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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    British Prime Minister Theresa May in the cabinet office signs the official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk invoking Article 50 and the United Kingdom's intention to leave the EU on March 28 in London. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Pool via Reuters

    British Prime Minister Theresa May in the cabinet office signs the official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk invoking Article 50 and the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the EU on March 28 in London. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Pool via Reuters

    After 44 years as a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom on Wednesday officially launched its separation, a “momentous” task that will take two years.

    “We will of course continue to fulfill our responsibilities as a member state while we remain a member of the European Union, and the legislation we propose will not come into effect until we leave,” wrote British Prime Minister Theresa May in a letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk.

    You can read the full text of her letter below:

    Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk triggering Article 50
    Published March 29, 2017

    On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.

    Earlier this month, the United Kingdom Parliament confirmed the result of the referendum by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both of its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill was passed by Parliament on 13 March and it received Royal Assent from Her Majesty The Queen and became an Act of Parliament on 16 March.

    Today, therefore, I am writing to give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom. I hereby notify the European Council in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. In addition, in accordance with the same Article 50(2) as applied by Article 106a of the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, I hereby notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community. References in this letter to the European Union should therefore be taken to include a reference to the European Atomic Energy Community.

    This letter sets out the approach of Her Majesty’s Government to the discussions we will have about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and about the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave. We believe that these objectives are in the interests not only of the United Kingdom but of the European Union and the wider world too.

    READ MORE: Britain gives its Brexit notice this week. Now what?

    It is in the best interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use the forthcoming process to deliver these objectives in a fair and orderly manner, and with as little disruption as possible on each side. We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats. We want the United Kingdom, through a new deep and special partnership with a strong European Union, to play its full part in achieving these goals. We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.

    The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible.

    I would like to propose some principles that may help to shape our coming discussions, but before I do so, I should update you on the process we will be undertaking at home, in the United Kingdom.

    The process in the United Kingdom

    As I have announced already, the Government will bring forward legislation that will repeal the Act of Parliament – the European Communities Act 1972 – that gives effect to EU law in our country. This legislation will, wherever practical and appropriate, in effect convert the body of existing European Union law (the “acquis”) into UK law. This means there will be certainty for UK citizens and for anybody from the European Union who does business in the United Kingdom. The Government will consult on how we design and implement this legislation, and we will publish a White Paper tomorrow. We also intend to bring forward several other pieces of legislation that address specific issues relating to our departure from the European Union, also with a view to ensuring continuity and certainty, in particular for businesses. We will of course continue to fulfill our responsibilities as a member state while we remain a member of the European Union, and the legislation we propose will not come into effect until we leave.

    From the start and throughout the discussions, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking due account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK as we do so. When it comes to the return of powers back to the United Kingdom, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.

    The mechanics of executing Brexit are causing tensions inside the British government, reports PBS NewsHour special correspondent Jennifer Glasse.

    Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union

    The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.

    If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.

    It is for these reasons that we want to be able to agree a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security cooperation, but it is also because we want to play our part in making sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats. And we want the United Kingdom to play its full part in realising that vision for our continent.

    Proposed principles for our discussions

    Looking ahead to the discussions which we will soon begin, I would like to suggest some principles that we might agree to help make sure that the process is as smooth and successful as possible.

    i. We should engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation

    Since I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom I have listened carefully to you, to my fellow EU Heads of Government and the Presidents of the European Commission and Parliament. That is why the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking”. We also understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU: we know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We also know that UK companies will, as they trade within the EU, have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part – just as UK companies do in other overseas markets.

    ii. We should always put our citizens first

    There is obvious complexity in the discussions we are about to undertake, but we should remember that at the heart of our talks are the interests of all our citizens. There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights.

    iii. We should work towards securing a comprehensive agreement

    We want to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. We will need to discuss how we determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the United Kingdom’s continuing partnership with the EU. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.

    iv. We should work together to minimise disruption and give as much certainty as possible

    Investors, businesses and citizens in both the UK and across the remaining 27 member states – and those from third countries around the world – want to be able to plan. In order to avoid any cliff-edge as we move from our current relationship to our future partnership, people and businesses in both the UK and the EU would benefit from implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. It would help both sides to minimise unnecessary disruption if we agree this principle early in the process.

    v. In particular, we must pay attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland

    The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member state with a land border with the United Kingdom. We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland. We also have an important responsibility to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.

    Ireland is already feeling the fallout of Brexit, reports PBS NewsHour Weekend.

    vi. We should begin technical talks on detailed policy areas as soon as possible, but we should prioritise the biggest challenges

    Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries. This will require detailed technical talks, but as the UK is an existing EU member state, both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match. We should therefore prioritise how we manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment, and how we resolve disputes. On the scope of the partnership between us – on both economic and security matters – my officials will put forward detailed proposals for deep, broad and dynamic cooperation.

    vii. We should continue to work together to advance and protect our shared European values

    Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.

    The task before us

    As I have said, the Government of the United Kingdom wants to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interest of all our citizens. Likewise, Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake. The United Kingdom’s objectives for our future partnership remain those set out in my Lancaster House speech of 17 January and the subsequent White Paper published on 2 February.

    We recognise that it will be a challenge to reach such a comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU. We start from a unique position in these discussions – close regulatory alignment, trust in one another’s institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades. It is for these reasons, and because the future partnership between the UK and the EU is of such importance to both sides, that I am sure it can be agreed in the time period set out by the Treaty.

    The task before us is momentous but it should not be beyond us. After all, the institutions and the leaders of the European Union have succeeded in bringing together a continent blighted by war into a union of peaceful nations, and supported the transition of dictatorships to democracy. Together, I know we are capable of reaching an agreement about the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, while establishing a deep and special partnership that contributes towards the prosperity, security and global power of our continent.


    European Council President Donald Tusk holds up British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit letter in Brussels on March 29. Photo by Yves Herman/Reuters

    European Council President Donald Tusk holds up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit letter in Brussels on March 29. Photo by Yves Herman/Reuters

    Statement by the European Council in response:

    Today, the European Council received a letter from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, notifying the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the European Union. This notification follows the referendum of 23 June 2016 and starts the withdrawal process under Article 50 of the Treaty. We regret that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but we are ready for the process that we now will have to follow.

    For the European Union, the first step will now be the adoption of guidelines for the negotiations by the European Council. These guidelines will set out the overall positions and principles in light of which the Union, represented by the European Commission, will negotiate with the United Kingdom.

    In these negotiations the Union will act as one and preserve its interests. Our first priority will be to minimise the uncertainty caused by the decision of the United Kingdom for our citizens, businesses and Member States. Therefore, we will start by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal.

    We will approach these talks constructively and strive to find an agreement. In the future, we hope to have the United Kingdom as a close partner.

    President Tusk has convened the European Council on 29 April 2017.

    The post Read the full text of UK Prime Minister May’s letter leaving the EU appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is ordering a lower court to take a new look at a New York law that prohibits businesses from imposing fees on credit-card purchases.

    The court ruled unanimously Wednesday in a case about fees that merchants pay to credit-card issuers each time a customer charges a purchase. The fees typically range from 2 percent to 3 percent and generate more than $50 billion a year.

    The issue before the justices was whether the measure violates merchants’ free-speech rights. The federal appeals court in New York that upheld the law concluded that it regulated conduct, not speech.

    The justices said the law deals with speech and ordered the appeals court to re-evaluate it.

    The post Supreme Court orders new look at ‘swipe fees’ law appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    police_capitol

    Police vehicles gather near the scene where a vehicle struck a U.S. Capitol Police cruiser on March 29, 2017. Photo by Ivette Feliciano

    WASHINGTON — A woman described as “erratic and aggressive” drove a vehicle into a U.S. Capitol Police cruiser near the Capitol on Wednesday morning and was taken into custody, police said.

    Shots were fired during the arrest attempt, but the incident appeared to be criminal in nature with “no nexus to terrorism,” said Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki. No one was injured. She said the U.S. Capitol remained open.

    Malecki described the woman as an “erratic and aggressive driver.” As police attempted to stop her, she made a U-turn and fled, nearly striking officers and striking at least one other vehicle, Malecki said. A brief pursuit followed before the woman was stopped.

    The incident occurred near the U.S. Botanic Garden. Malecki said shots were fired “during the attempt to arrest the suspect,” but she declined to say how many shots were fired or to elaborate further.

    “We’re not going to get into that right now,” she said.

    There should be an embedded item here. Please visit the original post to view it.

    The incident occurred near the end of the morning rush hour and prompted a large police response just as lines of people were waiting to get into a nearby congressional office building. Streets near the Capitol were closed, and the Sergeant at Arms advised lawmakers and staff to stay away from the area.

    Scott Ferson, president of Liberty Square Group, a Boston-based communications firm, said he suddenly saw a dozen Capitol Police cars moving quickly toward the Botanic Garden. Ferson said he heard what sounded like three gunshots.

    “I heard pop, pop, pause, pop and I said ‘Oh, that was gunfire,'” he said by phone. Police called to everyone in the area to get off the street, but then things seemed to calm down and he headed to his meeting.

    Almost exactly one year ago, U.S. Capitol Police shot a man after he pulled a weapon at a U.S. Capitol checkpoint as spring tourists thronged Washington. The suspect was previously known to police, who last October had arrested him for disrupting House of Representatives proceedings and yelling he was a “Prophet of God.”

    And in 2013, Miriam Carey, a 34-year-old dental hygienist from Connecticut, was shot and killed by Capitol Police officers in her vehicle outside the Hart Senate Office Building. Officers had pursued Carey from the White House, where she made a U-turn at a security checkpoint. Her young daughter was inside the car at the time and was unharmed. Her family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Secret Service and Capitol Police.

    Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols, Kevin Freking and Sarah Brumfield contributed to this report.

    The post Woman strikes police cruiser near Capitol, suspect taken into custody appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Watch White House press secretary Sean Spicer hold a news briefing in the player above at 12:00 p.m. EDT.

    WASHINGTON — A Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee wants a thorough review of the financial relationships between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates.

    Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon made his request in a letter Wednesday to the committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and the ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

    Wyden says it’s important for the committee to separate fact from speculation amid reports that several individuals received funds from Russia.

    In an interview last August, former national security adviser Michael Flynn acknowledged being paid by Russia’s government-backed television network.

    Wyden also says that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., stated in 2008 that Russians make up a “pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.”

    Burr and Warner planned a news conference later Wednesday.

    The post WATCH LIVE: Spicer holds daily news briefing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A 10-year-old boy pulls a hide from pressing machine at a tannery in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Screen image from footage by Justin Kenny

    A 10-year-old boy pulls a hide from pressing machine at a tannery in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Photo by Justin Kenny

    Despite several court orders to close down, more than 150 tanneries in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s Hazaribagh district continue to operate while dumping 21,000 cubic feet of untreated wastewater daily into one of the world’s most crowded cities.

    A PBS NewsHour and Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting team of Justin Kenny and Larry C. Price visited six tanneries in Hazaribagh, where they found workers, some underage, without shoes and with little to no protective gear.

    Workers process hides at a tannery in Dhaka's Hazaribagh district. Leather in Bangladesh has grown to a $1 billion per year industry. Screen image from footage by Justin Kenny

    Workers process hides at a tannery in Dhaka’s Hazaribagh district. Leather in Bangladesh has grown to a $1 billion per year industry. Photo by Justin Kenny

    A creek outside a Dhaka tannery has banks covered in garbage and rotting animal hides. Screen image from footage by Justin Kenny

    A creek outside a Dhaka tannery has banks covered in garbage and rotting animal hides. Photo by Justin Kenny

    Workers rinse off after their jobs at a tannery. Screen image from footage by Justin Kenny

    Workers rinse off after their jobs at a tannery. Photo by Justin Kenny

    A worker in Dhaka's Hazaribagh leather district sloshes in a chemical bath with animal hides. Screen image from footage by Justin Kenny

    A worker in Dhaka’s Hazaribagh leather district sloshes in a chemical bath with animal hides. Photo by Justin Kenny

    You can watch PBS NewsHour’s full report on Bangladesh’s tannery industry Wednesday on the NewsHour.

    The post Bangladesh’s billion dollar leather industry has a problem with child labor and toxic chemicals appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Rock musician Bob Dylan performs at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in May 2004. Photo by Rob Galbraith/Reuters

    Rock musician Bob Dylan performs at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in May 2004. Photo by Rob Galbraith/Reuters

    Ever since the Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel literature prize to Bob Dylan in October, it’s been a will-he-or-won’t-he affair on whether he would actually accept the honor.

    Dylan did not physically appear at the December ceremony in Stockholm to retrieve the award. He did, however, give a statement to U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji, who read it to the banquet attendees. He wrote that he was “honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize.” Still, the prize wasn’t actually in his hands.

    But now, as the 75-year-old singer prepares for two concerts later this week in the Swedish capital, it appears he’ll make time to receive his Nobel diploma and medal, Sara Danius, the academy’s permanent secretary, announced in a blog post.

    “The setting will be small and intimate, and no media will be present; only Bob Dylan and members of the Academy will attend, all according to Dylan’s wishes,” she wrote.

    Danius added that Dylan will not deliver a lecture — something usually done during the ceremony in order to receive the 8 million kroner, or $900,000, monetary portion of the prize — during the visit. Dylan has until June to deliver a lecture. Otherwise, he will not receive the prize money.

    “The Academy has reason to believe that a taped version will be sent at a later point,” she wrote, noting that author Alice Munro also sent a taped lecture in 2013.

    Dylan is the first songwriter to win the literature prize, a point of contention among academics and pop critics. He is also the first American to win the prize since novelist Toni Morrison in 1993.

    Dylan himself indirectly addressed the debate over his recognition for the prize in the written banquet speech, saying it took him a few minutes to process the news back in October. He said he then began to think about William Shakespeare:

    “I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

    WATCH: Nobel honors Bob Dylan, bard for a changing world

    The post Bob Dylan will accept his Nobel Prize for Literature after all appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee

    U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of the U.S. Central Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington March 9, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The top U.S. general for the Middle East says the military has launched a formal investigation to determine what role the U.S. played in the deaths of dozens of civilians in Mosul, Iraq.

    Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, says combat in the densely populated areas of Mosul is making it harder to avoid civilian casualties.

    Votel says the probe will look at what Islamic State militants did to contribute to the deaths, including use of human shields, on March 17. He says they’re exploiting America’s sensitivities about civilian deaths.

    Votel tells the House Armed Services Committee the combat situation is evolving. He says the investigation will review intelligence provided by Iraqi forces.

    The post U.S. opens formal investigation into civilian deaths in Mosul appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks between Vice President Mike Pence and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt prior to signing an executive order on "energy independence," eliminating Obama-era climate change regulations, during an event

    President Donald Trump speaks between Vice President Mike Pence, left, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt prior to signing an executive order on “Energy Independence,” eliminating Obama-era climate change regulations, during an event at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington, U.S., March 28, 2017. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order seeking to undo his predecessor’s efforts to curb climate change, his administration has asked a federal appeals court to postpone ruling on lawsuits over Obama-era restrictions on carbon emissions.

    The regulations — known as the Clean Power Plan — have been the subject of long-running legal challenges by about two dozen mostly Republican-led states and industry groups that profit from burning coal.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments in the case last year and could issue a ruling any time.

    “Because the rule is under agency review and may be significantly modified or rescinded through further rulemaking in accordance with the executive order, holding this case in abeyance is the most efficient and logical course of action here,” lawyers for the Justice Department said in their motion late Tuesday.

    A coalition of 16 mostly Democratic-led states and environmental groups involved in the legal case say they will oppose the administration’s request for a delay. A ruling in favor of the carbon restrictions from the D.C. appeals court could help blunt the Trump administration’s efforts to undo them and put the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Rewriting the Clean Power Plan and other carbon-limiting federal regulations is likely to take years to complete and is expected to face legal challenges from big Democratic-leaning states as New York and California.

    READ NEXT: Read the full text of Trump’s executive order on energy and climate change

    In a call with reporters, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said presidents don’t have legal authority to just do away with Environmental Protection Agency regulations with the stroke of a pen.

    Trump’s executive order did not attempt to withdraw a key 2009 EPA ruling that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide endanger the public’s health and welfare. The Trump administration is also bound by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that requires the federal agency to regulate planet-warming carbon emissions.

    [Watch Video]

    “We’re very confident that the EPA can’t simply dismantle the Clean Power Plan and leave nothing in its place,” said Schneiderman, a Democrat. “We regret the fact that the president is trying to dial back history, but it’s not going to happen.”

    Meanwhile, members of the conservative coalition that sued to stop Obama’s plan were already declaring a “monumental victory” for their side.

    “President Trump’s decisive action lets everyone know this unlawful, job-killing regulation will find no support in his administration,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. “That’s a tremendous relief for every coal miner and family that depends upon coal’s success.

    The post Trump administration seeks delay in ruling on climate plan appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Scientists have unveiled a five-organ female reproductive system on a chip small enough to hold in your hand. Photo by Hyacinth Empinao/STAT

    Scientists have unveiled a five-organ female reproductive system on a chip small enough to hold in your hand. Photo by Hyacinth Empinao/STAT

    BOSTON — So-called “organs on a chip” — small blobs of tissue growing in lab dishes that mimic the function of their human counterparts — have promise for basic science and drug development. And those efforts are scaling up. On Tuesday scientists unveiled a five-organ female reproductive system on a chip small enough to hold in your hand, and showed that it could simulate a 28-day menstrual cycle.

    The chip is part of an effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to build an entire human body-on-a-chip — a creation that would involve all of the organ systems and allow researchers to run unprecedentedly precise experiments on human tissue. Other research groups are also working on chips that mimic multiple organs, for instance the liver, heart, and blood vessels.

    In this case, the “chip” is about the size of a hardcover book and studded with Lego-like blocks, each of which is hollowed-out and holds bits of tissue growing on plastic scaffolding: ovary, fallopian tube, uterus, cervix, liver. (The ovary samples come from mice — ovaries are rarely removed from healthy women — while the tissue for the fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix comes from women who had hysterectomies.) The blocks are connected by minuscule tubes to simulate how the real organs communicate with each other in the human body.

    Those tubes allow hormones to flow between the miniature organs. By feeding the right cocktail of hormones into the ovary block, the researchers were able to coax the miniature organ to release an egg, and to produce hormones that flowed into each organ downstream, causing them to behave similarly to how they do in the human body.

    READ MORE: From ovary to uterus: studying the overlooked transport in between

    This is the first menstrual cycle “on-a-chip,” said Teresa Woodruff, the study’s primary investigator and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

    The results were published Tuesday in Nature Communications.

    All about EVATAR

    The chip — dubbed “EVATAR,” a portmanteau of the biblical “Eve” and a representative “avatar” — could someday be used to test the effects of drugs on human tissues before putting them into the human body. Right now, animals play that role — but scientists wonder if animals’ different physiology might be one reason that so many drugs never make it into the clinic.

    Building the EVATAR was a team effort, with multiple groups working to build the organ systems and a crack team of biomedical engineers in Cambridge, Mass., handling the design of the chip itself.

    Jonathan Coppeta, a biomedical engineer at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, was part of that team, which built the piping system that moves fluid between the organ blocks. It’s controlled by 62 pumps that can be turned on and off independently. Each of those pumps uses a pinky-sized electromagnet to move about a millionth of a liter of fluid at a time.

    Such a precisely controllable system allows scientists to do things that wouldn’t be possible to do in a real person, like change the rate at which hormones flow from one organ to another, to study the effect of that hormone on the organs.

    READ MORE: Inside the sci-fi world of growing human tissue and organs in the lab

    But because it’s still early days in the organ on-a-chip development, there are lots of unknowns. Researchers will inevitably face the question: If it doesn’t kill the chip, does that mean it’s safe in a person?

    “Could it potentially be better than an animal model?” said Jeffrey Borenstein, a biomedical engineer at Draper. “Yes, because you’re using human cells. Is it perfect? No, because there are always going to be limitations.”

    Reproductive biology researchers unaffiliated with the project noticed one particular limitation in the team’s model of a uterus. The lining of a human uterus consists mainly of two types of cells — but on the chip it’s primarily one type of cell, pointed out Warren Nothnick, vice chairman of the department of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Nothnick said that could hinder the system’s human veracity, because the underrepresented cell type gives rise to endometrial cancer. But altogether, he said, the paper is “really groundbreaking.”

    Dr. Julie Kim, a Northwestern professor who led the team that built the uterus block, said that encouraging this particular type of cells — known as endometrial cells — to grow properly in lab-built organs is an open challenge. She hopes to build more life-like uteri in the future: “My dream is to create a menstruating uterus in a dish.”

    Pharma showing interest

    One of Woodruff’s next steps is building personalized EVATARs, whose miniature organs are grown out of stem cells from individual people. That could allow researchers to test how a drug would impact a particular person, based on their biology.

    Men have to wait, but perhaps not long — within a year, Woodruff hopes to have more results to share about the male version of the project, nicknamed ADATAR.

    Already pharmaceutical companies are starting to show interest — Woodruff said that she has tested some AstraZeneca drug candidates to gauge their impact on the female reproductive system.

    Draper’s chip can support up to 12 organs, so researchers could use this chip to simulate different organ systems. The lab is also using similar technology to build custom chips for pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer.

    Meanwhile, Woodruff is looking for participants to provide stem cells that could be used to make custom organ systems, which she said should happen over the next year.

    This article is reproduced with permission from STAT. It was first published on March 28, 2017. Find the original story here.

    The post How to build a female reproductive system that fits in the palm of your hand appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists on March 24, 2017 in Washington, U.S. at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote. Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists on March 24, 2017 in Washington, U.S. at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote. Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    WASHINGTON — Note to President Donald Trump and House Republicans: People really don’t like your approach to overhauling America’s health care. If you’re hoping to revive the effort, you may want to try something different.

    Sixty-two percent of Americans turned thumbs down on Trump’s handling of health care during the initial weeks of his presidency, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released Wednesday. It was his worst rating among seven issues the poll tested, which included the economy, foreign policy and immigration.

    Of the six health coverage changes the poll assessed from the failed House GOP bill, five drew more negative than positive reviews.

    An overwhelming 8 in 10 opposed the Republican proposal to let insurers boost premiums on older people. Seven in 10 disapproved of premium surcharges for people whose coverage lapses.

    By wide margins, people also disliked proposed cuts in Medicaid, which helps lower-earning people cover medical costs, a halt in federal payments to Planned Parenthood and a transformation of the Obama law’s subsidies — based on income and premium costs — into aid linked to age.

    “His campaign promise was great health care for everyone, for all Americans at great prices,” said Raymond Brown, 64, a Republican and retired truck driver from Rio Grande, New Jersey. “He isn’t fulfilling his campaign promise.”

    Overall, just over half in the poll said they worry many Americans would have lost coverage had the GOP bill become law. Would their own families and average Americans have been better or worse off? More said worse.

    [READ MORE: In Trump country, voters don’t blame president for the health care bill debacle]

    The results underscore that annulling President Barack Obama’s statute is not an issue to be trifled with. More people support than oppose that law by 45 percent to 38 percent, a slightly narrower margin than in January. And a slender majority say covering all Americans is a federal responsibility — a view embraced by Democrats but not Republicans, who instead focus on access and lower premiums.

    The survey was conducted over five days preceding and following last Friday’s withdrawal of the GOP health care bill. Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., short-circuited a House vote that would have spelled defeat for the Republican legislation because of opposition from conservative and moderate Republicans. It was a mortifying setback for Trump and his party.

    The poll suggests that health care is damaging Trump’s image.

    Fifty-eight percent disapproved of his overall performance as president, not much different from his negative grade on health care. Even among those approving the job he’s doing in office, about 1 in 5 was unhappy with his approach to health care.

    The GOP bill scared off many Republican lawmakers after the Congressional Budget Office projected there would be 24 million more uninsured people over a decade and a boost in out-of-pocket costs for many, especially poorer people and Americans nearing retirement age.

    The negative views in the poll make any new GOP effort embracing pieces of the crumbled legislation potentially perilous for the party.

    Nearly all Democrats and most independents disapproved of Trump’s performance on health care, but so did around 1 in 3 Republicans.

    In addition, Republicans in the poll had mixed views on the collapsed House GOP bill. Clear majorities of them opposed boosting premiums for older people and those who’ve had gaps in coverage. They were more likely to oppose than support cutting Medicaid and divided on linking subsidies to age more than income.

    Republicans did mostly back the Republican bill’s blocking of federal payments to Planned Parenthood. And they were likelier to say their own families and average Americans would have been better off, not worse, under the legislation.

    Rosalind Russell, 71, a retired apartment complex manager from Clifton, Texas, said she was glad to see the attempt to unravel Obama’s law.

    “It’s not cheap, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be,” Russell, a Republican, said of Obama’s statute. “We’ve got to have change, it’s ridiculous.”

    Of the proposed Republican changes examined by the poll, only one received a positive reception. That was its elimination of the tax penalty on people who don’t buy coverage, though by a modest 48 percent to 35 percent margin.

    Strong majorities backed two Obama requirements the GOP would have left in place: Insurers couldn’t deny policies to sick people and must cover children up to age 26 under their parents’ plans.

    ___

    The AP-NORC poll of 1,110 adults was conducted March 23-27 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.

    Interviews were conducted online and using landlines and cellphones.

    The post Poll: Americans dislike GOP’s, Trump’s plan on health care appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz"

    “Over the Rainbow,” the song made famous by Judy Garland in the movie musical “The Wizard of Oz,” is one of this year’s inductees.

    Recordings reflecting America’s diverse soundscape, from New York’s Polo Grounds, all the way to Compton, California, are included in this year’s inductions into the National Recording Registry.

    Vin Scully’s 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers vs. the New York Giants broadcast and N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” are two of the 25 recordings deemed as “aural treasures worthy of preservation,” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement.

    “These sounds of the past enrich our understanding of the nation’s cultural history and our history in general.” Hayden said.

    The registry chooses 25 recordings — each at least 10 years old — to preserve each year. The newest selections bring the total to 475.

    The eclectic group includes a song recorded on an original Thomas Edison phonograph by a Civil War veteran in 1888, the classic ballad “Over the Rainbow” sung by Judy Garland and the 1972 debut episode of NPR’s All Things Considered. More recent songs reflect transformations in popular music, Hayden said; songs like Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” proves disco stands the “test of time.”

    Albums like the Talking Heads’ 1980 genre-bending “Remain In Light” and David Bowie’s 1972 revolutionary “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” are also among this year’s inductees.

    Here is the full list:

     

    The post Listen to the classic and groundbreaking recordings that made this year’s National Registry list appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Mayor Ed Murray spoke at a press event regarding threats against sanctuary cities earlier this year.Credit: David Kroman Days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to withhold grant money from so-called sanctuary cities, Seattle is hitting back: Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes will announce a lawsuit at 2 p.m. today challenging the Trump administration’s threats against cities that refuse to aid in federal immigration crackdowns. Trump has long threatened to punish cities that don’t help federal immigration agents track down or detain undocumented immigrants. If successful, this lawsuit could render that punishment illegal.

    Mayor Ed Murray spoke at a press event regarding threats against sanctuary cities earlier this year. Credit: David Kroman

    Days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to withhold grant money from so-called sanctuary cities, Seattle is hitting back: Mayor Ed Murray and City Attorney Pete Holmes will announce a lawsuit at 2 p.m. PDT Wednesday challenging the Trump administration’s threats against cities that refuse to aid in federal immigration crackdowns.

    Trump has long threatened to punish cities that don’t help federal immigration agents track down or detain undocumented immigrants. If successful, this lawsuit could render that punishment illegal.

    The case will make two arguments. One, that the federal government cannot order local police departments to do anything or coerce action by threatening to withhold dollars.

    Second, the city will argue that they have not done anything illegal. Even if the city wanted to help, lawyers will argue, they cannot because the city doesn’t collect information on undocumented immigrants.

    The city will spare no expense in its fight: High profile East Coast law firm Mayer Brown will head up the case, with attorney Andrew Pincus taking a major role. Pincus has argued more than two dozen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He more recently took a frontline role in representing two Yemeni men detained at the Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. after President Trump signed his first ban on travelers from seven majority Muslim countries. He is vocally anti-Trump, recently penning an article for the Berkshire Eagle titled, “Music may soothe the savage president.

    San Francisco, as well as the smaller towns of Lawrence and Chelsea in Massachusetts, have filed similar but more limited lawsuits.

    READ MORE: Sanctuary cities vow to intensify fight despite White House funding threats

    There is no precise legal definition for what makes a city or state a “sanctuary.” In Seattle, it means public institutions like schools will not ask people about their legal status. More significantly, Mayor Murray instructed Seattle Police Department Chief Kathleen O’Toole to not ask about immigration status or aid federal law enforcement in its efforts to track down undocumented immigrants. King County Sheriff’s Office has followed suit and the county jail does not hold arrestees purely because they’re undocumented.

    Trump last month signed an executive order threatening to strip funding from sanctuary cities, although the order was more of a statement of intent than concrete action. On Monday, Sessions threatened to withhold community policing grants from sanctuary cities, which seemed to be the most concrete step toward treating these locations differently. But City Attorney Pete Holmes didn’t see it that way. “I think that empty suit excuse of an Attorney General hasn’t given us anything to react to,” he said Monday. “He’s simply helping his boss change the subject.”

    Mayor Murray last month made a big to-do about the city’s efforts to obtain a precise definition of “sanctuary city” from the Trump administration. The city demanded the Trump administration define exactly what Seattle is and is not legally obligated to do. Murray followed that pronouncement with a threat to sue if the city was not provided with the records quickly, a common tactic used by journalists or lawyers seeking public documents.

    As Crosscut has reported, that lawsuit, which would have at most resulted in a disclosure of the records Seattle requested, was tabled by city officials.

    By contrast, the new lawsuit could have national implications on the scale of Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s fight against the travel ban and could throw yet another wrench into one of Trump’s most salient campaign promises.

    While the announcement of the lawsuit comes tight on the heels of Sessions’ threats, the city had all but committed to legal at least several weeks ago. In fact, one city employee likened the original records hunt to a fact-finding mission for this lawsuit, suggesting this was what the city has had in mind for weeks.

    The suit will be filed in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington, the same court that blocked Trump’s initial travel ban.

    This piece first appeared on Crosscut.com, the news partner of KCTS 9/Seattle. See the original piece here.

    The post Seattle to sue Trump over sanctuary city threats appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A Donald Trump for President campaign sticker is attached to a U.S. Customs sign hanging on the border fence between Mexico and the United States near Calexico, California. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    A Donald Trump for President campaign sticker is attached to a U.S. Customs sign hanging on the border fence between Mexico and the United States near Calexico, California. Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Geographic and physical challenges — including the Rio Grande and threatened wildlife — will make it difficult to build the “big, beautiful wall” that President Donald Trump has promised on the U.S.-Mexico border, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Wednesday.

    Building a wall “is complex in some areas,” including Big Bend National Park and along the river, which twists through nearly half of the 2,000-mile border, Zinke said.

    Hundreds of species live within 30 miles of the border, including threatened jaguars and Mexican gray wolves. The Trump administration is poised to relax protections for the jaguars, which live in northern Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States, to make it easier to build the wall.

    Throughout the campaign, Trump energized his crowds with his insistence that a wall will be constructed along the border and that Mexico will pay for it. Zinke’s comments, and the administration’s budget proposal seeking billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars to finance the project, offer a reality check and a possible sign the president is moving away from his initial plan.

    The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the border wall, but Zinke said the Interior Department will play a critical support role.

    “At the end of the day what’s important is American security and to make sure we have a border,” Zinke told reporters on a conference call. “Without a border a nation cannot exist.”

    READ MORE: Trump’s border wall proposal faces many obstacles

    An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly estimated that a wall along the entire border would cost about $21 billion. Congressional Republicans have estimated a more moderate price tag of $12 billion to $15 billion.

    Kelly told Congress in January that a wall wouldn’t be a complete fix for the border.

    “A physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job,” Kelly said during his confirmation hearing. “Certainly it has to be a layered approach.”

    Zinke’s comments appeared to bolster that view and followed remarks he made Tuesday to the Public Lands Council, a group that represents Western ranchers.

    “The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” Zinke said in remarks first reported by E&E News. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”

    Electronic monitors may be more appropriate in that region, Zinke said, while areas with imposing natural features may not require additional reinforcements.

    The border is already dotted with underground sensors and camera towers, along with about 700 miles of fencing in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and it’s unclear how much new fencing the Trump administration is proposing.

    SEE MORE: How increased security affects life for border residents

    According to new budget details sent to Congress, the administration wants immediate funding to complete an existing barrier in the Rio Grande Valley, $500 million to complete 28 miles of a border levee wall near McAllen, Texas, and $350 million for construction along two segments near San Diego.

    Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security agency that will eventually patrol and maintain any new fencing or walls, has asked contractors to submit proposals for a 30-foot-high wall that is difficult to climb or cut through. Bids were originally due to the government by Wednesday, but the deadline was extended to April 4 amid questions from possible bidders.

    In a pair of contract notices made public two weeks ago, the government said proposals could lay out plans for a solid concrete wall or a structure that can be seen through by border agents.

    Fencing that is already in place is a mixture of various designs, including towering steel bollards designed to keep both people and vehicles from moving north and shorter steel posts aimed only at blocking cars. In parts of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, some stretches of fencing are nearly a mile away from the border in part to accommodate flood plains and an international treaty.

    And in Texas, almost all of the land along the border is privately owned. When former President George W. Bush tried to build border fencing starting in 2006, he faced stiff opposition from local ranchers and farmers, many of whom took the government to court on plans to use their land.

    ___

    Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this story.

    The post Here are some of the physical challenges the border wall faces appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Karima Williams (R) of DC Health Link assists barber Cornel Henry (L) with health insurance information during an event for National African American Enrollment Week of Action, an initiative of the White House and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at Best Cuts Barbershop in Washington January 24, 2015. The Obama administration say they hope to have 9.1 million people enrolled in 2015 coverage under the Affordable Care Act nationwide by the end of the year. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR4MRC7

    Phil Moeller reports on the trends in Medigap policies and answers your questions on aging and retirement. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller is here to provide the answers you need on aging and retirement. His weekly column, “Ask Phil,” aims to help older Americans and their families by answering their health care and financial questions. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.


    After last week’s failure by Republicans on their American Health Care Act, it’s time to return to business — although the futures of Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid are hardly easy to predict. Trump appointees, backed by GOP majorities in Congress, have before suggested administrative changes and cuts to these programs. For the time being, older Americans will retain their current health care choices.

    One of these is the ability to buy a Medigap policy to supplement basic Medicare. There is plenty to update older Americans on the current trends in these policies.

    For those of you less familiar with the ins and outs of Medicare and Medigap, here’s a quick refresher: Basic Medicare consists of Part A for hospital coverage and Part B for doctor, outpatient and durable equipment expenses. Basic Medicare also usually includes purchase of a stand-alone Part D plan to cover prescription drugs. But basic Medicare has major coverage gaps, most notably that Part B pays only 80 percent of covered expenses. The other 20 percent must be paid by individuals. They can close this gap by buying a state-regulated Medigap plan from a private insurer.

    Medigap plans are growing in popularity, according to a recent report from staff at the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, or MedPAC, which advises Congress on Medicare policies. In 2010, there were about 36 million people with basic Medicare, and 9.7 million of them, or 27 percent, had Medigap plans. By 2015, the report said, basic Medicare enrollment exceeded 38 million, with 31 percent — or 11.8 million — choosing to also buy Medigap policies.

    READ MORE: Should we raise the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare?

    There are 11 different types of Medigap plans, designated by the different letters of the alphabet. Under federal rules, all similarly named letter plans must offer identical coverage, meaning that all letter A plans, for example, must offer the same coverage. Insurers are free to charge different amounts for premiums, and there often are wide differences in the prices for identical Medigap plans.

    Letter C and F plans pay all uncovered Medicare costs and are both the most expensive and most popular Medigap plans. They garnered 77 percent of the market in 2010 and 73 percent in 2014.

    Between 2010 and 2014, sales of Medigap plans providing substantial but not complete protection dipped from 20 to 16 percent of the market. Letter plans available to new enrollees in this category include A, B, D, G and M plans.

    Finally, there was a big jump in sales of Medigap plans that require buyers to shoulder a significant share of uncovered basic Medicare expenses. This group is comprised of letter K, L, N and high-deductible F plans. It represented only 3 percent of Medigap sales in 2010, but 10 percent in 2014. In this group, plan N policies have dominated and totaled nearly a million enrollees by 2015.

    Details on what each letter plan covers may be found on page 11 of Medicare’s annual Medigap consumer guide. The MedPAC report provided these average annual premiums in 2015 for the three groups of plans:

    • Greatest payment protection (C and F): $2,400.
    • Substantial payment protection (A, B, D, G, and M): $2,000.
    • Limited payment protection (letter K, L, N and high-deductible F): $1,400.

    For alphabet-conscious readers, the letter gaps in plan offerings represent older plans that have been discontinued or are no longer offered to new enrollees. For the statistics crowd, these numbers include only so-called “standard” Medigap policies and thus exclude about a million policies that were either non-standard and sold a long time ago or standard plans that no longer are sold to new enrollees, but may be renewed by people who already have the plans.

    Starting in 2020, this last group — those plans that cannot be sold to new enrollees but can be renewed — will begin to include some of the popular C and F plans. Beginning that year, newly sold C and F plans will no longer repay policyholders’ annual Part B deductibles, which are $183 this year. Existing policyholders will still be able to renew these popular plans and thus retain what’s known as “first dollar” protection.

    However, the loss of this feature in C and F plans offered to new enrollees is expected to make these plans less attractive. And the possible loss of younger Medicare beneficiaries enrolling in these plans has raised concerns that rates could rise as the pool of existing policy holders becomes older, sicker and more expensive to insure.

    Marvin Musick, a Medigap insurance broker in the Midwest, reports that many of his letter F customers are shifting to letter G plans. They do not repay Part B deductibles, he noted, but otherwise provide protection comparable to letter F plans, are less expensive and have exhibited more stable premium levels in the recent past. Most of his Medigap sales are now letter G plans, he added.

    Musick’s experience likely applies to Medigap plans elsewhere in the country. Thus, many of the more than 8 million Medicare enrollees who now have C and F plans will face an important decision in the next two years as rates are likely to rise. It’s not too early for these enrollees to begin thinking about their future Medigap coverage.

    And now, on to your questions.


    Nancy – Maine: Our son (at age 51) died about four months ago from ALS [Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis]. Knowing he probably had only a short time to live, I bought outright an eye-gaze computer for him rather than wait for the request to be approved by Medicare. I would do it again, but I am hoping I could be reimbursed for all or some of it. The doctor said she would give a document saying she would have prescribed it. Is there anything you can suggest? I am going to pursue this, no matter what, as it would have been inhumane not to get this for him as soon as I could. It made an immeasurable difference during the last 2 and a half months of his life.

    Phil Moeller: I’m so sorry for your loss. A good friend of mine is dying of ALS. It’s a brutal disease and one that no parent should have to watch a child endure.

    Have you reached out to the vendor who sold you the computer? Perhaps it has use for a used unit?

    My next stop would be the Maine chapter of the ALS Association. There might be a need for your son’s computer and interest in providing you some money for it. Someone there might also be able to help you pursue this with Medicare.

    My guess is that trying to get a refund by making a formal claim through Medicare would be arduous. It’s not clear to me that the agency has a formal responsibility to help you, although perhaps some sympathetic person might take up your cause. Noridian Healthcare is the Medicare administrative contractor for durable medical equipment claims in northeastern U.S., including Maine.

    Again, I am so sorry. Best of luck to you in this effort. Please let me know how this turns out, so your experiences can help others.


    Susan – Texas: I am a retired federal employee and am not allowed to receive any of my Social Security retirement benefits that I earned prior to my federal employment. However, this does not prevent me from continuing to be hit with higher Medicare premiums. First, I had a higher premium, because I did not (nor was I able to) have my Medicare premiums automatically deducted from my non-existent Social Security payments. Now, I am getting a second round of Medicare increases, because I still am not subject to these “hold harmless” rules. Am I understanding these rules correctly, and is there anything I can do about what seems to me to be really unfair treatment?

    Phil Moeller: Social Security’s Windfall Elimination Provision does reduce Social Security benefits for people with government pensions, but it cannot completely eliminate them. If you are being told you are entitled to no Social Security, either something else is going on or someone at Social Security has made a mistake.

    READ MORE: Is it worth keeping Medicare if I’m covered by my new employer?

    As for your rising Medicare premiums, I agree with you on moral grounds that you should be as protected from these increases as are people who received Social Security and thus benefit from the hold harmless rule if their Medicare premiums are paid out of their Social Security benefits.

    A Social Security spokeswoman said she was not aware of any comparable protection for someone in your position. She suggested you reach out to someone in the federal Office of Personnel Management to ask if there is anything they can do for you.

    I’m sorry I don’t have better news.


    Neil – California: My wife turns 65 in November this year. She is collecting Social Security already. We are covered by a good medical plan with an HSA [health savings account] at her work. Since she is already collecting Social Security, I want to be careful and not start Medicare until she is no longer working, so that we remain eligible for HSA contributions as long as possible. We are estimating she’ll work through age 67. What is the most certain way of opting out of Medicare until we need it — given that receiving Social Security makes enrollment in Medicare seem automatic?

    Phil Moeller: If your wife is already collecting Social Security, she must by law also receive Part A of Medicare. And if she is receiving Part A of Medicare, she cannot continue to make tax-exempt contributions to an HSA. Perhaps her employer is not aware of this rule, but now, unfortunately, you are!

    As for Medicare, so long as you have group health coverage from an employer plan and the primary member (in this case your wife) is still actively employed, you do not need to get Medicare just because you turn 65.


    Tony – Texas: My wife and I have sole conservatorship of a 9-year-old grandson and have raised him 100 percent since he was 14 months’ old. My full retirement benefit at age 66 this July is $2,440. Normally, I would not claim benefits until age 70, but I have been looking at your analysis of the combined family maximum. I do not know the exact number of my wife’s earned benefits, but I would think it is at least $1,000. I would think this would permit us to get more than $3,000 in benefits for our grandson. Otherwise, he would qualify for only half of my $2,440. It would be great to put all of this into a college fund for him until he turns 18 and can no longer claim this benefit. Do you agree that we don’t have a limit on the benefits? Also, will the Social Security office give us a benefits letter that assures they would pay us these benefits before I give up my right to delayed Social Security benefits for myself?

    Phil Moeller: The combined family maximum doesn’t really apply in your situation. It comes into play where multiple claimants are involved. In the case of your grandson, he can make a claim against either you or your wife’s earnings record, but cannot collect on both at the same time. Normally, the agency will award him the benefit linked to the person entitled to the highest benefit to maximize the child’s payment.

    So, your grandson’s benefit would be half of your age-66 benefit, and claiming it would not exceed your individual family maximum.

    The trade-off calculation is to figure out what would happen if you delayed your filing until age 70. Your $2,440 age-66 benefit would then become roughly $3,220 a month — an increase of 32 percent, or $780 a month.

    You would lose four years of child benefits as well as four years of your own benefit. At age 70, your son’s benefit would still be only $2,440 a month. But you would have that extra $780 to spend on his education or your other needs for the rest of your life.

    In practice, I’d probably file at 66 and sock away enough money to fund much if not all of his college expenses.


    Helen: My husband is 71 and filed for benefits early at about 63. I just turned 65. Neither my husband nor I am in great health, so I decided to collect benefits at 65. My goal is to still find a job and suspend my benefits, so that I could grow them until at least reaching my full retirement age. Under the new Social Security rules, what are my options?

    Phil Moeller: You can keep collecting your retirement benefits. If you found a job, you have the choice of withdrawing your benefits within 12 months of beginning them. If you did this, you’d have to repay all the benefits you’ve received to date. Doing so would wipe the slate clean for you, and Social Security would regard you as having never filed. In this way, you could retain your right to the highest-possible benefit when you turned 70.

    If you did this, the new rules would allow you to file a restricted application when you turn 66 (your full retirement age) for just your spousal benefit. This right has been ended for anyone younger than 62 as of the beginning of 2016, but was grandfathered for older persons, and this group includes you.

    READ MORE: Can I work and still collect my late husband’s Social Security benefits?

    By filing a restricted application, you would be able to delay filing for your own retirement benefits until as late as age 70 and would thus earn four years’ worth of delayed retirement credits worth 8 percent each year you delayed.

    Because you filed for your own retirement benefit before reaching your full retirement age, you were “deemed” under Social Security rules to be simultaneously filing for any other benefits for which you are eligible. This would include your spousal benefit. When this happens, Social Security will look at the two benefits and pay you an amount that is roughly equal to the greater of the two. In your case, I’m guessing that’s your retirement benefit.

    Because you’ve already filed for both benefits, you cannot file a restricted application when you turn 66. The only way to regain this right is to withdraw your benefits, repay them and get what amounts to a do-over.

    However, at your full retirement age, you can suspend your benefits until as late as age 70. Doing so would allow you to earn delayed retirement credits on your retirement benefits and thus increase them. Of course, you would forego all benefits during the period they were suspended.

    I know this process can be confusing and daunting, but you do have options. Best of luck!

    The post What to expect from the major changes coming to popular Medigap plans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (R) shakes the hand of his daughter Ivanka (L) at an official ribbon cutting ceremony and opening news conference at the new Trump International Hotel in Washington U.S., October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron - RTX2QL1Q

    Donald Trump shakes the hand of his daughter, Ivanka, at Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. in October 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Gary Cameron

    WASHINGTON — Ivanka Trump is officially joining her father’s administration as an unpaid employee, after her plans to serve in a more informal capacity were questioned by ethics experts.

    The first daughter announced Wednesday that she will serve as an unpaid employee in the White House, saying she had “heard the concerns some have with my advising the President in my personal capacity.” She added that she has been “working in good faith with the White House Counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.”

    The news about Ivanka Trump was first reported by The New York Times. A White House official said her title will be Assistant to the President.

    In a statement, the White House said it was “pleased that Ivanka Trump has chosen to take this step in her unprecedented role as First Daughter and in support of the President. ”

    Trump previously announced she was getting a West Wing office and a security clearance, but would not officially join the administration. That decision had drawn criticism from ethics experts.

    READ MORE: With Ivanka Trump, the role of first daughter may evolve

    Several attorneys and government watchdog leaders last week wrote a letter to White House counsel Don McGahn asking him to reconsider his approval of Ivanka Trump serving her father without becoming an official government employee. Such a designation carries with it the requirement to follow an array of transparency and ethical provisions, including a law prohibiting conflicts of interest.

    Trump had said she’d voluntarily follow such provisions.

    Norman Eisen, who was President Barack Obama’s ethics counselor, was among those who signed the letter. He said that “for a change in what has largely been an ethics disaster, the White House came to their senses. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be an isolated moment of sanity.”

    Fred Wertheimer, president of the government watchdog group Democracy 21 and a co-writer of the letter to McGahn, said he commended Ivanka Trump for formalizing her status. “Democracy 21 praises Ms. Trump for her decision, which recognizes that it would have been wrong for her to function as a White House employee and not be subject to the same rules that apply to other White House employees,” he said in a statement.

    Ivanka Trump’s attorney Jamie Gorelick said she will file the financial disclosures required of federal employees and will be bound by official ethics rules.

    “Ivanka’s decision reflects both her commitment to compliance with federal ethics standards and her openness to opposing points of view,” Gorelick said.

    Trump had already sought to distance herself from her business interests.

    She continues to own her brand. But she has handed daily management to the company president and has set up a trust to provide further oversight. The business cannot make deals with any foreign state, and the trustees will confer with Gorelick over any new agreements. Ivanka Trump will also be able to veto proposed new transactions.

    With the Trump Organization, Ivanka Trump has stepped down from a leadership role and will receive fixed payments rather than a share of the profits.

    The post Ivanka Trump to become official White House employee appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Sherri (C) and Curtis Walker (R) go over retirement options with Calpers Benefit Program Specialist Lisa Bacon (L) at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California, October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker (UNITED STATES BUSINESS) - RTXPWPQ Related words: seniors, retirement, Social Security, planner, older

    The Senate has sent to President Donald Trump legislation to scrap a regulation encouraging cities and counties to set up retirement savings plans for some private-sector workers. The White House has said Trump will sign the resolution into law. Photo by Max Whittaker/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Senate has sent to President Donald Trump legislation to scrap a regulation encouraging cities and counties to set up retirement savings plans for some private-sector workers.

    The White House has said Trump will sign the resolution into law.

    The measure passed 50-49 Thursday would reverse a 2016 rule under President Barack Obama’s administration that protected employers from requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA. Republicans who control Congress say the policy forced some employers to enroll in “risky” government-run IRAs and reduced competition. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was the sole Republican to vote against the measure.

    But Democrats and groups such as the AARP have said the rule had extended the option of creating retirement accounts to millions more Americans who can’t afford it otherwise.

    The post Senate passes reversal of Obama-era retirement savings rule for cities, counties appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    A leading opponent was the head of the Freedom Caucus — Rep. Mark Meadows. In Meadows' North Carolina district, 77-year-old Hendersonville retiree Don Lee said he voted for Trump to "bring Republicans together," but added that the president "needed to take some more time with this bill and try to find some unity." Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    A leading opponent was the head of the Freedom Caucus — Rep. Mark Meadows. In Meadows’ North Carolina district, 77-year-old Hendersonville retiree Don Lee said he voted for Trump to “bring Republicans together,” but added that the president “needed to take some more time with this bill and try to find some unity.” Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    BUCKNER, Kentucky — One of the House Republican rebels, Kentucky Rep. Tom Massie, wasn’t just “no” on the GOP health care bill to replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Massie was “hell no.”

    That won over Mary Broecker, president of the Oldham County Republican Women’s Club and a strong proponent of a full-blown repeal of the 2010 law.

    “When he came out against this bill, I thought, ‘I trust him so this must be the right way,'” the 76-year-old retired teacher said of Massie this week as she sat at a coffee shop near her LaGrange home.

    Defying President Donald Trump on the seven-year Republican Party promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare” sounds like political suicide, especially in the congressional districts Trump won handily. Yet in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Iowa in the bitter aftermath of the GOP’s epic failure, Republicans who blocked the legislation have won praise from constituents for stopping what many saw as a flawed plan, either in the legislation’s substance or strategy.

    Trump initially faulted Democrats for rejecting the bill, but on several occasions since then, including Thursday morning, he lashed out at the hardline conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus.

    “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Trump tweeted.

    Conservatives opposed the bill because it didn’t go far enough in getting the government out of health care while moderates worried that tens of millions of Americans might be left without insurance. Trump’s famed deal-making and power of persuasion faltered with his own party, a remarkable turn at a time when the GOP controls the White House, Senate and House.

    Nationwide, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Wednesday found that 62 percent disapprove of the way Trump is handling health care, his worst rating among seven issues the poll tested, including the economy, foreign policy and immigration.

    The same poll found negative views of five of the six changes Republicans envisioned for the bill, including allowing insurers to charge older customers higher premiums than is now allowed, reduced funds for Medicaid and denying federal dollars to Planned Parenthood.

    Yet the same voters who backed their local lawmaker for opposing the bill showed patience with Trump.

    “I think he’s going to be a great president,” Broecker said. “I think he’ll figure it out.”

    In the districts of the bill’s foes, Republican voters and activists faulted Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Some argue he was too willing to accept pieces of “Obamacare.”

    “We’ve been hearing repeal-and-replace for seven years and finally we get control, and they say, let’s just kind of fix it,” said 31-year-old Justin Wasson of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who runs a small business. “We gave them everything. Now, I want this thing gutted.”

    Shea Cox, a 21-year-old computer science major from Shelbyville, Tennessee, said the bill failed because Ryan rushed what Cox called a “complete hack job” that “looked almost exactly like “Obamacare” with a couple of things taken out.” That’s why he was happy to see Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais oppose it.

    With midterm elections coming next year, Wasson said he planned to vote again for his congressman, Rep. Rod Blum of Dubuque — a sentiment echoed by other voters whose representatives opposed the bill.

    Gary French, a minister from Buckner in Massie’s district, said it was a “piece-meal” bill and his representative was right in opposing it. “The issue’s not dead, they’ll return to it. Absolutely. I think they’re going to have to do what the constituents want,” he said.

    Kelly Stanger of Lowell, Michigan, argued that conservatives were prevented from contributing to the bill, and said she’d vote again for Rep. Justin Amash who opposed it.

    “He has no problem taking heat,” the 50-year-old cafe waitress said. “I don’t think just because you belong to a party that you have to agree.”

    She said she voted for Trump because “there needed to be change,” adding, “It’s not going to be easy.”

    The failure of the health bill in the House may have spared a couple GOP senators a tough vote as the legislation grew increasingly unpopular with the public. The two most vulnerable GOP senators in next year’s midterms, Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, both represent states with large populations of older voters who would have been disproportionately impacted by higher premiums under the bill.

    Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, far from dwelling on the bill’s defeat or weighing plans to revive it, quickly moved on to other issues. The House bill had already divided GOP senators and would have required major changes to pass.

    A leading opponent was the head of the Freedom Caucus — Rep. Mark Meadows. In Meadows’ North Carolina district, 77-year-old Hendersonville retiree Don Lee said he voted for Trump to “bring Republicans together,” but added that the president “needed to take some more time with this bill and try to find some unity.”

    House members, not Trump, need to prove commitment to the issue, said Cedar Rapids Republican Brett Mason, who wishes Blum would have backed the bill.

    “The president went up to Capitol Hill on this,” the 58-year-old information technology strategist said. “The onus is now on them to frame up a bill and put it on his desk.”

    Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. AP reporters Sheila Burke in Shelbyville, Tennessee, Chris Ehrmann in Ionia, Michigan, Jeffrey Collins in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.

    The post Republican foes of health care bill win praise in districts appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Alex Acosta, President Donald Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Labor, greets Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as he arrives for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. March 22, 2017.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RTX326VM

    Alex Acosta, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Labor, greets Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) as he arrives for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill on March 22, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Florida law school dean Alexander Acosta has moved a step closer to becoming President Donald Trump’s secretary of labor.

    A Senate panel on Thursday voted along party lines, 12-11, to advance Acosta’s nomination to all 100 members of the chamber for a confirmation vote. There was no immediate word on when the Senate would hold that vote or whether Democrats will stand in the way.

    Acosta’s path to confirmation has been much smoother than the one traveled — and abandoned — by Trump’s first choice for the Cabinet post. Fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration after majority Republicans balked at questions about his personal and professional life. Puzder had acknowledged employing a housekeeper not authorized to work in the United States.

    The post Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice for labor secretary, advances to full Senate vote appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTX21G33

    U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says she supports the Trump administration’s request to increase the government’s borrowing limit. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi says she supports the Trump administration’s request to increase the government’s borrowing limit.

    The increase was requested by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in two letters to Congress earlier this month.

    Pelosi said she and fellow Democrats would support increasing the debt ceiling so long as it would be a “clean” increase that would be free of GOP add-ons.

    Treasury reset the debt ceiling at $19.8 trillion this month and Mnuchin has begun employing accounting gimmicks to permit the government to avoid defaulting on obligations such as interest payments, Social Security benefits and other payments.

    The government has never defaulted on the debt and policymakers and investors say any default could cause severe consequences for the economy.

    The post Pelosi backs Trump administration on debt ceiling increase appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks  about the American Health Care Act during a visit to the Harshaw-Trane Parts and Distribution Center in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., March 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Bryan Woolston - RTX30LSP

    Senate Republicans on Thursday needed Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie on legislation to reverse an Obama administration rule protecting funds for Planned Parenthood and other family planning providers. Photo by Bryan Woolston/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Republican legislation letting states deny federal family planning money to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers squeezed narrowly through the Senate Thursday, rescued by an ailing GOP senator who returned to the Capitol after back surgery and a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

    In Congress’ latest clash mixing the politics of abortion, women’s health and states’ rights, Pence cast the decisive vote in a 51-50 roll call. The tally had been tied after two GOP senators, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, joined Democrats opposing the measure.

    Senate approval sent the legislation to President Donald Trump, who was expected to sign it. The House voted its consent last month.

    The bill erases a regulation imposed by former President Barack Obama shortly before he left office that lets states deny family planning funds to organizations only if they are incapable of providing those services. Some states have passed laws in recent years denying the money to groups that provide abortions.

    Passage gives Republicans and anti-abortion groups a needed victory just six days after the party’s highly touted health care overhaul disintegrated in the House due to GOP divisions. Besides erasing much of Obama’s 2010 health care law, the failed House bill would have blocked federal funds for Planned Parenthood for a year.

    There is already a ban on using federal funds for abortion except for rare instances.

    Democrats assailed the legislation as an attack on women, two months after Trump’s inauguration prompted a women’s march on Washington that mushroomed into anti-Trump demonstrations around the nation.

    “While Trumpcare was dealt a significant blow last week, it is clear that the terrible ideas that underpin it live on with Republicans in Congress,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., using a nickname for the failed House health care bill. Murray, among a stream of Democratic women senators who spoke, called the Senate measure “shameful” and “dangerous.”

    Republicans said the measure would give states more freedom to decide how to spend family planning funds. States would be free to divert money now going to groups that provide abortion to other organizations that don’t, like community health centers.

    “It substituted Washington’s judgment for the needs of real people,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of Obama’s rule.

    With Republicans holding 52-48 control of the Senate, the Collins and Murkowski defections could have derailed the bill because Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., has been absent since Feb. 20, when he had spinal surgery.

    He had a second operation March 15 and has been recuperating in Georgia under doctor’s orders. But he got permission to return to Washington for one day, his office said, and he did so using a walker.

    “We didn’t know at the time what it would be but it turned out to be the vice president’s tie-breaker,” Isakson told reporters after an earlier procedural vote.

    The federal family planning program was created 1970 and in 2015 served 4 million clients at nearly 4,000 clinics. Most of the money is for providing services like contraceptives, family planning counseling, breast and cervical cancer screening and sexually transmitted disease prevention. It has a $286 million federal budget this year.

    Most recipients are women, and two-thirds have incomes at or below the federal poverty level, around $12,000 for an individual. Six in 10 say the program’s services are their only or most frequent source of health care.

    Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, mocked Pence.

    “Mike Pence went from yesterday’s forum on empowering women to today leading a group of male politicians in a vote to take away access to birth control and cancer screenings,” she said.

    The Congressional Review Act has lets lawmakers undo regulations enacted in the last months of the Obama administration with a majority vote. Congress has already used the law to eliminate Obama regulations that strengthened protections for streams near coal-mining operations and prevented some people with mental disorders from gun purchases.

    Under the Constitution, the vice president casts tie breaking votes. Pence broke his first tie on the nomination of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

    READ MORE: States push to protect birth control despite failed GOP health care bill

    The post Pence casts decisive vote for bill that lets states block some Planned Parenthood money appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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