of the score. I think their coverage numbers — there’s more to the story than what the number implies. But having said that, it’s important that we have a referee.”

In its analysis of Senate Republicans’ bill released Monday, the CBO estimated that 22 million fewer people would have insurance coverage by 2026 if it were passed into law, versus the status quo under Obamacare.

House Republicans, before and after the CBO estimated their Obamacare repeal bill would leave 23 million more people without coverage, often criticized the CBO as an inaccurate forecaster.

In an interview with “Fox & Friends’” Brian Kilmeade that aired Monday, Ryan argued that the coverage numbers reflected the Senate bill’s repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, under which most Americans are eligible to pay a penalty if they do not have insurance.

“What they are basically saying at the Congressional Budget Office is if you are not going to force people to buy Obamacare — if you are not going to force people to buy something they don’t want — then they won’t buy it,” Ryan said. “So it’s not that people are getting pushed off a plan, it’s that people will choose not to buy something they don’t like or want.”

In addition to individuals who the CBO estimated would choose not to purchase insurance coverage if they didn’t face a penalty, however, the CBO also estimated that by 2026, 15 million fewer people would be enrolled in Medicaid versus the status quo.

Report: Trump Lawyer’s Charity Steered Millions From Poor To His Own Family

7 hours 31 min ago

A Christian nonprofit run by Jay Sekulow, the most visible member of President Donald Trump’s private legal team, targeted poor and unemployed donors to raise millions of dollars for Sekulow’s family and their businesses, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show that, in the midst of the Great Recession, Sekulow signed off on contracts that instructed telemarketers for Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE) to urge retirees on fixed incomes and others who said they could not afford a donation to find it in their hearts to contribute a “sacrificial gift.”

CASE raises tens of millions of dollars every year, primarily through small direct-mail donations. The Guardian reported that money goes directly to Sekulow, his wife—who has made more than $1.2 milion as CASE’s treasurer and secretary—his sons, brother, sister-in-law, and other firms associated with the family, as well as to finance loans and media-production ventures associated with the family.

Sekulow did not respond to the publication’s questions about his charity work, but his spokesman sent over an emailed response about CASE and the American Center for Legal Justice (ACLJ), another charity Sekulow runs.

“The financial arrangements between the ACLJ, Case and all related entities are regularly reviewed by outside independent compensation experts and have been determined to be reasonable,” the statement from spokesman Gene Kapp read. “In addition, each entity has annual independent outside audits performed by certified public accounting firms. Further, the IRS has previously conducted audits of the ACLJ and Case and found them to be in full compliance of all applicable tax laws.”

Experts in non-profit law told the Guardian that the Sekulows’ arrangement could violate a federal law prohibiting nonprofits from paying excessive benefits to their top executives.

Sekulow is a conservative Christian lawyer who has made his name campaigning against abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He was recently dispatched for a puzzling round of cable news interviews in which he first said it was absurd that Trump was under investigation for potential obstruction of justice as part of the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, then insisted moments later that the President was not under investigation at all.

Chaffetz: Members Of Congress Should Receive $2,500 Housing Allowance

7 hours 32 min ago

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who is resigning from public service for a job in the private sector, on Monday said members of Congress should receive a monthly stipend to cover the cost of living in Washington, D.C.

“I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” Chaffetz said in an interview with The Hill. “I think a $2,500 housing allowance would be appropriate and a real help to have at least a decent quality of life in Washington if you’re going to expect people to spend hundreds of nights a year here.”

Chaffetz said his base congressional salary of $174,000 a year is “handsome” but that he “flat-out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college and a second place here in Washington, D.C.”

The Deseret News in 2008 estimated that Chaffetz, newly elected to Congress, had a net worth of up to $5.6 million. OpenSecrets.org, a campaign-finance watchdog, estimated Chaffetz’s net worth in 2012 at $788,507.

Chaffetz announced in April that he will not seek another term in Congress in part because he’s sick of sleeping in his office.

“I just turned 50. I’m sleeping on a cot in my office,” he said. “I really, really like the work in Congress, I really do, but I love my family more. People may try to make it more than that, but it’s really that simple.”

In May, Chaffetz announced that he will resign from Congress on June 30, ahead of the end of his term.

The Hill estimated that a monthly housing stipend of $2,500 would add up to about $30,000 a year per member of Congress, or approximately $16 million a year for the entire Congress.

“There are dozens upon dozens of members living in their offices, and I don’t know how healthy that is long term,” Chaffetz told the Hill.

The calculus behind lawmakers’ decision to sleep in their offices is not necessarily so straightforward, however. Some members of Congress cite squatting in their workplaces as proof of their devotion to their home constituencies.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in 2015 told the New York Times that he sleeps in his office because he does not consider Washington, D.C. his home.

“I live in Janesville,” Ryan said, referring to his domicile in Wisconsin. “I commute back and forth every week. I just work here. I don’t live here.”

“I don’t want to get too comfortable in this town,” Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) told the New York Times.

While there is no official tally of how many lawmakers sleep in their offices (or how many of them do so for the optics), most of the members of Congress who tout their lifestyles — as the New York Times, NPRRoll Call and CBS News have noted — appear to be Republicans.

School Voucher Debate Ignited Following Supreme Court Playground Ruling

7 hours 34 min ago

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other proponents of school voucher programs are praising a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said a Lutheran church was wrongly denied a state grant for its preschool playground. But opponents say the ruling is far from an endorsement of the use of public money for religious schools.

The court, by a 7-2 vote, sided with Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, which had sought a state grant to put a soft surface on its preschool playground.

“We should all celebrate the fact that programs designed to help students will no longer be discriminated against by the government based solely on religious affiliation,” DeVos said after the justices ruled Monday that Missouri violated the First Amendment in denying the grant.

The Columbia, Missouri, church had sought the grant under a state program that reimburses nonprofit organizations that install playground surfaces made from recycled tires. The Department of Natural Resources rejected the application because the state constitution prohibits the use of public money “in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

The church’s challenge was watched by both sides of the debate over whether states can let parents choose to send their children to religious schools through publicly funded programs.

Teachers unions, which oppose vouchers as diverting money from public schools, said the narrow ruling dealt a setback to voucher proponents by leaving intact the state’s constitutional provision that prohibits state funding of religious actions.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten pointed to a footnote by Chief Justice John Roberts that said the court did not address “religious uses of funding.”

“The Supreme Court’s Trinity decision cannot be read as opening the door for states to promote religion or expand vouchers,” Weingarten said.

But the pro-school choice Center for Education Reform said that even without reviewing the constitutionality of Missouri’s prohibition on the use of state funds at religious schools, the justices had bolstered the choice movement by condemning the denial of a public benefit to an otherwise eligible recipient solely on the basis of its religious identity.

The Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America said the ruling could provide support for the argument that it would be discriminatory to not allow publicly funded tuition vouchers to be used for schooling at a religious institution.

“That puts somewhat of an onus on the state to make sure that if we’re going to have a program and we’re saying that it’s open to everyone, it’s intended to serve all the kids in our state, then it should be a program … that includes kids that go to private and religious schools,” said the group’s Washington director, Rabbi Abba Cohen.

Richard Katskee, the legal director at the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said that while the ruling does not strike down existing constitutional provisions against governments funding religion, “it probably will encourage more legal challenges over those provisions.”

Lindsey Graham: Don’t Count On The White House House To Have Your Back

7 hours 44 min ago

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Monday that his colleagues can’t count on President Trump to stand up for the GOP Senate health care bill, if it comes down to it.

“Here’s what I would tell any senator, if you count on the President to have your back, you need to watch it,” he said in an interview with MSNBC’s Garrett Haake.

He went on to defend the Senate’s version of the health care bill, which he called “better” than the House’s plan.

“Here’s what I told the House guys, you need to understand the Senate’s a different animal. I don’t think the House bill was mean. I’m not sure it was as well-constructed as it could have been,” Graham said. “Our bill is better. It saves more money. I think, in many ways, it has a softer transition.”

Graham’s comments come as Senate Republicans push for a vote on their health care plan, which four GOP senators have said they may vote against.

Ryan: 'Every Expectation' Senate Passes O'Care Repeal, 'I Don't Know What Day'

7 hours 45 min ago

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) predicted that Senate Republicans would eventually pass their Obamacare repeal bill, just maybe not this week as they had originally planned.

“I would not bet against Mitch McConnell,” Ryan said at a press briefing Tuesday, referencing the Senate majority leader. “He is very, very good at getting things done through the Senate, even with this razor-thin majority. I have every expectation that the Senate — I don’t know what day — but I have every expectation the Senate will move this bill, and I assume this bill will have changes.”

“You know why?” he continued. “Because we all made promises we would do that. Every Republican senator campaigned on repealing and replacing this law.

Several Republican senators — Dean Heller (R-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Ron Johnson (R-WI) — have voiced their displeasure for their colleagues’ bill as currently written, more than enough to keep the bill from a vote, at least for now.

Senate Republicans wrote their health bill in secret for weeks, releasing it publicly for the first time on Thursday.

Cosby's Legal Battles Continue In California With Sex Assault Lawsuit

7 hours 51 min ago

The stage for Bill Cosby’s next legal challenge shifts to California with a hearing scheduled Tuesday to set a trial date in a lawsuit accusing him of sexually assaulting a teen at the Playboy Mansion more than 40 years ago.

Judy Huth accused the comedian of forcing her to perform a sex act on him in a bedroom at the mansion around 1974 when she was 15.

The hearing comes less than two weeks after a Pennsylvania jury deadlocked on criminal charges against Cosby.

A mistrial was declared June 17 on charges Cosby drugged and molested Andrea Constand, the former Temple University director of women’s basketball, at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. Cosby said the encounter was consensual.

Cosby’s legal team declared victory after the mistrial, though Pennsylvania prosecutors vowed to retry him.

The comedian and actor once known as “America’s Dad” for his TV role on “The Cosby Show” as paternal Dr. Cliff Huxtable has had his reputation tarnished with accusations of sexual abuse by nearly 60 women.

In the wake of the criminal trial, though, Cosby is planning town hall meetings in an attempt to restore his legacy.

Cosby, 79, is fighting lawsuits by 10 women on both coasts. Three have filed sexual battery or defamation cases in California, and seven have sued for defamation in Massachusetts, where Cosby has a home. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Huth, said the judge in Los Angeles Superior Court judge may delay setting a trial date to let Pennsylvania prosecutors pursue the retrial against Cosby first.

A second deposition by Cosby was put on hold pending the criminal case. His first deposition in the Huth case is sealed.

A spokesman for Cosby didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

Pew Survey: U.S. Favorability Declines Because Of Trump Leadership

8 hours 20 min ago

President Donald Trump’s policies and character have had a negative impact on how the rest of the world views the United States, according to a Pew Research report that surveyed more than 40,000 residents from 37 nations around the globe.

A median of just 22 percent of respondents said they have confidence in Trump’s leadership, according to the report that gathered opinions from February to May 2017. A similar survey conducted at the end of former President Barack Obama’s presidency found 64 percent of respondents from the same countries indicated they were confident in Obama’s ability to make decisions.

The decline in approval of the U.S. President was sharpest in Europe, Asia, Mexico and Canada. Only two countries gave Trump a better score than Obama: Russia and Israel.

The countries that indicated they had lost confidence in the U.S. President also said their overall image of the United States had decreased, down from 64 percent saying they have a favorable view of America at the end of the Obama administration to 49 percent currently.

Of all his policies, Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was the most unpopular, with a median of 76 percent of people from all 37 countries saying they were opposed to the plan. Other unpopular policies include: withdrawing from international trade and climate agreements, as well as Trump’s travel ban.

The President’s character was also a factor in his negative rating around the globe, with the majority of those surveyed saying Trump is arrogant, intolerant and even dangerous. Among the positive characteristics tested in the survey, most said they think Trump is a strong leader.

The results for Pew’s surveys are based on in-person and over-the-phone interviews and come from national samples, unless noted differently.

Cyberattack Affecting Europe Causes Widespread Disruption

8 hours 28 min ago

PARIS (AP) — Hackers have caused widespread disruption across Europe, hitting Ukraine especially hard.

Company and government officials reported serious intrusions at the Ukrainian power grid, banks and government offices. Russia’s Rosneft oil company also reported falling victim to hacking, as did Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk.

“We are talking about a cyberattack,” said Anders Rosendahl, a spokesman for the Copenhagen-based group. “It has affected all branches of our business, at home and abroad.”

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Pavlo Rozenko on Tuesday posted a picture of a darkened computer screen to Twitter, saying that the computer system at the government’s headquarters has been shut down.

There’s very little information about who might be behind the disruption, but technology experts who examined screenshots circulating on social media said it bears the hallmarks of ransomware, the name given to programs that hold data hostage by scrambling it until a payment is made.

The world is still recovering from a previous outbreak of ransomware, called WannaCry or WannaCrypt, which spread rapidly using digital break-in tools originally created by the U.S. National Security Agency and recently leaked to the web.

Democrats To Capitalize On Belief That Trump Favors Wealthy Peers

8 hours 39 min ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are out to capitalize on what they believe is growing public sentiment that President Donald Trump, the richest man to call the White House home, is turning his back on the people who got him elected in favor of his wealthy peers. The party is hoping that pitch will pack extra oomph at a time when even some Republicans are raising concerns that the GOP health-care plan could hurt the poor.

Though stung by a series of defeats in special congressional elections, Democrats believe they can make inroads with some of Trump’s most loyal supporters by driving home the combined potential impact of proposed tax cuts that would largely benefit the wealthy and pending health care legislation that would fail to cover tens of millions of Americans enrolled in “Obamacare.”

In a polling memo circulated by the Democratic group Priorities USA, Democrats say they have seen a significant shift in the last two months in the number of people that believe the president sides with the wealthy and big corporations over average Americans. Democrats plan to turn that message into a prominent sales pitch for their candidates and surrogates, and could make it the theme of ads as well.

Guy Cecil, the group’s chairman, said that for the president’s first three months in office, voters who backed President Barack Obama then switched to Trump believed that the new president represented middle-class workers more than he represented the wealthy. But he said that has changed since April.

“People are taking a second look,” says Cecil. “The reason that health care is so powerful is because it directly affects people’s lives and there’s a clear trade-off: You’re giving tax cuts to the rich; you’re taking health care away from everybody else.”

Public polling also turns up growing unease about GOP attention to needs of the middle class. A Pew Research Center poll released last week found 57 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party “cares about the middle class” while 42 percent said that Republicans did.

The White House dismissed the findings.

“Unlike the Democrats who have no agenda and no ideas, the president is working hard to lower the cost of health care, cut taxes for all families and businesses, and create good jobs and higher wages for all,” said White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Trump, of course, has never shied away from being associated with wealth.

His insurgent candidacy for president was built on his business experience, and his time on the reality TV show “The Apprentice” cast him as America’s CEO, with his riches on full display. Even though he refused to release his tax returns, he boasted time and again on the campaign trail about how much money he had, even declaring, “I’m really rich.”

That hasn’t changed since Trump took office. He spends most weekends at one of his opulent resorts, brags about his advisers’ wealth and even told the crowd at an Iowa rally last week that he didn’t “want a poor person” for any senior economic jobs.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the House health care bill would leave 23 million people without insurance while the Senate would do the same to 22 million, with the brunt falling on older people with lower income. Trump’s proposed budget also targets many of the programs that help low-income Americans, such as help with heating their homes.

Democrats hope it provides more ammunition to revive their effective 2012 attack lines claiming Mitt Romney had turned his back on the working and middle classes.

But what worked against Romney may not necessarily be effective with Trump loyalists.

“The draconian impact of the GOP Trumpcare bill is a potential asset for the Democrats,” said Wendy Schiller, political science professor at Brown University, “but the big obstacle for them is that the bill’s provisions do not take effect until well after 2018, and not entirely until 2025. So it is unclear they will be able to persuade the majority of voters in congressional districts that the sky is falling on health care if nothing much changes.”

Moreover, many of the president’s backers don’t care about Trump’s wealth or his policies, their loyalty instead guided by partisan impulses and Trump’s larger-than-life personality and promises.

“His supporters pay attention to what he’s saying, and less so to either the Democrats or the press,” Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said in an email. “Simply put, Democrats can criticize his health care plan and tax plan as much as they want, but it falls on deaf ears with Trump voters, as they simply tune it out.”

The president’s allies point to all the failed attacks launched at Trump during the campaign and to GOP wins in the recent special elections as evidence that the Democrats won’t be successful if they are simply the anti-Trump party. Former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett says the party’s latest strategy is further evidence that the president is “living in their heads.”

“Attacks like these are to define someone and Donald Trump is already completely defined,” Bennett said. “The people of Warren, Ohio, don’t care if he is rich. They care if he is creating jobs.”

Nunes: 'I Can Do Whatever I Want, I'm The Chairman' Of House Intel Panel

8 hours 42 min ago

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, on Monday said that he can do whatever he pleases as chair of the panel, even though he has stepped aside from the Russia probe for the time being.

“I can do whatever I want, I’m the chairman of the committee,” Nunes told CNN. “I voluntarily, temporarily stepped aside from leading the investigation.”

He told CNN that he is “fully read-in” on the committee’s Russia probe.

“When I temporarily stepped aside from leading the investigation, that’s exactly what it means: It doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to be involved, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to be fully read in,” he said.

Though he’s stayed informed on the investigation, Nunes said that he has not attended hearings and briefings related to the probe. But he said that he could decide to take over the reins in the investigation at any time.

“Every decision I make is my own,” he told CNN. “I can go back right after this conversation and take the investigation over. Although I think everybody’s learning there’s not really much there because there’s no collusion — which is what I had said several months ago, I hadn’t seen any evidence.”

He also stressed that he never said he was recusing himself from the committee’s probe. Nunes announced his decision to temporarily step aside from the Russia investigation in April, after the House Ethics Committee said it was looking into complaints against him. Several groups charged that Nunes disclosed classified information when he publicized his claims that the Obama administration requested the unmasking of Trump team members whose names were incidentally collected in intelligence reports.

“I temporarily stepped aside, just to make sure there was no issue at all, just to give everybody assurance there was no ethical issues at all,” he told CNN. “That is not withdrawing, that is not recusing myself from an investigation.”

EU Fines Google 2.4 Billion Euros For Elevating Its Own Shopping Service

8 hours 49 min ago

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union slapped a record 2.42 billion-euro ($2.72 billion) fine on internet giant Google on Tuesday for taking advantage of its dominance in online searches to direct customers to its own online shopping business.

European regulators gave the company based in Mountain View, California, 90 days to stop or face more fines of up to 5 percent of the average daily worldwide revenue of parent company Alphabet.

Google says it is considering an appeal.

The European Commission, which polices EU competition rules, alleges Google elevates its shopping service even when other options might have better deals.

The Commission said Google “gave prominent placement in its search results only to its own comparison shopping service, whilst demoting rival services. It stifled competition on the merits in comparison shopping markets.”

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told reporters.

Google maintains it’s just trying to package its search results in a way that makes it easier for consumers to find what they want.

“When you shop online, you want to find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily. And advertisers want to promote those same products. That’s why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both,” Kent Walker, senior vice president at Google, said in a statement.

“We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case,” he said.

The fine is the highest ever imposed in Europe for anti-competitive behavior, exceeding a 1.06 billion euros penalty on Silicon Valley chip maker Intel in 2009.

But the penalty is likely to leave a bigger dent in Google’s pride and reputation than its finances. Alphabet has more than $92 billion (82 billion euros) in cash, including nearly $56 billion (50 billion euros) in accounts outside of Europe.

Vestager said the Commission’s probe, which started in 2008, looked at some 1.7 billion search queries. Investigators found that on average even Google Shopping’s most highly-ranked rivals only appeared on page 4 of Google search results. Vestager said that 90 percent of user-clicks are on page one.

“As a result, competitors were much less likely to be clicked on,” she said.

It is up to Google to decide what changes it wants to make to comply with the Commission’s ruling, but any remedy must ensure that rival companies receive the same treatment as Google Shopping.

“We will monitor Google’s compliance closely,” Vestager said.

She noted that that any company or person who has suffered damages due to the company’s practices can make claims to national courts.

More broadly, Vestager said, the probe has established that Google is dominant in general internet search in all 31 countries of the European economic area. This will affect other cases the Commission might build against the internet giant’s various businesses, like Google Images.

She also noted that regulators are making “good progress” in its other Google probes into Android and search advertising, and that the “preliminary conclusion” is that they breach EU anti-trust rules.

The Commission has come under fire in the United States for a perceived bias against U.S. companies.

Vestager said she has examined statistics concerning anti-trust, merger control and state aid decisions and that “I can find no facts to support any kind of bias.”

US Military To Assess Allegations Of Airstrike on Islamic State-Run Jail

8 hours 57 min ago

BEIRUT (AP) — The U.S. military says it will assess allegations that a coalition airstrike may have killed over 40 prisoners held in an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria.

Central Command confirmed to the AP on Tuesday that it struck IS facilities in the town of al-Mayadeen in the province of Deir El-Zour the day before.

Syrian activists reported an IS jail was struck in the area on Monday, and said at least 42 prisoners were killed, along with several IS fighters.

CENTCOM said it would publish the results of its assessment in its monthly civilian casualty report.

It said the Mayadeen mission was “meticulously planned and executed to reduce the risk… to non-combatants.”

The Kremlin is dismissing the White House’s warning that the Syrian government is preparing a new chemical attack and that President Bashar Assad and his military “will pay a heavy price” if it goes ahead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.”

Russia is Assad’s key backer and sided with him when he denied responsibility for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Idlib province on April 4.

Days later, President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory cruise missile strike on a Syrian government-controlled air base.

Peskov criticized the Trump administration for using the phrase “another chemical weapons attack,” arguing that an independent investigation into the April attack was never conducted despite Russia’s calls for one.

Warren: The Next Step For Dems Is Single-Payer Health Care

9 hours 9 min ago

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says Democrats should campaign on a single-payer health care plan in 2018 and 2020.

She said former President Barack Obama tried to use a more conservative model when writing the Affordable Care Act, but she told The Wall Street Journal Tuesday that Democrats should push for a health care plan similar to Canada and the United Kingdom.

“Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer,” she said, adding that the key to Democratic wins is adopting a more “progressive” approach.

“The progressive agenda is America’s agenda. It’s not like we’re trying to sell stuff that people don’t want,” she said. “It’s that we haven’t gotten up there and been as clear about our values as we should be, or as clear and concrete about how we’re going to get there.”

Warren’s comments come as Senate Democrats fight to defend Obamacare against repeal this week, while Republicans push for a vote on their health care plan. At least four GOP senators have indicated they may vote against the Republican plan, which could leave 22 million people uninsured, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s score on the bill.

Obamacare Repeal Bill's Limit On Medicaid Could Lead To Deadlock For GOP

9 hours 9 min ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — Somewhere along the way, the Republican crusade to repeal “Obamacare” also turned into an effort to limit the future growth of Medicaid. That bit of mission creep is complicating prospects for the GOP, and could lead to deadlock.

The federal-state program for low-income people has long been stigmatized as substandard. But over time it has grown and changed to become a mainstay for hospitals, nursing homes, insurers, and now drug treatment centers confronting the opioid epidemic. With about 70 million enrolled, Medicaid covers more people than Medicare, from newborns to nursing home residents.

Republicans including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Govs. John Kasich of Ohio, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, and Doug Ducey of Arizona have all expressed misgivings about the Senate’s GOP health care bill. On Monday, the National Association of Medicaid Directors, a nonpartisan group that represents state administrators of the program, said in a statement from its board that the legislation is unworkable, and called it “a transfer of risk, responsibility, and cost…of historic proportions.”

“We would see dramatic reductions in federal Medicaid funding, which would result in large budget gaps for the states,” said analyst Caroline Pearson of the consulting firm Avalere Health.

A Congressional Budget Office estimate released Monday said the Senate bill’s biggest impacts on spending would come from Medicaid. In 2026, the federal contribution would be $160 billion lower than under current law, and 15 million fewer people would be covered through the program.

But Republican leaders are unlikely to retreat, due to political and practical reasons. Although the House and Senate bills differ on timing and some key details, they would basically achieve the same goals:

—Phasing out the extra financing that former President Barack Obama’s health care law provides to states that expand Medicaid. Thirty-one states have taken advantage of a generous federal matching formula, expanding their programs to mainly benefit low-income adults. About 11 million people have gained coverage. Under the GOP bill, states could continue to serve this group, but would have to accept a lower match from Washington.

—Putting a limit on future federal financing for the entire program, through a per-beneficiary cap that would be adjusted for inflation. That would effectively end Medicaid’s status as an open-ended entitlement, through which the federal government matches a share of what each state spends. The GOP formula for annual adjustments has sparked a particularly sharp reaction, with critics saying that the Senate decision to use a broad measure of annual inflation simply won’t keep up with faster increases in health care costs.

On the Medicaid expansion, there’s wide agreement among Republicans that Obama’s federal matching rate of no less than 90 percent amounts to wasteful spending. On average, the regular Medicaid match works out to about 60 percent.

More broadly, as a political principle, many Republicans are strong believers in limiting the future growth of federal health care programs. House Speaker Paul Ryan has long advocated a voucher-like option for Medicare that would also restrain spending. But President Donald Trump had promised not to cut the health program for seniors. That left Medicaid with total annual spending of more than $550 billion.

“The present system is unsustainable; we don’t have enough money to continue what’s being done,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., the budget committee chairman. Medicaid “was set up for poor women, for children and disabled people. Obamacare used it as a dumping ground for able-bodied people.”

States would gain much greater flexibility over how to spend their Medicaid dollars under the Republican caps.

But liberals see another agenda. On the practical side, the Medicaid cuts in the GOP bills facilitate rolling back hundreds of billions in tax increases on upper-income people and corporations that helped finance coverage for Obama’s legislation.

“Cutting Medicaid leaves more room to repeal some of these taxes,” said Paul Van de Water, a policy expert with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income people.

Facing a growing outcry, the White House and some Republican leaders are pushing back hard, arguing that their legislation would not cut Medicaid, because spending on the program would keep growing, just not as fast.

“In fact, this is slowing the growth of Medicaid and allowing governors more flexibility,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway asserted on Fox.

“I’m not going to allow people and detractors and Trump haters to call me a liar because they don’t want to do the homework and look at what is actually happening to Medicaid,” Conway added.

The claim involves some budgetary sleight of hand that both parties have resorted to.

If a bill changes the rules to reduce what government was otherwise expected to spend, that meets the definition of a cut.

In fact, Republicans called it a cut when Democrats reduced Medicare payments to providers to help finance Obama’s health overhaul. Democrats responded they were reducing wasteful spending to extend Medicare’s solvency.

But the argument worked in favor of Republicans, helping them win the House in the 2010 midterm elections.

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