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

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    The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: After fits, starts and failure, Republicans in Congress are aiming for a new amendment to win over enough votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

    We get two takes now on this latest legislative back-and-forth from both sides of the aisle.

    We start with Representative Mark Sanford, Republican from South Carolina.

    Congressman Sanford, thank you very much for joining us.

    So, you opposed the first version of Obamacare replacement back in March. I believe your argument was that it left too much of the original Obamacare in place. You apparently have come around now to this new version. Why?

    REP. MARK SANFORD, R-S.C.: It, in essence, split things. It left open the possibility of federalism, which is to say, we have historically had a patchwork of different states and different remedies.

    Our founding fathers were so intent on this idea of letting states try different things that they built it in, though we had a population of about four million people when our country started. So, I think what it does is, it allows Vermont to go to a single-payer system if Vermont wants to do so, and South Carolina can go to a more market-based system, if it chose to do so.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you know, I’m sure, that today Congressman Fred Upton and others worked on an amendment, a proposal to further change this new version that would add more money to cover those people with so-called preexisting conditions.

    Are you confident, from what you know, though, that this is going to guarantee everybody with preexisting conditions coverage?

    REP. MARK SANFORD: Built into the base bill is this issue of guarantee issue, so that you cannot be denied based on a preexisting condition.

    The question all along has been, if a state opted out and they chose to, again, make alterations on that front, which this bill does allow, what happens to them? And that’s why it’s been important that this issue of a risk pool, as Maine has done, was built into the bill. There is about $130 billion built into the bill to that very effect.

    And what has been talked about here in the 11th hour is an additional $8 billion based on Fred Upton and a couple of other folks’ insistence, that a little bit more money be built in as a cushion on this front. But you’re talking over $100 billion being built into the high-risk pool to cover somebody in the event that a state opted out of this issue of not preexisting condition, but the idea of somebody being able to be charged more based on a preexisting condition.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: I know this can get really complicated, and I’m going to try to keep my question as basic as possible.

    Congressman, I’m sure you know the American Medical Association has come out today saying they are still opposed. They are worried that millions of people are going to be left out with preexisting conditions. The AARP, retired persons association, says they’re still opposed. And the American Cancer Society says they have taken a look at this, and they say every bit of history for anything that looks anything like this high-risk pool arrangement that Congressman Upton has included is going to be unaffordable, is still going to leave too many people out.

    So, they can’t support it either.

    REP. MARK SANFORD: Well, one, I would expect them to say that as advocates. And that is what they’re supposed to do.

    I think that what we’re trying to include is that vast unspoken group out there that maybe hadn’t gotten the degree of media coverage, small business people across the state of South Carolina or other states in this country that have been really struggling with the limitation of coverage and the increase in premiums.

    In South Carolina last year, premiums went up by about 30 percent. And so what we’re trying to do is to let insurance be insurance for the preponderance of folks that are in the individual marketplace that have seen their premiums rise dramatically, while, at the same time, covering folks that indeed have a preexisting condition or have been — seen the consequence of a horrendous accident.

    And I think that that’s what this bill does. It tries to cover both. It does so imperfectly, as any bill would, but I think it’s the best that we are going to be able to see out of this House at this particular moment in time.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You are saying it does so imperfectly. The doubters out there are saying it still leaves too many people with preexisting conditions who can’t afford coverage uncovered and people — people who would then be in a vulnerable position not able to access health care.

    REP. MARK SANFORD: What I would say to that is, that was not the experience of what we saw in Maine. And I would ask people to look at the risk pool that took place in Maine and the degree of coverage that it afforded people indeed with preexisting conditions, while simultaneously bringing down the rate of premium for, again, those small business folks that don’t have, again, the kind of health challenges that we see there in the risk pool in Maine, or, frankly, other states.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman, is it the government’s responsibility to make sure everybody has health care coverage?

    REP. MARK SANFORD: I think that that’s a debate that will be ongoing.

    I think that — you know, I guess part and parcel to any open and free society is this debate between freedom on one side and security on the other. And I think that there is a vital tension between those two. So even if this bill makes its way to the Senate and passes there, even if it comes back and is signed by the president, based on the conference report that got signed off on in this House, even that happens, this is a debate that is going to be ongoing, because I think that that tension between security and freedom is one that fits in this debate, as it does in so many others here on Capitol Hill.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressman Mark Sanford, we thank you very much.

    REP. MARK SANFORD: My pleasure. Thank you.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: And now, for a Democrat’s perspective, we are joined by Representative Kathy Castor of Florida.

    Congresswoman Castor, I think you were able to hear what Congressman Sanford is saying.

    Do you believe that what the Republicans appear to be coming together on does now cover enough Americans?

    REP. KATHY CASTOR, D-Fla.: No.

    And the next 24 hours are going to be very important for families all across the country that are concerned about their health coverage, because what we know about the Republican bill is that it will rip coverage away from millions of Americans, raise costs, impose a huge age tax on our neighbors who are 50, 55, and older, and not yet in Medicare.

    And then it weakens the life of the Medicare trust fund, just at a time we have more baby boomers retiring and going into Medicare. But here’s the kicker for the vote that could come up in the next 24 hours, is the bill has gotten even worse.

    To round up the votes of the Tea Party Caucus, Speaker Ryan and the White House agreed to go to the heart of the Affordable Care Act, which was a guarantee that no American could be discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition, like cancer or diabetes.


    REP. KATHY CASTOR: So, apparently, this is going to be a close vote tomorrow. The phones are ringing off the hook all across the Capitol, because families understand what is at risk, higher costs and a fundamental return to the bad old days where insurance companies could charge you anything.

    And if you had a preexisting condition, it was very difficult to get coverage.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you about what Congressman Sanford just said. He said there are examples — he kept citing the state of Maine — where they have created these so-called high-risk pools that allow money to be put into one pool that people who can’t afford coverage, who have preexisting conditions would be able to access that and get coverage.

    REP. KATHY CASTOR: Well, it’s very inefficient and very costly.

    And this so-called Upton amendment that has been floated today to provide $8 billion to states that go that direction is — would be wholly inadequate. And, in fact, in my home state of Florida, we have tried high-risk pools in the past, and the state never stepped up to their responsibility to fund them.

    The feds here, I would be very skeptical that, under a Republican Congress and this White House, they would say, yes, it’s important to provide billions of dollars for that.

    At the same time, remember, under this bill, they decimate Medicaid services. Those are the services for our neighbors suffering from Alzheimer’s that need nursing care, and children, and the disabled. So it’s very difficult to see how this is going anywhere.

    In fact, you mentioned the opposition from the AMA and the AARP. When you have America’s doctors, America’s nurses, AARP, the American Cancer Society opposed to it, I’m surprised it’s even close right now.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. At the same time, Congresswoman, you know elections have consequences. Republicans control the House. They control the Senate. They obviously control the White House now.

    What the Republicans are looking at putting before the House for a vote now has made accommodations toward the Democrats. It does preserve some of Obamacare, unlike what the most conservative members of the House want.

    Doesn’t there have to be some sort of compromise? And are Democrats not willing to move at all on your own, as Republicans have been willing to do?

    REP. KATHY CASTOR: No, the Republican bill goes to the heart of the Affordable Care Act repeal now.

    They could make that argument before, before they were talking about gutting the protection for preexisting conditions and essential health benefits.

    I mean, what good is an insurance policy if you buy it and you can’t go to the emergency room and be covered? But, yes, Democrats, we’re willing to work on the high cost of pharmaceuticals. I would really like to get to the heart of the matter of how we encourage greater competition in areas of the country that do not have competition.

    There are a lot of great ideas, and, hopefully, this will — this new repeal effort will fail tomorrow, and we can get down to brass tacks, to improving what works and fixing what doesn’t.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re prepared with the idea that it may pass, that the Republicans may now have enough votes among themselves to get this through the House?

    REP. KATHY CASTOR: Boy, they’re really trying to ram it through. The White House and Speaker Ryan have really been twisting arms. That’s what I’m hearing from my colleagues here in the Capitol.

    But we have the American people on our side, in addition to America’s doctors, nurses, so many advocates. But this next 24 hours will be critical. And there’s no other issue that touches every American family, every small business owner. So, this is critical. And time is of the essence.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re absolutely right about it touching everybody.

    Congresswoman Kathy Castor, thank you very much.

    REP. KATHY CASTOR: Thank you.

    The post Lawmakers debate whether GOP health bill solves its pre-existing condition problem appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    JUDY WOODRUFF: A tense time today for the man who runs the Federal Bureau of Investigation. James Comey spent hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee rejecting criticism that he has mishandled investigations of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

    Lisa Desjardins has the story.

    JAMES COMEY, FBI Director: I have lived my entire career by the tradition of that, if you can possibly avoid it, you avoid any action in the run-up to an election that might have an impact, whether it’s a dogcatcher election or president of the United States.

    LISA DESJARDINS: But, today, FBI Director James Comey faced the charges that he did impact the 2016 presidential election, when he sent this letter to Congress on October 28, 11 days before Election Day, revealing new steps in an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices.

    SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.: I have one question, and I view it as a most important question.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein asked today why he broke normal FBI protocol.

    JAMES COMEY: I could see two doors, and they were both actions. One was labeled speak, and the other was labeled conceal. Look, this was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we have had some impact on the election. But, honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.

    Everybody who disagrees with me has to come back to October 28 with me, and stare at this and tell me what you would do.

    SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: You took an enormous gamble. The gamble was that there was something there that would invalidate her candidacy, and there wasn’t.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Democrats also pointed out that Comey had been silent at the time about the ongoing investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia. He argued there was a difference, that he had previously told Congress the Clinton probe was closed and he needed to reverse that.

    And he insisted to Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono that he was impartial:

    JAMES COMEY: I wasn’t thinking of what effect it might have on a political campaign.

    SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, D-Hawaii: I find that hard to believe that you didn’t contemplate that there would be political ramifications to your comments. And I’m just wondering why…

    JAMES COMEY: I knew there would be ramifications. I just tried not to care about them.

    LISA DESJARDINS: Texas Republican John Cornyn defended Comey and pointed back at Clinton.

    SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: You are not the one who made the decision to handle classified information on a private e-mail server.

    LISA DESJARDINS: The hearing was full of other news as well. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pressed Comey on Russia.

    SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Is it fair to say that the Russian government is still involved in American politics?

    JAMES COMEY: Yes, well, certainly, in my view, the greatest threat of any nation on Earth, given their intention and their capability.

    LISA DESJARDINS: And on issues of privacy, Comey said encryption has blocked the FBI from getting data off devices in nearly half its cases.

    JAMES COMEY: None of us want backdoors. We don’t want access to devices built in, in some way. What we want to work with manufacturers on is to figure out, how can we accommodate both interests in a sensible way?

    LISA DESJARDINS: One more hot topic? President Trump’s proposed ban on immigrants from some Muslim countries.

    Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy:

    SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.: Does that make America less safe?

    JAMES COMEY: Senator, thank you.

    I’m not going to comment on the particular statement, but I do agree that a perception or reality of hostility towards any community, but in this — particularly the Muslim American community, makes our jobs harder.

    LISA DESJARDINS: As for his own job, Comey’s 10-year term runs out in 2023.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins at the U.S. Capitol.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved a compromise bill to fund the government through September. That’s the end of this fiscal year. It totals $1.1 trillion, and it includes an increase in defense spending, but it ignores several other of President Trump’s priorities, including money for a border wall.

    Leaders on both sides praised the rare example of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats.

    REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: This is a bipartisan piece of legislation. And so each side doesn’t get everything they want, but we are able to come together and find a package that advances many of our important goals.

    REP. STENY HOYER, D-Md., Minority Whip: Democratic members’ participation is absolutely essential if we’re going to pass fiscal bills and appropriation bills. And I’m glad that the Republican leadership and negotiators came to that conclusion and worked with us to advance this omnibus to the floor.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The legislation now heads to the Senate for approval before this week is out.

    A revised Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare gained key endorsements in the House today. Moderate Republican Fred Upton and conservative Billy Long said they will support the bill. They spoke after meeting with President Trump on their amendment to help cover people with preexisting conditions.

    REP. FRED UPTON, R-Mich.: He said that this bill would be just as strong on preexisting illnesses as Obamacare. I want him to keep that pledge. This amendment allows that to happen, and cover those that otherwise might have been excluded.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The amendment adds $8 billion to the bill over five years. Leaders of the House conservative Freedom Caucus endorsed the proposal, and said that the vast majority of their members will support it. But as of the time we went on the air, no vote has been scheduled.

    In Eastern Missouri, another wave of heavy rain is adding to a flood emergency that’s already claimed five lives. The swollen Meramec River neared an all-time high in suburban Saint Louis today, damaging 200 homes and threatening some 1,500 more. Parts of two interstate highways are also underwater, and a section of the Mississippi River is closed.

    The U.S. Justice Department confirmed today it will not charge two white policemen in the killing of a black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Cell phone video from last July showed Alton Sterling pinned, but struggling. One officer yelled that he was reaching for a gun, and then he shot him.

    In Baton Rouge today, U.S. attorney Corey Amundson said there are no solid grounds for a civil rights violation.

    COREY AMUNDSON, Acting U.S. Attorney: After an exhaustive, almost year-long investigation, all of the prosecutors and agents involved in this case have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to charge either officer with a federal crime in connection with this incident.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The attorney general of Louisiana says that he will now investigate whether state criminal charges should be filed against the officers.

    North Korea confirmed today that it has detained another American citizen. State TV said that Kim Sang Dok, an instructor at Pyongyang University, was picked up on last month. He is accused of acts aimed at overthrowing the government. Kim is now one of three Americans being held by the North.

    President Trump’s America-first policy means that human rights will not determine U.S. relations with foreign governments. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took that message to his employees today. He said that, in some cases — quote — “If you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, it really does create obstacles.”

    President Trump hosted Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas today, and vowed to try to make peace in the Middle East. The White House meeting was their first, and over lunch in the Cabinet Room, Mr. Trump said there’s a very good chance of getting a peace deal.

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s a — something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years. But we need two willing parties. We believe Israel is willing. We believe you’re willing. And if you both are willing, we’re going to make a deal.

    JUDY WOODRUFF: The president met with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in February.

    Former President Obama’s foundation has unveiled the plans for his presidential library and civic center. The site would cover 225,000 square feet along Lake Michigan, on Chicago’s South Side. It includes a tower-like museum, and other buildings, and it’s expected to cost at least $500 million.

    Wall Street made little headway today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained eight points to close near 20958. The Nasdaq fell almost 23 points, and the S&P 500 gave up three.

    And Boston baseball fans are trying to make amends to an opposing player who faced racist taunts. Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles spoke out after Monday’s game with the Red Sox. Last night, Jones got an extended standing ovation when he came to the plate at Fenway Park for his first at-bat. The two teams play again tonight.

    Still to come on the NewsHour: the latest push by Republicans to win support for a replacement to Obamacare; in South Sudan, rape used as a weapon of war; a free press under threat worldwide; and much more.

    After fits, starts and failure, Republicans in Congress are aiming for a new amendment to win over enough votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

    The post News Wrap: Comey defends his impartiality on Clinton, Trump probes appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Marchers head down a side street during the women's march and rally in downtown D.C. on Saturday, January 21, 2017. Photo by Abbey Oldham.

    Several hundred thousand people showed up for the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, January 21, 2017. Photo by Abbey Oldham.

    Ten days before President Donald Trump took the oath of office, Hillary Shields and about 30 other progressive activists showed up to a small public meeting in Missouri to confront Sen. Roy Blunt. The group peppered Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, with questions about the future of the Affordable Care Act and other Obama-era policies the incoming administration seemed poised to undo.

    “We took pictures, live tweeted and just started trying to get the message out there that people are upset and Congress needed to listen,” Shields recalled in a recent interview. The pictures made their way to Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC.

    Shields, like many other Americans on the left, were shocked by Trump’s victory last November. After the election, the 32-year-old paralegal from Kansas City, Missouri, founded the Kansas City chapter of Indivisible, a liberal grassroots political group dedicated to opposing Trump’s policies. Now, Shields is leading the chapter in a burst of local activism aimed at stymieing Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress.

    READ MORE: What have we learned from President Trump’s first 100 days?

    In the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, a legion of new progressive groups like Indivisible, Swing Left and Daily Action have sprung up around the country.

    Trump came into office promising to enact a bold conservative agenda. As he reached the informal marker of his early presidency, he pointed to wins like the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and executive orders that undo a lot of ‘damage’ from the previous administration. But so far many of the 10 legislative goals Trump outlined as a candidate for his first 100 days in office — a wide-ranging list that included repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and securing money to build a physical wall on the Southern border — have been blocked or stalled in Congress and the courts.

    “We’ve seen the least productive presidency in modern history,” Ezra Levin, Indivisible’s executive director, said in a phone interview.

    While Trump has blamed Democrats, the media and conservatives in Congress for coming up short on some of his goals, Levin credited Trump’s failures to advance his agenda to an “amazing demonstration of constituent power.”

    That’s hard to prove, but whether or not it’s true, it’s clear that the left feels energized under Trump. And now, as Trump is moving forward from this informal early mark of his presidency, activists are working to ensure their efforts to resist his agenda are sustainable.

    As Trump is moving forward from this informal early mark of his presidency, activists are working to ensure their efforts to resist his agenda are sustainable.

    In less than six months, Levin says his group has grown to more than 6,000 local chapters in every congressional district. Everyday citizens, like Shields in Kansas City, are mobilizing tens of thousands of activists to show up at town halls, marches, and make coordinated calls to their representatives.

    “In January, we hoped six months from then someone would email us and say ‘We used your guide to ask a question at a town hall,’” Levin said. “We’ve been overwhelmed in the most positive way.”

    In a new report to be released this week, the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund cited Indivisible as an example of the left’s success in forming communities and taking meaningful actions to resist the Trump administration.

    “Millions of Americans who had not previously engaged in the political process” have been motivated to “hold political meetings in their living rooms, and march in the streets of equality and justice,” the group wrote in a memo titled the “State of Resistance.”

    The group’s campaign director, Emily Tisch Sussman, said the organization has restructured itself to best “support and grow the resistance.”

    READ MORE: Is socialism in the United States having a moment?

    Democrats, struggling with their identity in the aftermath of November’s loss, are trying to better position the party for 2018. The Democratic National Committee, hoping to attract a younger, broader base of voters, elected former Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to lead the group; Perez and Sen. Bernie Sanders traveled the country during Congress’ spring break on a ‘unity tour’ to rally support for the party. But Tisch Sussman said that focusing on “local parties and the grassroots are more important” to actually rebuilding the party.

    For example, when House Republicans were on the verge of voting to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in March, Tisch Sussman said her team was in communication with various grassroots groups, sending them the latest whip count and sharing data on how the new bill would affect people in different congressional districts.

    “Public pressure is one of the most effective tactics [to oppose] this administration,” Tisch Sussman said.

    PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 25: Bernie Sanders supporters prepare to march through downtown on the first day of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on July 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention is expected to attract thousands of protesters, members of the media and Democratic delegates to the City of Brotherly Love. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

    Bernie Sanders supporters protest in Philadelphia. “Public pressure is one of the most effective tactics [to oppose] this administration,” Tisch Sussman says. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

    Members of another group, Daily Action, flooded U.S. Customs and Border Protection with 21,000 calls in February opposing Trump’s initial executive order on immigration, which included a temporary travel ban on visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

    John Burton, Daily Action’s political director, said that approximately 270,000 people have signed up for the group’s daily text alert, which sends out a reminder to place a call to members of Congress protesting legislation, executive orders and other moves by Republicans in Washington. Burton said 160,000 people have made at least one call.

    Forty thousand calls — the most for any single issue — were made to oppose White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s inclusion on the National Security Council. Trump later removed Bannon from the NSC. But the White House did not cite the calls opposing Bannon’s seat on the NSC as a reason for his removal, making it hard to gauge how much impact — if any — liberal groups had on the final decision.

    “Public pressure is one of the most effective tactics [to oppose] this administration.” – Emily Tisch Sussman, campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

    “If you asked me in January how you sustain [the opposition to Trump], I’d say we have to find wins,” Levin said. “Every day we delay the administration, we win.”

    But while Trump has suffered some early setbacks, the administration is still forging ahead on a number of policy fronts, a sign that the left’s early claims of success might be premature.

    The president has signed numerous executive orders rolling back regulations put in place by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama. While the travel ban portion of his immigration order is stalled in courts, other parts of Trump’s immigration agenda are moving forward.

    READ MORE: How one liberal group is trying to help Democrats win back the House in 2018

    Tisch Sussman, of the Center for American Progress, acknowledged that the Trump administration “has been extremely effective on immigration through executive orders.”

    In April, the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, handing conservatives a major victory. And Republicans still control both chambers of Congress, with a large majority in the House and a favorable map in the Senate in the 2018 midterm elections.

    Levin and other activists on the left hope to avoid burnout in the coming months and years.

    “We went 150 percent for the past four months and it’s been an odd combination of exhilarating and exhausting,” said Shields, the organizer in Kansas City. Still, Shields said she doesn’t plan on letting up. “I’m upset about a lot of policy,” Shields said. “But I’m really glad that the massive pushback is” happening.

    The post Can the left’s grassroots activists curb Trump’s influence? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during a news conference on the American Health Care Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

    U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that House Republicans have enough votes to repeal major portions of the Affordable Care Act. File photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The House will vote Thursday on the GOP’s long-sought legislation to repeal and replace portions of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Republican leaders announced on Wednesday. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy confidently predicted success after a day of wrangling votes and personal arm-twisting by President Donald Trump.

    After an earlier failure when Republican leaders were forced to pull the bill for lack of votes, the decision to move forward indicated confidence on the part of GOP leaders. A successful outcome would be the culmination of seven years’ worth of promises by Republicans to undo Obama’s signature legislative achievement, but could also expose House Republicans to political blowback by endorsing a bill that boots millions off the insurance rolls.

    And there’s no guarantee that the bill, if passed by the House on Thursday, will actually become law. First the Senate must work its will, and the House legislation has generated significant opposition in the upper chamber. Nonetheless, victory in the House would provide some vindication of the GOP’s ability to govern in Republican-controlled Washington, and provide a long-sought win for Trump, who has been in office more than 100 days without a significant congressional victory save Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court justice.

    As he announced the vote would go forward, McCarthy was asked if leaders were confident they had the votes and he replied: “Yes.”

    The announcement Wednesday evening came at the end of a day when House Republican leaders and Trump intensified their already fierce lobbying to save the long-promised legislation, agreeing to changes that brought two pivotal Republicans back on board.

    Democrats stood firmly united against the health bill. But they generally applauded a separate $1 trillion-plus spending measure to keep the government running, which passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 309-118.

    On the health care front, Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Billy Long of Missouri emerged from a White House meeting with Trump saying they could now support the bill, thanks to the addition of $8 billion over five years to help people with pre-existing conditions.

    “Today we’re here announcing that with this addition that we brought to the president and sold him on in over an hour meeting in here with him, that we’re both yeses on the bill,” Long told reporters. The potential defections of Upton and Long over the previous 48 hours had emerged as a possible death knell for the bill, and with it seven years’ worth of GOP campaign promises to repeal and replace Democrat Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

    “‘We need you, we need you, we need you,'” Long described as the message from Trump.

    The latest iteration of the GOP bill would let states escape a requirement under Obama’s law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. Overall, the legislation would cut the Medicaid program for the poor, eliminate Obama’s fines for people who don’t buy insurance and provide generally skimpier subsidies. The American Medical Association, AARP and other consumer and medical groups are opposed. The AMA issued a statement saying Upton’s changes “tinker at the edges without remedying the fundamental failing of the bill – that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance as a direct result.”

    If the GOP bill became law, congressional analysts estimate that 24 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026, including 14 million by next year. Even if the GOP secures a win in the House, the Senate is expected to change the bill.

    Separately, on the spending bill to keep the government running, Trump and GOP leaders hailed it as a victory, citing increases in money for the military. But Trump himself has undermined that message by complaining over Twitter about the need for Democratic votes on the bill and suggesting that a “good ‘shutdown'” might be in order.

    Some Republicans were not on-message either about the $1.1 trillion spending bill, the bipartisan result of weeks of negotiations in which top Democrats like Pelosi successfully blocked Trump’s most controversial proposals, including a down payment on his oft-promised Mexico border wall, cuts to popular domestic programs, and new punishments for so-called sanctuary cities.

    “From my point of view, we pretty well got our clock cleaned,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

    Democratic votes were needed to pass the measure even though Republicans control both the White House and Congress, which made Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer powerful participants in the talks. That resulted in bipartisan outcomes like $407 million to combat Western wildfires and a $2 billion increase for medical research at the National Institutes of Health. Schumer has crowed over the outcome in a series of interviews, seemingly irking the White House.

    Now that it’s passed the House, the mammoth, 1,665-page measure to fund the government through September heads to the Senate, which is also expected to approve it. Despite his complaints, Trump has promised to sign it.

    When the health bill does come to a vote Thursday it will be without an updated analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office about its cost and impacts, a point Democrats complained about bitterly.

    And even with Upton and Long in the “yes” column, GOP leaders spent the day hunting for votes among wary moderates. More than a dozen opponents — including Kentucky’s Tom Massie, New Jersey’s Chris Smith and Leonard Lance and Pennsylvania’s Patrick Meehan — said they were still no despite the changes. GOP leaders can lose only 22 from their ranks and still pass the bill, and an Associated Press tally found 19 opposed.

    Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed.

    The post House to vote on health care bill Thursday appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order during a roundtable discussion with farmers at the White House in Washington, U.S. April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

    U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order during a roundtable discussion with farmers at the White House in Washington, U.S. April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order further weakening already-sparse enforcement of an IRS rule threatening the loss of tax-exempt status for religious organizations that endorse political candidates.

    The order, which also affects non-profits, promises “regulatory relief” for groups with religious objections to the preventive services requirement in the Affordable Care Act, according to a White House official. Those requirements include covering birth control and the move could apply to religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have moral objections to paying for contraception.

    Trump will sign the order as he marks the National Day of Prayer at the White House Thursday.

    Trump will sign the order as he marks the National Day of Prayer at the White House Thursday. He was hosting members of his evangelical advisory board and planned to meet Roman Catholic leaders in the Oval Office before signing the order.

    The White House did not release the full text of the order, and it was not clear just how the pledges stated within the order would be carried out. The order, which essentially would make it even less likely that a religious organization would lose its tax-exempt status because of a political endorsement, fall short of what religious conservatives expected from Trump, who won overwhelming support from evangelicals by promising to “protect Christianity” and religious freedom.

    Ralph Reed, a longtime evangelical leader and founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, said he was briefed by White House officials about the text of the executive order. Reed called the provisions an excellent first step in the Trump administration’s plans for protecting religious freedom.

    “This administratively removes the threat of harassment.”

    Reed said he was “thrilled” by the language on the IRS restrictions on partisan political activity. “This administratively removes the threat of harassment,” Reed said in a phone interview. “That is a really big deal.” He said the language in the order related to the preventive care mandate will “ensure that as long as Donald Trump is president, that something like the Little Sisters of the Poor case will never happen again.”

    Sister Loraine McGuire with Little Sisters of the Poor speaks to the media after Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    Sister Loraine McGuire with Little Sisters of the Poor speaks to the media after Zubik v. Burwell, an appeal brought by Christian groups demanding full exemption from the requirement to provide insurance covering contraception under the Affordable Care Act, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    Still, Mark Silk, a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut who writes extensively on religious freedom, called the planned actions as described by the White House as “very weak tea,” especially compared to the draft religious freedom executive order that leaked earlier this year, That document contained sweeping provisions on conscience protection for faith-based ministries, schools and federal workers across an array of agencies. “It’s gestural as far as I can tell,” Silk said. “It seems like a whimper.”

    Trump has long pledged to protect religious freedom. He promised to “totally destroy” the law prohibiting the political activities, known as the Johnson Amendment, when he spoke in February at the National Prayer Breakfast, a high-profile Washington event with faith leaders, politicians and dignitaries. Fully abolishing the regulation would take an act of Congress, but Trump can direct the IRS not to enforce the prohibitions.

    The White House official, who sought anonymity to speak despite the president’s criticism of anonymous sources, told reporters Wednesday night that the order will direct the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” over the rule.

    Fully abolishing the regulation would take an act of Congress, but Trump can direct the IRS not to enforce the prohibitions.

    The regulation, named for then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, was put into force in 1954 and prohibited partisan political activity for churches and other tax-exempt organizations. The policy still allows a wide range of advocacy on political issues, but in the case of houses of worship, it bars electioneering and outright political endorsements from the pulpit. The rule has rarely been enforced.

    The IRS does not make public its investigations in such cases, but only one church is known to have lost its tax-exempt status as a result of the prohibition. The Church at Pierce Creek in Conklin, New York, was penalized for taking out newspaper ads telling Christians they could not vote for Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election. Even so, some religious leaders have argued the rule has a chilling effect on free speech, and have advocated for years for repeal.

    While Trump’s action on the Johnson Amendment aims to please religious conservatives, some oppose any action that would weaken the policy.

    In a February survey of evangelical leaders conducted by the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents churches from about 40 denominations, 89 percent said pastors should not endorse political candidates from the pulpit. Nearly 100 clergy and faith leaders from across a range of denominations sent a letter last month to congressional leaders urging them to uphold the regulation. They said the IRS rule protects houses of worship and religious groups from political pressure.

    Easing political activity rules for churches also raises questions about whether churches could be pulled into the campaign finance sphere and effectively become “dark money” committees that play partisan politics without disclosing donors.

    The order’s health care provision could apply to groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who run more than two dozen nursing homes for impoverished seniors, and have moral objections to paying the birth control costs of women in their health plans. The Obama administration created a buffer meant to shield those groups, but they said it didn’t go far enough. They continued to press their case in the courts. Last year, the Supreme Court asked lower courts to take another look at the issue.

    The post Trump to ease tax rules so religious groups may endorse political candidates appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    WASHINGTON — In a startling turnabout, Republicans say they are ready to push their prized health care bill through the House and claim a victory for President Donald Trump, six weeks after nearly leaving it for dead and days after support from GOP moderates seemed to crumble anew.

    House leaders planned a vote Thursday on the legislation, revamped since collapsing in March to attract most hard line conservatives and some GOP centrists. In a final tweak, leaders were adding a modest pool of money to help people with pre-existing medical conditions afford coverage, a concern that caused a near-fatal rebellion among Republicans in recent days.

    “We will pass this bill,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., predicted late Wednesday.

    “We will pass this bill.”

    The bitter health care battle dominated the Capitol even as Congress prepared to give final approval to a bipartisan $1 trillion measure financing federal agencies through September.

    The House passed that legislation Wednesday 309-118, and Senate passage seemed certain as early as Thursday. That would head off a weekend federal shutdown that both parties preferred to avoid —especially Republicans controlling the White House and Congress.

    READ MORE: Did Obamacare help or hurt you?

    The health care vote was scheduled after the White House and congressional leaders barraged rank-and-file holdouts with pressure in recent days. A wafer-thin margin seemed likely, thanks to opposition expected from every Democrat and more than a dozen Republicans plus lobbying against the bill by the AARP seniors organization, doctors, hospitals and patients’ groups.

    Just Tuesday, The Associated Press had counted 21 Republicans saying they would oppose the bill — one short of the 22 defections that would kill it if all Democrats voted no. Many others were undecided.

    House approval would edge Republicans closer to repealing much of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which would represent at least partial redemption of campaign pledges by GOP candidates — including Trump — since its enactment in 2010.

    Passage would also send it to an uncertain fate in the Senate, where some Republicans consider the House measure too harsh. Polls have shown Obama’s much-maligned law has actually gained in popularity as the debate over a replacement health care program has accelerated.

    “House Republicans are going to tattoo this moral monstrosity to their foreheads, and the American people will hold them accountable,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif..

    The bill would eliminate tax penalties Obama’s law which has clamped down on people who don’t buy coverage and it erases tax increases in the Affordable Care Act on higher-earning people and the health industry. It cuts the Medicaid program for low-income people and lets states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. It transforms Obama’s subsidies for millions buying insurance — largely based on people’s incomes and premium costs — into tax credits that rise with consumers’ ages.

    The measure would retain Obama’s requirement that family policies cover grown children until age 26.

    But states could get federal waivers freeing insurers from other Obama coverage requirements. With waivers, insurers could charge people with pre-existing illnesses far higher rates than healthy customers, boost prices for older consumers to whatever they wish and ignore the mandate that they cover specified services like pregnancy care.

    The bill would block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, considered a triumph by many anti-abortion Republicans.

    Obama’s overhaul has extended health insurance to around 20 million Americans. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in March that the GOP bill would end coverage for 24 million people over a decade. That office also said the bill’s subsidies would be less generous for many, especially lower-earning and older people not yet 65 and qualifying for Medicare.

    READ MORE: 24 million could lose insurance under GOP health care plan, new report says

    A CBO estimate for the cost of latest version of their bill will not be ready before the House conducts its vote.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pulled the plug on a March 24 vote as conservatives opposed the bill for not fully repealing Obama’s law and GOP moderates considered its cuts too severe.

    That was a jarring setback for Trump and Ryan. But leaders gradually rebuilt support.

    Conservatives were won over by provisions establishing the coverage waivers crafted by Reps. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the hard line House Freedom Caucus.

    Earlier this week, moderates objected that constituents with pre-existing conditions could effectively be denied coverage by insurers charging them exorbitant premiums. At least a dozen of them said Wednesday they would oppose the legislation, including GOP Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a moderate leader, Leonard Lance of New Jersey and New York’s Dan Donovan.

    But GOP leaders seemed to win over a raft of wavering lawmakers after another tweak by moderate Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Billy Long, R-Mo.

    That added $8 billion over five years for state high-risk pools, aimed at helping seriously ill people pay expensive premiums. That was on top of $130 billion already in the bill for states to help customers, though critics said those amounts were insufficient.

    Associated Press reporters Alan Fram and Erica Werner wrote this report.

    The post Watch Live: Congress votes on health care bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Period-costumed actor of General Robert E. Lee leaves after the surrender during the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Court House National Historic Park in Appomattox, Virginia, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jay Paul

    Period-costumed actor of General Robert E. Lee leaves after the surrender during the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Court House National Historic Park in Appomattox, Virginia, April 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jay Paul

    APPOMATTOX COURT HOUSE, Va. — When two generals signed papers here 152 years ago bringing the Civil War to a close, they ended the bid by 11 Southern states to secede from the Union. And that, most believed, was that.

    Yet ever since the South’s Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to the North’s Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, groups across the United States have advocated seceding from the country, their own states, or in a few cases, their cities. Recently, these efforts have ranged from fairly large, ongoing campaigns in Texas and California to smaller pushes in Oklahoma, Maine, Utah, West Virginia and New York’s Long Island, among others.

    Just last month, a longshot effort to allow Californians to vote on seceding fell apart after one of the founders dropped out amid criticism of his ties to Russia. But a new group pushing secession has vowed to collect the nearly 600,000 signatures required by July to put the measure on the November 2018 ballot.

    Last May, the Texas Nationalist Movement came within two votes of adding Texas independence language to the state’s Republican platform. And in Oklahoma, Republican state Sen. Joseph Silk in January introduced a bill to remove the word “inseparable” from the sentence in the state constitution describing Oklahoma as “an inseparable part of the Federal Union.”

    The move for independence, whether it’s from the right of the political spectrum as in Texas, or the left as in California, reflects the political division felt across the country, said Edward Meisse, a supporter of the Yes California secession group that just disbanded. “We have two diametrically opposed philosophies in our country, and we’re just not getting anywhere,” he said. “I think we should allow states to secede so California can be California and Texas can be Texas.”

    Nationwide, interest in seceding is fairly strong. An online survey by Reuters in 2014 found that nearly one in four Americans want their state to secede. The desire was highest — 34 percent — in the Southwest, which includes Texas.

    In some areas of the country there is no organized effort to split from the U.S., just a feeling that “we’ve been left behind and no one cares about us,” said Dwayne Yancey, editorial page editor of The Roanoke Times who in March wrote what he called a “tongue in cheek” editorial, “Should Southwest Virginia secede from the rest of Virginia?”

    Despite the heightened interest in secession, many lawyers and constitutional scholars say it’s legally impossible for a state to secede because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t address the issue, and has no provision to allow it.

    “Historically we have felt left out, and a number of those issues are coming to a head,” Yancey said. Southwest Virginia is mostly rural, white and poor. Coal mining has declined dramatically, although the city of Roanoke has had a stable economy with Virginia Tech University and other employers, he said. Yet, the feeling is that the state Legislature in Richmond is “not doing right by us here.”

    Despite the heightened interest in secession, many lawyers and constitutional scholars say it’s legally impossible for a state to secede because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t address the issue, and has no provision to allow it.

    The U.S. Supreme Court declared in an 1869 case, Texas vs. White, that the United States is “an indestructible union.” And the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a 2006 letter that “if there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”

    Yet some lawyers, historians and secession groups argue that Article 10 of the Constitution gives states the right to decide many issues which are not in the power of the federal government. And despite the legal obstacles, the desire for self-rule and separation from others with different political, social or moral views remains strong among some groups.

    Being part of a secession movement is “about being a part of the group as it circles around its sacred values and marks out what is good and what is evil,” said Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist and professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business who has written about the moral differences between liberals and conservatives. “Joining a secession movement is an act of both self-expression and group expression,” he said.

    Why Secede?
    One of the first secession movements arose in New England, prompted by the War of 1812. A trade embargo against England had hurt New England’s economy, and a convention was held to discuss secession. Victory in that war put a halt to the movement.

    Secession movements have sprung up sporadically ever since. But the election in 2008 of the first African-American president, Barack Obama, set off a spate of efforts to secede, some of which were tied to white supremacist movements.

    In Texas, which was an independent republic between 1836 and 1846, there have long been groups interested in seceding from the U.S. But the Texas Nationalist Movement, which supports a statewide referendum to settle the question, grew dramatically during Obama’s presidency, said Daniel Miller, head of the Texas Nationalist Movement.

    In California, the election of Donald Trump as president has fueled secession efforts.

    “We had 11,000 [signatures] before Trump, then that jumped to 30,000 in a day, then to 45,000,” said Marcus Ruiz Evans, co-founder of Yes California. “People joined because they hate Trump, but we’ve always said, ‘This isn’t about Trump. This is about a country that would elect him.’ A racist, a misogynist? Those are people you want to associate with?”

    The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a 2006 letter that “if there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede.”

    A second group in California led by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper supported an effort to break California into six states. But supporters weren’t able to collect enough signatures to put it on the November 2016 ballot.

    Brexit, the U.K.’s vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union, has heartened some U.S. secessionists, many of whom also support Scotland’s efforts to separate from the U.K. Draper’s group is working with Brexit supporter Nigel Farage of the U.K. to figure out a new strategy for splitting California into six states.

    Texas and California secession groups argue that their state economies are large enough to stand alone, and that they pay more in taxes to the federal government than they get in services in return.

    There’s no doubt that some secession groups are pro-white, anti-immigrant and racist, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies hate groups nationwide. In 2000, it named the League of the South, formed in 1994, as a hate group. Since 2014, the LOS has funded a billboard campaign in Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas with one big hashtag: #SECEDE.

    Neither the former Yes California nor the Texas Nationalist Movement is on the SPLC’s list of hate groups, but the center says that “neo-Confederates,” who in many cases are openly secessionist, favor segregation and suggest white supremacy.

    Could a State Pull Out?
    Groups in Texas and California argue, in part, that because their states were once independent, they can be independent again. (A group of northern Californians claimed independence from Mexico for 25 days in 1846.)

    But the U.S. Constitution doesn’t address the issue of secession. It neither gives states the right to secede nor denies it, says Gary Gallagher, director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History and professor of history at the University of Virginia.

    Brexit, the U.K.’s vote in June 2016 to leave the European Union, has heartened some U.S. secessionists.

    He and other legal scholars also point to the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1869. That case stemmed from Texas’ sale of U.S. government bonds during the Civil War, to help fund the Confederacy. When Texas rejoined the U.S. after the war, it argued the bonds had been sold illegally and wanted its money back.

    The court ruled against Texas, declaring that Texas had “entered an indissoluble relation” when it joined the U.S., and that the country itself is a “perpetual union.”

    Miller, who heads the Texas Nationalist Movement, sees it another way.

    “If I had a nickel for every time someone says the Constitution doesn’t give your state the right, I’d be rich. It means that the Constitution is silent on the issue,” he said, referring to the right to secede. “So the fact that the Constitution doesn’t talk about it doesn’t eliminate it. It just means we have to turn to the court.”

    Craig Lerner, professor of law at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, disagrees. “We had a war over secession once, and that war seems to validate Lincoln’s view that a state can’t secede without the consent of all the states.”

    Lerner agrees that Texas is a bit different because it used to be an independent state. But since Texas became a part of the United States in 1845, it lost that freedom to separate, he said.

    Why do groups like the Texas Nationalist Movement persevere?

    “The idea that people say that things will never happen, that this is some kind of pipe dream, well, I’m pretty sure that was the feeling of the British when they wanted to get out of the E.U.,” Miller said.

    “Ever since the end of World War I, people have been seeking self-determination,” he said. “Look at Scotland. It never got a vote, but after 800 years, it gets two.” That, he believes, could happen for Texas.

    Perhaps. But for now and the foreseeable future, only one flag flies at Appomattox Court House in Virginia: The U.S. flag.

    The post Should Texas secede? Why breaking up is hard to do appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up April 18 as he boards Air Force One upon departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

    President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up April 18 as he boards Air Force One upon departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip will include stops in Israel, the Vatican and Saudi Arabia before visits to NATO and a summit in Italy.

    Trump is expected to take his first overseas trip as president later this month with the multi-stop tour, two White House officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement later Thursday.

    The announcement follows Trump’s meeting on Wednesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Trump’s vows to mediate peace between Israel and Palestine. Trump also met with Catholic cardinals earlier Thursday ahead of his trip to the Vatican.

    The White House had said previously that Trump would travel to Belgium and Italy for the G7 summit before Memorial Day.

    The trips were first reported by Politico.

    The post Trump to go to Israel, Vatican and Saudi Arabia during first foreign trip appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Britain's Queen Elizabeth leaves with Prince Philip after a service of thanksgiving for her 90th birthday at St Paul's Cathedral in London, Britain, June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

    Britain’s Queen Elizabeth leaves with Prince Philip after a service of thanksgiving for her 90th birthday at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Britain, June 10, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

    Prince Philip, the 95-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II, will retire from his royal duties this year.

    Buckingham Palace announced Thursday that the Duke of Edinburgh decided he will no longer attend public engagements after August. He will still appear at previously scheduled engagements until then, but he “will not be accepting new invitations for visits and engagements,” the palace said. The prince may still choose to attend certain public events from time to time, however.

    Philip has suffered several ailments and has been hospitalized in recent years. In 2011, he was treated for a blocked heart artery.

    At an event Thursday in London, a guest told the duke he was sorry to hear he was standing down.

    “I can’t stand up much,” said Philip, who has been known for making off-the-cuff remarks.

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth addresses both Houses of Parliament, next to her husband Prince Philip at Westminster Hall in London March 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jack Hill/POOL

    Britain’s Queen Elizabeth addresses both Houses of Parliament, next to her husband Prince Philip at Westminster Hall in London March 20, 2012. REUTERS/Jack Hill/POOL

    The duke has been involved in a number of charities and organizations over the years. In 1956, he founded the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which recognizes youth achievement and operates in more than 140 countries. He is also a member or president of nearly 800 organizations, many of which focus on scientific and technological research. He will continue to be associated with them but will not longer play an active role.

    Prime Minister Theresa May thanked the duke Thursday for his years of service to the United Kingdom.

    “From his steadfast support for Her Majesty the Queen to his inspirational Duke of Edinburgh Awards and his patronage of hundreds of charities and good causes, his contribution to our United Kingdom, the commonwealth and the wider world will be of huge benefit to us all for years to come,” May said in a statement.

    Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh view the restored bed-chamber at the Maritime Museum in London, in this May 1, 1990 file photo. The Queen reopened the Queen's house at the Museum which has recently been refurbished at a cost of five million pounds sterling. REUTERS/Mike Parsson

    Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh view the restored bed-chamber at the Maritime Museum in London, in this May 1, 1990 file photo. The Queen reopened the Queen’s house at the Museum which has recently been refurbished at a cost of five million pounds sterling. REUTERS/Mike Parsson

    Queen Elizabeth, who turned 91 last month, fully supported Prince Philip’s decision, Buckingham Palace said. She is expected to continue to carry out her official engagements.

    The two married in 1947 and will celebrate their 70th anniversary this November.

    The post Britain’s Prince Philip to stop making public appearances appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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     A U.S. visa appears inside of a U.K. passport. Photo by Getty Images

    A U.S. visa appears inside of a U.K. passport. Photo by Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The State Department wants to review social media, email addresses and phone numbers from some foreigners seeking U.S. visas. It’s part of the Trump administration’s enhanced screening of potential immigrants and visitors.

    The department is seeking public comment on the requirement. But it’s also requesting White House budget office approval so the plan can take effect for 180 days, beginning May 18.

    People would have to provide five years of social media handles and 15 years of travel and work history, as well as the names and dates of birth of all siblings, children and current and former spouses or partners.

    The U.S. wouldn’t seek social media passwords.

    The rules would apply to foreigners identified for extra scrutiny, such as those who’ve traveled to areas controlled by terrorist organizations.

    The post U.S. to seek social media details from certain visa applicants appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan smiles as he departs a meeting at the U.S. Capitol before a vote to repeal Obamacare in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RTS155KH

    Speaker of the House Paul Ryan smiles as he departs a meeting at the U.S. Capitol before a vote to repeal Obamacare in Washington, D.C., on, May 4, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    House Republicans are slated to vote Thursday on their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The floor vote is the culmination of weeks of negotiation within the House GOP caucus to bring reluctant members on board. In March, Republican leaders canceled a vote on a version of the bill after failing to secure enough support from conservative and moderate members alike.

    But now GOP leaders say they’re confident the bill will pass. Supporters say it would cut federal health care spending, improve care and offer patients more choice. Opponents say it would gut a law that has expanded coverage to millions of people. Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would cause 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance by 2026.

    Here’s a look at what’s inside the bill, including two recent amendments added at the last minute to help get it over the finish line:

    Eliminates Affordable Care Act subsidies

    The bill would repeal the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The subsidies are based on income and regional differences in health insurance costs. Roughly 83 percent of the 12.7 million people who get their healthcare insurance through the Obamacare exchanges receive subsidies that help pay for the coverage, according to the latest federal data. Currently, individuals earning under $47,500 and families of four making under $97,200 are eligible for subsidies under the law. The House bill would eliminate those subsidies beginning in 2020.

    Ends cost-sharing subsidies for co-pays and deductibles

    The bill would also eliminate a separate set of subsidies under Obamacare that help cover the out-of-pocket health care costs for individuals earning under $30,000 per year. This would also kick in in 2020.

    Creates age-based tax credits

    In place of the subsidies, the bill would create tax credits, based on age, to help cover health care costs. The credits would start at $2,000 for people in their 20s, and go up to $4,000 for people in their 60s. Individuals earning over $215,000 and families making more than $290,000 would not be eligible to receive the credits, which would start in 2020.

    Waivers for pre-existing conditions and essential benefits

    The bill would allow states to seek waivers from two important provisions in Obamacare: A rule that requires insurance companies to offer essential benefits in their plans; and a provision that bars insurers from charging people with pre-existing conditions more money than healthy people.

    Insurance companies under Obamacare are required to cover essential benefits, including preventative care, mental health care, maternity care, hospitalization and prescription drug costs, among other services. Under the House bill, insurers could sell plans that don’t include those services.

    Insurers could also charge higher rates for people with pre-existing conditions if they lose their coverage. But states would be required to provide protections, like “high-risk” pools, to help offset the extra cost. (While the bill would weaken the protections for people with pre-existing conditions, it leaves in place another popular part of Obamacare: a requirement that allows children up to the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans).

    Includes High-risk funding

    The bill includes $130 billion in assistance for sick people who would see their premiums rise. The funding would help cover out-of-pocket costs, preventative services, maternity care, mental health, and other services. The bill would also include an additional $8 billion in funding for high-risk pools over five years, thanks to an amendment drafted by Republican Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Billy Long (R-Mo.) that was added to the bill on Wednesday. A separate amendment by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), which was added to the bill last week, would give states greater flexibility in seeking waivers from Obamacare’s pre-existing conditions requirement.

    U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) speaks to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 3, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTS14ZQO

    Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) speaks to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House on May 3, 2017. The GOP bill included an amendment by Upton and Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) that provided additional funding for high-risk pools. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    Eliminates coverage mandates

    The bill would repeal an Obamacare care mandate that all Americans have health insurance, or pay a tax. The bill would also eliminate a requirement that large employers — with 50 or more workers — offer health insurance. Both of these changes are retroactive to 2016, meaning they would go into effect immediately.

    Coverage lapse charge

    The bill would replace the individual and employer mandates with a new provision that would let insurance companies raise premiums by 30 percent for anyone who goes without health coverage for 63 days. Insurers could levy this continuous care surcharge for one year.

    Overhauls Medicaid funding

    The House bill would transform Medicaid’s funding formula. Medicaid is an income-based program funded by the federal government and states. The bill would create a per-capita cap on federal Medicaid spending, by giving states a set amount of funding for each person enrolled in the program. States could also choose to receive a block grant, which would provide a fixed amount of Medicaid funding that wouldn’t change based on the number of people enrolled.

    Ends Medicaid expansion

    The bill would also end the Medicaid expansion put in place under Obamacare, which offered additional federal funding to states that enrolled more people in the program. The provision would take effect starting in 2020, meaning that states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare would stop receiving the extra federal funding at the end of 2019. States that opted out of the expansion would become immediately ineligible to receive the enhanced federal match.

    Eliminates tax cuts for the rich

    The law would repeal two taxes that were included in Obamacare to help pay for the overall expansion of health coverage to middle and lower-income Americans. The first is a 0.9 percent Medicare payroll tax; the second is a 3.8 percent tax on investment income. Both taxes apply to individuals earning more than $200,000 per year, and married couples who file their tax returns jointly and make more than $250,000 per year. The combined cuts would give $274 billion to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. The bill would also repeal Obamacare taxes on health insurance companies, medical device makers, and drug companies.

    Increases contribution limits for Health Savings Accounts

    The bill would increase the annual amount of money that individuals and families can contribute to their Health Savings Accounts, known as HSAs. The new contribution limits for individuals would be $6,550, and $13,100 for families. (The current limit is $3,400 for individuals, and $6,750 for families). The bill would also lower the tax penalty for people who use money from their HSAs to pay for non-medical expenses. The penalty would be 10 percent, down from the current level of 20 percent. The changes to the HSA contribution limits and the tax penalty would take effect in 2018.

    The post What’s in the House GOP health care bill? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump spoke following the House passage of the Americana Health Care Act. Video by PBS NewsHour.

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is celebrating the passage of the House Republican health care bill, saying he is confident it will get through the Senate.

    Flanked by Republican lawmakers in the Rose Garden on Thursday, Trump called President Barack Obama’s health care law a “catastrophe” and called the GOP bill “a great plan.”

    Trump delayed his first trip home to New York as president to celebrate House passage of legislation undoing much of former President Barack Obama’s health law, a long-sought GOP goal and top Trump campaign promise.

    House leaders came through with the votes to give Trump a major political victory more than a month after Republicans’ first attempt to pass a health care bill went down in a humiliating defeat. The legislation now heads to the Senate.

    The developments pushed back Trump’s first-time meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by several hours. The leaders also were to speak at a New York dinner commemorating the 75th anniversary of an important World War II battle.

    Not everyone in heavily Democratic New York was happy about the Republican president’s visit, his first since he left in January to be sworn in as president. Multiple protests were planned.

    President Donald Trump (C) gathers with Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved the American Healthcare Act, to repeal major parts of Obamacare and replace it with the Republican healthcare plan, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

    Trump and Turnbull were expected to discuss North Korea’s missile testing and security and economic issues, as well as Turnbull’s deal with Obama for the United States to resettle up to 1,250 mostly Muslim refugees from Africa, the Mideast and Asia who are housed in immigration camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

    The agreement was a source of friction when Trump and Turnbull spoke by telephone shortly after Trump took office Jan. 20. The conversation made headlines, and Trump later tweeted about the “dumb deal.” But Vice President Mike Pence assured Turnbull during a visit to Australia last month that the Trump administration will honor the deal, but “that doesn’t mean we admire the agreement.”

    Trump campaigned against immigration, including by Muslims, and was enraged by the agreement.

    The ties between the U.S. and Australia were reinforced during the Battle of the Coral Sea, when both countries’ warships and fighter planes battled the Japanese from May 4-8, 1942, forcing the Japanese navy to retreat for the first time in the war.

    Trump and Turnbull were set to mark the 75th anniversary of that battle with speeches at a dinner aboard the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that fought in World War II.

    Manhattan is where Trump made a name by transforming himself from real-estate developer into a celebrity businessman and now president. He hasn’t set foot in the city since leaving on Jan. 19 for Washington to be inaugurated into office the following day.

    In the presidential race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump received 18 percent of the vote in the liberal city. Protests were planned near the USS Intrepid and Trump Tower, his Fifth Avenue home.

    During the campaign, Trump would fly thousands of miles back to New York City to sleep in his own bed, leaving the impression that he would make frequent trips home after he became president. But Trump said in an interview last week that he so far has avoided returning to the city of his birth because the trips are expensive for the government and would inconvenience New Yorkers.

    His revised schedule was to take him straight from a waterside heliport to the Intrepid, docked on the Hudson River and relatively isolated from the rest of the city. The elimination of the stop in Midtown for the original Turnbull meeting seemed likely to prevent many protesters from ever getting a look at the president or his motorcade.

    Trump has received some criticism for spending about half of his weekends as president at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate. Trump’s wife, Melania, and son, Barron, live at Trump Tower most of the time while the 11-year-old finishes the school year.

    The president was not expected to spend the night there, though he could drop in before going to his golf club an hour away in Bedminister, New Jersey. Trump last visited the New Jersey club during the presidential transition.

    Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this report.

    READ MORE: Did Obamacare help or hurt you?

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    Votes in Congress, even when dramatic, generally sound boring. A gavel falls, members mumble.

    But the sound of the House of Representatives voting today on the American Health Care Act is a fascinating exception. Photos are not permitted, so NewsHour stood next to the open chamber door and recorded audio.

    It was a long story told in one minute of impromptu reaction by the world’s most powerful people. As you’ll hear, the final call for votes is issued. Then you’ll hear Democrats loudly respond, mocking Republicans — for whom this was a close vote and do-over — with “Are you sure?” among other taunts. The gavel falls and Republicans let out a cheer of relief that had been building for eight years. The cheers die and Democrats started standing and waving. And then singing: “Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey hey hey. Goodbye.”

    For one party, a victory their base would love. For the other party, a vote they believe Republicans will regret in the next election.

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    The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The Senate has delivered to President Donald Trump the first significant legislation of his presidency, a bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill that would keep the government running through September — putting off, for now, battles over Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall and his promised military buildup.

    The lopsided, 79-18 Senate vote sends the huge bill to the White House in plenty of time to avert a midnight Friday shutdown deadline.

    Negotiators on the bill dropped Trump’s demands for a down payment on his oft-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but his signature would buy five months of funding stability while lawmakers argue over the wall and over Trump’s demands for a huge military buildup matched by cuts to popular domestic programs and foreign aid accounts.

    The House passed the measure Wednesday on a big bipartisan vote, though 103 of the chamber’s conservative Republicans opposed the bill.

    The White House and its GOP allies praised $15 billion in additional Pentagon spending obtained by Trump and $1.5 billion in emergency border security funds but was denied funding to begin construction work on the border wall.

    “After years of an administration that failed to get serious on border security, this bill provides the largest border-security funding increase in a decade,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a key negotiator.

    And Democrats and the pragmatic Republicans who negotiated the bill successfully defended other accounts targeted by Trump such as foreign aid, the Environmental Protection Agency, support for the arts, and economic development grants, among others.

    The sweeping, 1,665-page bill also increases spending for NASA, medical research, and the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.

    READ MORE: Who are the winners and losers in the $1.1 trillion spending bill?

    Democrats also praised the measure as an example of bipartisan cooperation in the handling of the 12 annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government. It reflects bipartisan culture among congressional appropriators, who long ago sorted out many of the spending fights Trump wants to renew this summer — over foreign aid, funding for the arts, Amtrak subsidies, grants to state and local governments, and development agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission.

    “On a bipartisan basis, we rejected President Trump’s ill-considered proposal to slash domestic programs by $15 billion, including deep cuts for NIH and low-income energy assistance. Instead, this bill includes a $2 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health,” said a top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, who called the bill “a good deal for the American people.”

    Trump took to Twitter earlier this week to complain about the bipartisan process that produced the measure but changed course to crow about additional spending for the military and border security. The White House has said he’ll sign the bill.

    One of Trump’s tweets advocated for a “good shutdown” this fall to fix the “mess” that produced the bill, though he appeared at the White House just hours later to boast that it was a big win for him.

    Congress’ first bipartisan deal of the Trump era is a massive spending deal that keeps government running through the fall and boosts funding for the Pentagon and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But to get needed Democratic votes on board, a number of President Trump’s top priorities were cast aside. Lisa Desjardins joins William Brangham for a closer look.

    Congressional Republicans — motivated in great measure by fear of a politically damaging government shutdown — worked closely with minority party Democrats to produce the measure, which made only small changes to most accounts covered by the measure.

    But many rank-and-file Republicans saw the bill as a lost opportunity for a fight that could have produced victories on the wall and punishing “sanctuary” cities that fail to cooperate with immigration authorities.

    “It is a win for Democrats and a loss for conservatives,” said tea party Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va. “We have a Republican in the White House and control of both chambers of Congress yet this legislation fails to include key conservative reforms Republicans have long-advocated.”

    Even supporters of the bill dislike the secretive, closed-door negotiations that produced it and delivered it seven months behind schedule while denying anyone the opportunity to amend it.

    “Is there any member of the United States Senate that has read this?” asked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “And many of us are going to be compelled to vote for it because we don’t want to shut the government down.”

    Meanwhile, retired union coal miners won a $1.3 billion provision to preserve health benefits for more than 22,000 retirees. House Democrats won funding to give the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico $295 million to ease its Medicaid burden.

    WATCH: The biggest spending bill trade-offs for Republicans and Democrats

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    north korea

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un applauds during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang in April. Photo By Damir Sagolj/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Determined to exert greater economic pressure on North Korea, the Republican-led House on Thursday overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang targeting its shipping industry and use of slave labor.

    Lawmakers approved the measure on a 419-1 as tensions continued to mount over North Korea’s advancing nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the top American military officer in the Pacific, has warned lawmakers that it’s a question of when, not if, Pyongyang successfully builds a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S.

    The Senate must take up the measure next.

    The bipartisan legislation is aimed at thwarting North Korea’s ambitions by cutting off access to the cash the regime needs to follow through with its plans. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the committee’s senior Democrat.

    The bill bars ships owned by North Korea or by countries that refuse to comply with U.N. resolutions against it from operating in American waters or docking at U.S. ports. Goods produced by North Korea’s forced labor would be prohibited from entering the United States, according to the legislation.

    Anyone who uses the slave labor that North Korea exports to other countries would be subject to sanctions under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the bill states. At times when the nation is facing unusual or extraordinary threats, the president has wide authority under the law, including the power to block or prohibit transactions involving property located in the U.S.

    Goods produced by North Korean forced labor would be barred from entering the United States, under the bill.

    Royce said companies from Senegal to Qatar to Angola import North Korean workers, who send their salary back to Pyongyang, earning the regime billions of dollars in hard currency each year

    “This is money that Kim Jong-un uses to advance his nuclear and missile program, and also pay his generals, buying their loyalty to his brutal regime,” he said. “That is what the high-level defectors that I meet with say. So let’s squeeze his purse.”

    The bill also requires the Trump administration to determine within 90 days whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a designation would trigger more sanctions, including restriction on U.S. foreign assistance.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the U.N. Security Council that it’s time for “painful” new sanctions to make North Korea give up its nuclear and missile programs. His statement comes amid rising tension between the Trump administration and the Asian nation, and word of a ballistic missile test. Judy Woodruff talks with former State Department officials John Merrill and Balbina Hwang.

    Last weekend, a North Korean midrange ballistic missile apparently failed shortly after launch, the third test-fire failure this month but a clear message of defiance. North Korean ballistic missile tests are banned by the United Nations because they’re seen as part of the North’s push for a nuclear-tipped missile that can hit the U.S. mainland.

    The launch comes as both sides in the escalating crisis are flexing their military muscle. President Donald Trump has sent a nuclear-powered submarine and the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to Korean waters. North Korea last week conducted large-scale, live-fire exercises on its eastern coast.

    The U.S. and South Korea are installing a missile defense system and their two navies are staging joint military drills.

    The missile defense system, known as THAAD, employs six truck-mounted launchers that can fire up to 48 interceptors at incoming missiles detected by the system’s x-band radar.

    READ MORE: North Korea test-fires missile from western region, South Korea says

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    The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    After weeks of will-they-or-won’t-they tensions, the House managed to pass its GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act on Thursday by a razor-thin margin. The vote was 217-213.

    Democrats who lost the battle are still convinced they may win the political war. As the Republicans reached a majority for the bill, Democrats on the House floor began chanting, “Na, na, na, na … Hey, hey, hey … Goodbye.” They claim Republicans could lose their seats for supporting a bill that could cause so much disruption in voters’ health care.

    Now the bill — and the multitude of questions surrounding it — moves across the Capitol to the Senate. And the job doesn’t get any easier. With only a two-vote Republican majority and no likely Democratic support, it would take only three GOP “no” votes to sink the bill.

    Democrats have made clear they will unanimously oppose the bill. “Trumpcare” is just a breathtakingly irresponsible piece of legislation that would endanger the health of tens of millions of Americans and break the bank for millions more,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

    And Republicans in the Senate have their own internal disagreements, too.

    Here are five of the biggest flashpoints that could make trouble for the bill in the upper chamber.


    For the first time, federal funding for low-income people on Medicaid would be limited.

    House leaders correctly point out that their bill represents the biggest changes to the federal-state health program for the poor since its inception in 1965 — a point that appeared to be drowned out during the most recent House debate that focused on coverage for people with preexisting health conditions.

    For the first time, federal funding for low-income people on Medicaid would be limited, resulting in what House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) described at an event sponsored by the conservative National Review as “sending it back to the states, capping its growth rates.” It’s a longtime goal for many conservatives. Said Ryan, “We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around.”

    But it is not a consensus position in the party. Some moderates support the current program, especially for children and people with disabilities. In addition, many GOP governors took the federal government’s offer in the ACA of near-complete federal funding to expand Medicaid to non-disabled, working-age adults, and they are worried about the impact on their residents and their budgets if the expansion goes away and the program’s funding is restricted.

    The House bill, wrote the Republican governors of Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas and Nevada in a letter to House and Senate leaders, “provides almost no new flexibility for states, does not ensure the resources necessary to make sure no one is left out, and shifts significant new costs to states.”

    That pushback has also created doubts in the minds of some GOP senators. Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) are among those who have expressed concerns about the House bill, as has Dean Heller (R-Nev.) It’s not clear if any of the House changes have satisfied those senators.

    Increase In Number Of Uninsured People

    The Congressional Budget Office’s initial estimate that the bill could lead to 24 million more Americans without health insurance within a decade spooked many lawmakers in the upper chamber. “You can’t sugarcoat it,” Cassidy told Fox News when explaining that “it’s an awful score.” The final House bill passed without the score being updated, although most outside analysts said the changes were likely to increase the number who would lose insurance.

    And Democrats have been using those initial numbers to score rhetorical points, even if they lack the votes in either the House or Senate to stop the bill or change it. “The CBO’s estimate makes clear that Trumpcare will cause serious harm to millions of American families,” said Schumer. “Tens of millions will lose their coverage, and millions more, particularly seniors, will have to pay more for health care.”

    Tax Credits

    On one hand, even with the additional $85 billion added by House leaders to help older people pay for their insurance premiums, many moderates feel the age-based tax credits in the bill replacing those in the Affordable Care Act are too small, particularly for people in their 50s and early 60s. The CBO estimated that under the original version of the House bill, premiums for a 64 year-old with an income of $26,000 a year could rise from $1,700 currently to more than $14,000.

    That brought a strong rebuke from the powerful AARP, which was an outspoken ACA supporter. “Although no one believes the current health care system is perfect, this harmful legislation would make health care less secure and less affordable,” said a statement from the group.

    Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she could not support the House bill in its original form because of concerns about the effects on older constituents.

    On the other hand, some conservatives in the Senate are ideologically opposed to offering any tax credits. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have all expressed concerns about the bill being too much like the ACA, with Paul referring to it as “Obamacare Lite.” They worry that the tax credits amount to a new entitlement.

    “For me, it’s a big stumbling block still that there’s taxpayer money that’s being given to insurance companies,” Paul told reporters in late April. “And I’m just not in favor of taxpayer money going to insurance companies.”

    Planned Parenthood

    While cutting funding for Planned Parenthood is overwhelmingly popular in the House, there are a handful of GOP senators … who have said they are likely to oppose a bill carrying this provision.

    As Republicans have been vowing for years, the House-passed bill would defund Planned Parenthood, although only for a year. That’s likely because a permanent defunding would actually cost the federal government more money, according to the CBO, as some women who lose access to birth control would become pregnant, have babies and qualify for Medicaid. Birth control is vastly cheaper than health care for mothers and babies.

    But while cutting funding for Planned Parenthood is overwhelmingly popular in the House, there are a handful of GOP senators, including Collins and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who have said they are likely to oppose a bill carrying this provision.

    Procedural Problems

    The budget process Republicans are using to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, called reconciliation, has very strict rules that require every piece of the bill to be directly related to the federal budget. It will be up to the Senate parliamentarian, a Republican appointee, to make those determinations.

    That’s why the bill does not wipe away all the ACA’s private insurance regulations, including the requirement that insurers not discriminate against customers who have preexisting health conditions.

    Some analysts have suggested that the House amendment sought by conservatives to allow states to waive some of the health law’s regulations might run afoul of Senate’s “Byrd Rule,” which limits what can be included in a budget reconciliation measure.

    “It could be argued that any budgetary effects of the waiver are ‘merely incidental,’” said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in a blog post.

    Even Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who negotiated that amendment that won the backing of conservatives, conceded that it could prove problematic in the upper chamber. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done before we can celebrate and all go home,” he said in an interview outside the House chamber.

    Democrats say it is one of several provisions in the House bill that might not pass parliamentary muster in the Senate.

    For example, analysts have suggested that the GOP replacement for the much-disliked “individual mandate” requiring most people to have insurance or pay a fine might not pass Byrd Rule scrutiny either. That’s because the 30 percent premium penalty people with a lapse in insurance would have to pay under the bill would go to the insurance company, not the federal government, so it would have no budget impact.

    A third potentially problematic element of the original House bill would allow insurers to charge older adults five times more in premiums than younger adults — up from a ratio of 3-to-1 under the Affordable Care Act. That provision could be viewed as not directly affecting federal spending, some analysts predict.

    Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan healthpolicy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente. You can view the original report on its website.

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    In Janesville, Wisconsin, Kayzia Teal, née Whitaker, laughs with her mother Tammy Whiteaker while posing for portraits. After Kayzia’s father was laid off from GM, Kayzia and her twin sister Alyssa helped support the family and pay the bills. Photo by Alyssa Schukar for The Washington Post via Getty Images

    Editor’s Note: In Janesville, Wisconsin, the nation’s oldest operating General Motors assembly plant shut down in the midst of the Great Recession, two days before Christmas of 2008. As many as 9,000 people lost their jobs, and families tumbled out of the middle class in a cascade of disappearing work opportunity across the town of 63,000 and nearby.

    Reporter Amy Goldstein spent nearly six years immersed in Janesville, reporting on the families that live there and the difficulties the community faced in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The result is her new book, “Janesville: An American Story.”  In the following excerpt, we meet Kayzia Whiteaker, a high school student at Parker High, who, along with her twin sister, is helping her parents pay the bills after her father lost his job at GM. A social studies teacher named Deri Wahlert notices students such as Kayzia falling out of the middle class and creates  “the Parker Closet,” a place for teenagers — who have never before needed help — to pick up donated food and toiletries, items their families can no longer afford.

    Read the excerpt below, and for more on the topic, tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e report, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour.

    AP Psychology is Kayzia Whiteaker’s seventh-period class, her last of the day. At 3:20 p.m., which is when seventh period ends, Kayzia is about to reach down for her pink mesh backpack so that she can put her book and notebook and folder inside. But as she starts to reach down, she feels, of all awful things, tears sliding down her face.

    Kayzia is mortified. She and Alyssa, her twin, are by now juniors at Parker High. Kayzia is a disciplined member of the debate team and, last year as a sophomore, was already a varsity debater who helped Parker get to the state tournament. She is a believer in neatness and self-control. Not a person to cry in public. And at this moment, as she is realizing that she is not making any crying noises — thank goodness! — she knows that she must get these tears to stop.

    She gives her tears a talking-to. “This is not the time or the place,” she tells them in her mind. “You just can’t cry in the middle of class.”

    The tears keep falling.

    She keeps her head down, hoping that the other kids will be too busy with their own backpacks and whatever is on their minds to notice her wet, streaky face, which she knows isn’t really being hidden by her curtain of straight brown hair. No one in her class seems to be paying attention. But her desk is near the front of the room, against the wall and facing the middle. It is, in other words, near Mrs. Venuti’s desk.

    Amy Venuti has been teaching social studies at Parker for four years, and she works closely with Deri Wahlert, whose classroom is on the same hall as hers. Amy has just finished today’s lesson on psychological disorders, and she happens to glance over at Kayzia and sees what is going on. She asks Kayzia if she has a minute to stay after class.

    She is careful to wait until the other kids have left before she sits down in the desk next to Kayzia’s and, in a quiet, motherly tone, asks what is happening and whether there is any way that she can help.

    READ MORE: Column: Why do so many American families feel so financially insecure?

    Kayzia doesn’t have a clue what to say. In the past three years, she and Alyssa have become experts at hiding what is going on at home. They have become skillful at poking through the clothes at Goodwill to find designer jeans that look as if they got them new. At going along when their friends want to go shopping without drawing attention to the fact that they aren’t buying anything. What’s going on at home is not something to discuss with their friends.

    Well, Alyssa’s boyfriend, Justin, knows. He knows that Alyssa appreciates hanging out at his house, because there is less talk about money, and she can ride with him on a four-wheeler and just feel like a teenager for a change. And last year, Kayzia had to tell Ryan, a senior who was her debate partner, when they qualified for state. She had to tell him that she couldn’t go. The team needed two hotel rooms near Ripon College, one for the three girls and one for the two boys, and she had to tell Ryan because she couldn’t afford her share. So he told the coach, and somehow — she still isn’t sure how — it was worked out that Kayzia could pay just a little and still go. And she made sure to be extra helpful, trying to make it up to whoever was paying so she could be there, even though the tournament was in the midst of a blizzard, and the drive, which took longer than the two hours that it should have taken, frightened her.

    So they had barely told friends, and if they didn’t feel it was proper to talk to their friends, how could Kayzia possibly tell a teacher?

    Kayzia knows it’s hard on her parents to have gone from middle class…to lower middle class and maybe lower than that.

    How could she tell Mrs. Venuti that her dad, Jerad, was now on his third job since GM, after having been out of work for over a year after he was laid off from the plant? Or that she had started to worry that he might lose this one? This third job had seemed lucky at first. He was a guard at the County Jail. It had taken almost a year after he applied for the job to come through, and it probably hadn’t hurt that the dad in a family they are close to, with Kayzia and Alyssa baby-sitting their kids since they were infants, is a Sheriff ’s Department sergeant. Jerad works mostly the second shift. Jerad is grateful for the pay — almost $17 an hour, which isn’t GM pay, but is better than $12 at the Patch Products warehouse, where he would have loved to stay if it had come with health insurance the way the jail job does.

    Soon, though, Jerad has a problem with his jail job. Kayzia has been noticing that her dad seems different lately. Nervous. He seems almost scared to go to work. And the problem was getting worse over the summer, when he was putting in as much overtime as he could get, filling in when other correction officers were on vacation, to bring home the extra money. And even though almost $17 an hour is better than at Patch, Kayzia and Alyssa still hear their parents talking a lot about money, at the moments when they think that the girls and their brother, Noah, can’t hear, with Noah getting more into sports and uniforms costing so much, plus the high deductibles on the jail’s health insurance, which means that they have to shell out a lot for Kayzia’s doctors’ appointments to try to figure out why she is having so much pain in her abdomen. And Kayzia knows it’s hard on her parents to have gone from middle class and figuring that GM would last forever, the way it had for her grandfathers, to lower middle class and maybe lower than that. She feels that she should be helping them more, but she isn’t sure what to do.

    At school, Kayzia tries to keep her mind on her classes and not on what is happening at home. But in this unit on psychological disorders, the way Mrs. Venuti was talking today about depression and anxiety made Kayzia think of the changes in her dad. And putting two and two together in a way that she never had before, she felt during the last part of class as if a lump was stuck in her throat until she realized that the tears were coming out. In public.

    READ MORE: Why Americans aren’t good at rebounding from financial emergencies — and how you can get better

    Mrs. Venuti is being so nice in asking, and Kayzia doesn’t want to be rude, but she doesn’t think it is right to drag her personal life into class. So she waits a minute, trying to figure out what to say. She doesn’t want to say any of it; she knows she has to say something.

    “My family situation’s not the greatest right now” is what she comes up with. And right then, she totally loses it, her silent tears becoming large, gulping sobs.

    “We can help,” Mrs. Venuti is saying.

    “Well, I never received help before. We don’t qualify for that,” Kayzia is telling her. While she is saying that, she is remembering her mom’s eyes looking red after trying and trying to get help from ECHO, the food pantry, where the staff kept telling her mom that her family’s income each month was just a few dollars above the cut-off line.

    Mrs. Venuti is telling her that you don’t have to qualify for this kind of help.

    She tells Kayzia to take her stuff, so Kayzia picks up her hot pink backpack, while Mrs. Venuti grabs her key chain from the top of her file cabinet. They walk out of the classroom to a closed door, across the hall and two doors down, which Kayzia has never really noticed before. When Mrs. Venuti unlocks the door, Kayzia can’t believe what she sees: shelves filled with jeans and shoes and school supplies and open cabinets stocked with food and body washes and toothpastes. The Parker Closet.

    What amazes Kayzia is not just that this room exists. What amazes her most is the avalanche of a realization she is having that, if this room exists behind the door that Mrs. Venuti has unlocked for her, that must mean that other kids at Parker are from families whose situations are not the greatest either.

    It has never occurred to Kayzia before that what is going on in her family is going on all over town.

    Hard as it is to imagine, in Janesville where thousands of people have lost jobs and some are still out of work and some, like her dad, are job hopping and not earning enough money, it has never occurred to Kayzia before that what is going on in her family is going on all over town. That is what happens when she and Alyssa have decided that this is not a subject to discuss with friends, and other kids, who used to be middle class, too, have decided the same thing. So, now, Kayzia is overwhelmed by this thought that is hitting her all of a sudden. “There’s more kids like me!”

    Amy Venuti has seen this “it’s not just me” astonishment before. Since she started at Parker, she has been helping Deri with the Closet as it has grown from its dozen students the first year to nearly two hundred. Even if she doesn’t do as much as Deri, she has, lately, been introducing a couple of dozen kids to the closet each year. From the kids before Kayzia, she has learned that she is not just offering used jeans and toothpaste. With this offer, she knows, she is wrenching their understanding of their lives into a new and different meaning: as needy. One girl got angry and started to cry, insisting that her family didn’t need help. A boy whose parents were divorcing refused, too, until Amy came up with the idea of telling him that he now had to be the man of the house, and he couldn’t be working because his full-time job was to be in school and to play his sports, so he needed to take some stuff home as a small way that he could take care of his family.

    She has to find ways to make it palatable, Amy has learned.

    While Amy is seeing Kayzia’s shock as normal, Kayzia is on to her next thought, which is that someone is going to a lot of trouble to provide kids with this help that she never knew existed. People are taking time out of their day to be kind and to help, not just her, but her whole family, and not just her now, but her chances of reaching her goals of becoming a general practitioner and someday being in a position in which she will be able to help someone else.

    READ MORE: Poverty makes financial decisions harder. Behavioral economics can help

    It seems to Kayzia too emotional to be thinking all of this, so she doesn’t say it all out loud. She just asks Mrs. Venuti, “Well, where do you get this stuff?”

    Donations, her teacher tells her. People in the community who chip in.

    Mrs. Venuti is asking what she needs, but Kayzia is still focused on the amazing fact of this secret place in school that no one knows about unless they get into a situation where they need to know. And when she focuses on “needs,” she gets stuck on the fact that she and Alyssa and Noah have been taught at home to be giving people. Giving and independent people. She doesn’t want to take too much.

    She picks out Suave shampoo and conditioner. She has learned that it’s cheaper to go without conditioner, but it will be nice to have some. And because it’s good to be a giving person, she takes an Old Spice deodorant for Noah.

    When Mrs. Venuti asks whether she needs anything else, Kayzia tells her that this is enough. Before Mrs. Venuti locks the door again, a well-dressed boy Kayzia has never seen before, from a younger grade, ducks in for a minute and gets a few items, too.

    She walks alone the few blocks between Parker and home, thinking about this discovery and about Mrs. Venuti telling her not to be afraid to ask if she needs anything else. When she gets home, Alyssa is at work, so Kayzia leaves the shampoo and conditioner and deodorant on the kitchen counter, between the table and the stove. She walks over for her 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift, serving up ButterBurgers and frozen custard in a blue Culver’s apron and cap.

    When she gets home from work, Alyssa asks, as Kayzia knew she would, where the stuff has come from. Kayzia knows that her sister won’t like the answer. If they need something, they have been taught, they work harder for it. Or they do without.

    Kayzia explains about Mrs. Venuti taking her to a room, about their school having something called the Parker Closet. As she is explaining, she knows that, even if they need it, Alyssa will not be easy right away with the idea of accepting help.

    The post In this struggling Wisconsin town, families come to terms with needing help appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series where we ask people about their passions. Tonight, we hear from legendary television producer Norman Lear, who’s responsible for some of America’s most popular and groundbreaking sitcoms.

    At 94, Lear shows no sign of slowing down. This week, he began hosting a new podcast, “All of the Above.”

    INTERVIEWER: Mr. Lear, how do people treat you as you get older?

    NORMAN LEAR, Television Writer, Producer: Yes, as I get older, people who consider me wiser, and that too is bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

    I was a kid of the Depression. My dad, his brothers, everyone, they all went belly up. Everybody was broke.

    The great aunts and grandparents, always had an expression that when somebody was making a buck he was a good provider. “A good provider,” that was a sound I heard a lot, and all I ever wanted to be was a good provider.

    I’d seen Carroll O’Connor in a Blake Edwards comedy called “What Did You Do in the War Daddy? ” And I never forgot his face. He walked in and read and he didn’t finish the page before I knew that was Archie Bunker. I wrote those lines, he gave it his soul.

    The thing I love about Archie and Edith is they were they both talked a lot of bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). They didn’t really know what they are talking about, but they had strong points of view. That’s what most of America is about.

    I love doing plays because they are plays in front of a live audience. It develops chemistry between the individual players and the audience.

    MAN: How does she communicate with people?

    MAN: You see, Robin thinks words are a waste of time, so she speaks with her eyes.

    MAN: Oooh! Well, open up wide and let’s hear the Gettysburg address.


    NORMAN LEAR: On the air at one time, there was “All in the Family” and “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Facts of Life,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” “Fernwood Tonigh.” People used to ask, wow, you’re under a lot of stress. There is stress and there is joyful. The stress I was under was altogether joyful.

    It ended with 240 live people sitting in an audience laughing. Go beat that. It all added time to my life.

    Hi. I’m Norman Lear, and this is my brief but spectacular take on all the things that made me wind up with the life I’ve led.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: You can watch more brief but spectacular videos online at pbs.org/newshour/briefs.

    The post TV pioneer Norman Lear finds joy in creative stress appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A new study found children who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit a delay in expressive speech. Photo by triloks/via Getty Images

    A new study found children who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit a delay in expressive speech. Photo by triloks/via Getty Images

    Hand-held screens might delay a child’s ability to form words, based on new research being presented this week at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco. This preliminary study is the first to show how mobile devices impact speech development in children, raising a question that fills the minds of many parents: How much time should my child spend with a mobile device?

    But for parents who see mobile devices as an education tool, don’t immediately lock away your smartphone of tablet. Here’s what you should know about the risk.

    Express yourself

    Studies on media usage and child development are notoriously difficult to conduct. Doctors can’t exactly split up a bunch of babies and say, “you kids spend a lot of time with your iPads, while the rest of you don’t. Let’s see what happens.”

    Each additional 30 minutes of hand-held screen time was linked to a 49 percent increased risk in expressive speech delay.

    So Catherine Birken, a pediatrician and scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, relied on well-child visits, regular checkups that assess a child’s growth, health and development. From 2011 to 2015, she asked the parents of to estimate how much time their children spent each day with hand-held screens, like smartphones, tablets and electronic games. Meanwhile, Birken and her team assessed each child with the Infant Toddler Checklist — a screening tool that looks for signs of delayed communication development.

    “It isn’t a definitive diagnosis,” Birken said, but it does assess whether a child is at-risk and needs to be referred for further evaluation. In total, Birken’s team recruited and examined nearly 900 toddlers, aged 6 to 24 months, for the study.

    By the time they reached their 18-month checkups, 20 percent of the children used mobile devices for 28 minutes on average each day. They found children who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit signs of a delay in expressive speech — how children use their sounds and words, and how they put their words together to communicate.

    "Parents should be wary of educational apps marketed for children 24 months or younger," pediatrician Jenny Radesky said, because “the science on this says quite clearly that [these] children just don't symbolically understand what they're seeing on a two-dimensional screen.” Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

    “Parents should be wary of educational apps marketed for children 24 months or younger,” pediatrician Jenny Radesky said, because “the science on this says quite clearly that [these] children just don’t symbolically understand what they’re seeing on a two-dimensional screen.” Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

    Each additional 30 minutes of hand-held screen time was linked to a 49 percent increased risk in expressive speech delay. Other forms of communication — gestures, emotions, social eye-gazing — were unaffected.

    Birken emphasized that the findings, at this stage, don’t prove cause and effect. That would require a clinical trial where children are randomly selected and tracked throughout childhood.

    Birken emphasized that the findings, at this stage, don’t prove cause and effect. That would require a clinical trial where children are randomly selected and tracked throughout childhood.

    But this study highlights what could be a life-altering trend for children exposed to too much hand-held screen time because of the value of expressive speech.

    “When kids can’t express themselves they get really frustrated,” said Jenny Radesky, a University of Michigan developmental pediatrician who wasn’t involved in the study. “They are more likely to act out more or to use their bodies to try to communicate or use attention-seeking behaviors.”

    In the short term, an expressive speech delay can influence a child’s ability to conceptualize words or define their emotions. Though some children who are behind at 18 months or 24 months can eventually catch up, over time, these language delays can impede literacy skills in grade school.

    “Early language delays have been linked with later academic problems or not finishing high school,” Radesky said.

    Hold the phone — and interact with it too

    Last autumn, Radesky’s lab reported that families fret over hand-held screen time for conflicting reasons. They worry their children will miss out on educational opportunities or lack digital literacy without the devices, but wonder if fast-moving technology stifles creativity or displaces family time.

    But Radesky, who co-authored the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent guidelines for children’s media use, said the problem lies less with mobile devices, and more with how we use them.

    “Kids can start to learn language from media, if they’re watching with a parent who then uses the media as a teaching tool,” Radesky said. “Help the child apply it to the rest of the world around them — the way parents often do with a book.”

    If parents are introducing young children to mobile technology, they should try and do it in a way that teaches the child to use the device as a tool rather than purely for entertainment. Photo by Tang Ming Tung

    If parents are introducing young children to mobile technology, they should try and do it in a way that teaches the child to use the device as a tool rather than purely for entertainment. Photo by Tang Ming Tung

    Radesky said that’s tricky because media designers sometimes forget to build content that’s interactive for both a parent and a child. She offered Daniel’s Tiger as a counterexample that hits the mark for teaching social, emotional and language skills with parent-child interactions.

    Also, parents should be wary of educational apps marketed for children 24 months or younger, she said, because “the science on this says quite clearly that [these] children just don’t symbolically understand what they’re seeing on a two-dimensional screen.”

    Birken’s study didn’t distinguish between whether educational or entertainment media influences the risk of expressive delay, but the trend did hold regardless of income level and maternal education. Her future studies could also look into how parents’ mental health, literacy legacy within a family and access to other caretakers like grandparents factor into the hand-held device usage and language development.

    “One of the challenges is the pace of technology is outstripping the pace of research,” Birken said. “It’s a big challenge.”

    But Radesky recognizes the allure of passing back a smartphone in a car to placate a child, but if they’re introducing young children to the technology, they should try and do it in a way that teaches the child to use the device as a tool rather than purely for entertainment. Kids can become tech savvy by learning how to find whether their grandma is online on Skype or by taking and sharing funny pictures.

    “If they really want to promote some sort of language learning or developmental stimulation, that is always still done best through interpersonal interaction,” Radesky said.

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    The post Toddlers’ screen time linked to slower speech development, study finds appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s only the beginning of May. But believe it or not, the summer movie season is upon us and kicks into high gear tomorrow with the release of a big sequel.

    Jeffrey Brown takes a look at the business model that’s driving Hollywood.

    JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a tried-and-true formula the Hollywood studios bet on each summer: bring on a heavy dose of aliens, add a group of charged-up superheroes, throw in a few raunchy comedies —

    MAN: Going vacation here with your boyfriend?

    WOMAN: No, I’m just here with my mom.

    JEFFREY BROWN: — plus some kids flicks, and make sure there are plenty of explosions.

    What’s changing is how the summer season begins ever earlier. This weekend features the release of one of the bigger sequels of the year, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2.” The first movie was something of a surprise hit, grossing nearly $800 million worldwide.

    A mix of special effects, action and comedy and based on a comic book, producers say they are looking to tap into mass appeal again.

    MAN: I think audiences are going to love, first off, many of the things they loved in the first movie, the humor, the action, the scope, the characters.

    I think the key to keeping these movies fresh is being able to give the audience a new story that nobody expects yet totally in line tonally with what audience responded to from volume one.

    MAN: Work you stupid raccoon.

    MAN: Don’t call me a raccoon?

    JEFFREY BROWN: The new “Guardians” is expected to make a whole lot of money, far more than the $200 million spent on it. But not all of the blockbusters will. Many compete within days of each other, sometimes even on the same opening weekend.

    Yet the studios are dependent on the summer season. It accounts for more than $4.5 billion in box-office sales worldwide. This year will see at least 15 sequels, reboots or spinoffs between May and August, including the much-anticipated “Wonder Woman.” Many of the films come from older franchises, that includes “Spiderman,” “Planet of the Apes,” and yet another sequel to “The Pirates of the Caribbean” series, which began 13 years ago.

    MAN: This is wheat. What are the odds of finding human vegetation this far from Earth?

    JEFFREY BROWN: And there’s one more follow-up to “Aliens” franchise. The first movie in that series opened in 1979. An early start to summer, the film industry’s blockbuster strategy, and a few of the movies themselves. We talk about it now with two film critics, Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, and Alonso Duralde of TheWrap.com.

    Alonso, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2”. I didn’t realize it was summer yet, but apparently it is for the studios?

    ALONSO DURALDE, TheWrap: Well, you know, I think the studios are all make summer movies all year round now. It’s kind of like being the Hallmark Channel. They make 27 new Christmas movies a year so they have to start showing them the weekend before Halloween. If all they make are giant, colorful explosion-filled movies for mass audiences, then all year has to become summer.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Ann, summer all year round. Why has the season expanded? And how much is this blockbuster model running Hollywood?

    ANN HORNADAY, The Washington Post: Well, the blockbuster model is definitely the dominant business model. Although, you know, other alternative business models have emerged as sort of a counter-weight like the Oscar Award Season business model, but definitely the blockbuster tent pool model is huge. It sort of started out as a strategy to attract teenagers, especially teenaged boys to the theaters.

    Now, it’s really a way to get foreign audiences — I mean, the foreign revenues and markets — emerging markets are hugely important. So, these sorts of movies travel very well because they don’t — they’re not as necessarily as dependent on subtitling and cultural understandings and sort of cultural translation.

    And in terms of just the expansion of the year, I mean, since everybody was so desperately focused on the summer to kind of capitalize on vacation and people being out of school and repeat business, they’ve discovered that they can go where the other ones aren’t and maybe make a buck.

    And I think Disney has really proven this out with their strategy of bringing out their live-action adaptations of animated classics like “Cinderella” and just this year “Beauty and the Beast.” They’ve kind of taken over that March slot and really done quite well with it.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, Alonso, I mean, what do you make of this blockbuster model? You look at $100 million films, $200 million films. They, clearly, can’t and don’t make it. There’s always flops. How does it work?

    ALONSO DURALDE: Well, you know, the idea is that audiences want to see something they’re familiar with. They want intellectual properties they’ve seen before, whether it’s a sequel or remake or adaptation of a Saturday morning cartoon. And a lot of those movies do make money.

    But it doesn’t always work. We had big flop sequels last summer. “The Independence Day” sequel for one was a big red ink spiller. But they would much rather spend a lot of money on something they think is familiar than to gamble on something completely unknown.

    JEFFREY BROWN: So, let me ask both of you. Ann, you can start, which movies are you looking forward to, either because you hope they’re going to be good or it tells you something about the movie business itself that you’re watching so carefully?

    ANN HORNADAY: Well, I’m very curious about “Wonder Woman.” I mean, I was one of those many critics last year that were very disappointed with “Batman Versus Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” I haven’t been — I haven’t been over the moon about the way Warner Brothers has handled the D.C. franchise and especially the “Superman” storylines. So, I’m really looking forward to “Wonder Woman.”

    In terms of another big movie, I’m very curious about Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”. He has done a huge spectacle of the evacuation of Dunkirk. It’s always interesting to see what Christopher Nolan is up to because he’s a real cinematic purist. So, I think putting him together with history and spectacle should yield some interesting results.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Alonso, start with big movies, first, these blockbuster types. What are you looking forward to?

    ALONSO DURALDE: Well, in the same way that Ann and I are both looking forward to “Wonder Woman,” having a new director in the chair, Patty Jenkins, instead of Zach Snyder or some of the other Warner Brothers guys, “Spiderman: Homecoming” sees that property going back into the Disney Marvel family. And so, hopefully, they’ll do a better job with it than last few versions of that hero we got.

    I’m also looking forward to a couple of films that premiered at South by Southwest this year. They’ve been getting a lot of really positive buzz. “Atomic Blonde”, which is an action film starring Charlize Theron coming off of “Mad Max Fury Road”.

    And another driving movie, Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver”, which got amazing reviews, and people are really talking a lot about that one. So I’m hoping that will be something that will add a little pep to the summer.

    JEFFREY BROWN: For those of us who want something less — what can I say, loud — or something a little smaller, perhaps?

    ANN HORNADAY: Ballistic?

    JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. What might — what should we look forward to?

    ANN HORNADAY: You know, there are some wonderful smaller movies and that’s another kind of counter to the blockbuster strategy is that summer is a great time for counter-programming. And last year, we saw wonderful small movies like “Love and Friendship” and “Captain Fantastic” and “Hell or High Water.”

    And I feel another hit from Sundance called “The Big Sick,” a charming, fact-based romantic comedy based on the true love life of Kumail Nanjiani, the Pakistani-American comic. It’s just a really affecting, funny, sweet, very sincere, very affecting little movie that I think has potential to really become a sleeper hit this summer.

    JEFFREY BROWN: Alonso, you want to give us one, a smaller run — smaller pick?

    ALONSO DURALDE: Yes, I’ve got high hopes for Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” It’s based on a novel previously turned into a Clint Eastwood movie by Don Siegel back in the ‘70s. But I suspect under Coppola’s guise, it’s going to become more of a film about sort of women in containment, which has been a favorite theme of hers, and it stars Nicole Kidman, Colin Ferrell and Kirsten Dunst. And so, I’m expecting a lot.

    JEFFREY BROWN: OK. The all year round, summer movie season. Alonso Duralde, and Ann Hornaday — thank you both very much.

    ALONSO DURALDE: Thank you.

    ANN HORNADAY: Thank you.

    The post Why summer is the season of movie sequels, reboots and spin-offs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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