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- 07/25/17--16:51: _Senate committee dr...
- 07/25/17--17:11: _The Senate voted to...
- 07/26/17--14:16: _After Trump announc...
- 07/26/17--14:31: _All of the Russia i...
- 07/26/17--15:15: _What it’s like to b...
- 07/26/17--15:19: _Why won’t Social Se...
- 07/26/17--15:20: _What football does ...
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- 07/26/17--15:25: _‘There’s a cloud ov...
- 07/26/17--15:30: _Some Iraqi forces w...
- 07/26/17--15:35: _Trump signals he mi...
- 07/26/17--15:40: _The Senate GOP’s be...
- 07/26/17--15:45: _News Wrap: S.C. Sup...
- 07/26/17--15:50: _What does Trump’s t...
- 07/26/17--16:23: _Tillerson shoots do...
- 07/26/17--16:30: _Senate rejects meas...
- 07/26/17--16:39: _Report: Student loa...
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- 07/27/17--14:13: _Why seasonal busine...
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- 07/25/17--16:51: Senate committee drops subpoena of Manafort in Russia probe
- 07/25/17--17:11: The Senate voted to open debate on health care. Now what?
- Lawmakers will put forward some version of the Senate-passed bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). Which of those versions depends on a secondary vote, which would seek to amend THAT bill with plans from Sens. Ted Cruz and Rob Portman on market regulation and Medicaid, respectively. (An amendment would likely be hybrid of those plans, incorporating the Cruz amendments and adding more money for states to stabilize their health insurance markets).
- Several lawmakers are also expected to put forward a straight repeal.
- Most amendments will require 60 votes. This is because most amendments will not have a CBO score yet. Without a score, any senator can raise a point of order against an amendment. It takes 60 votes to override such a point of order. This will potentially apply to the big amendments, like the BCRA/Cruz amendment and the straight repeal (depending on how lawmakers do that).
- Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told some of us Tuesday that he is hoping for scores on most amendments, but in truth, it seems most amendments will not get scores.
- This is a key issue, particularly for the “skinny,” or partial, repeal, which among other things would get rid of penalties both for individuals who choose to go without insurance and companies who choose not to offer it. Senators will need to put forward amendments that can pass the Byrd rule and be scored.
- The motion to start debate requires 20 hours of debate on the underlying bill.
- Democrats can waive that if they choose — or they can add to it (as I suspect they will do), requiring things like the bill being read out loud in its entirety. Such procedural motions do not count for debate time.
- It is going to be a long week, likely with overnight sessions.
- It’s utterly unclear how the GOP will craft a bill that can get 50 votes. But these next two to three days are their chance.
- Twitter, we suspect, will have a very good week.
- 07/26/17--14:16: After Trump announces ban, trans soldiers wonder what comes next
- 07/26/17--14:31: All of the Russia investigations, explained
- 07/26/17--15:15: What it’s like to be a Trump supporter in an ultra-liberal city
- Foreign earned income exclusion
- Foreign housing exclusion
- Foreign housing deduction
- Income excluded as bona fide residents of American Samoa or of Puerto Rico
- 07/26/17--15:20: What football does to the brain, according to a major study
- 07/26/17--15:20: What a new study teaches us about football and brain disease
- 07/26/17--16:39: Report: Student loan forgiveness program has halted under Trump
- 07/27/17--14:13: Why seasonal businesses depend on foreign workers
- 07/27/17--15:06: Republicans look to pass ‘skinny repeal’ of Obamacare
A person familiar with negotiations between the Senate Judiciary Committee and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort says the panel has dropped a subpoena that sought to compel his public testimony this week.
The person says Manafort won’t testify during a public hearing Wednesday after he and the committee reached an agreement to continue negotiating the terms of his cooperation. The person demanded anonymity to discuss the private negotiations.
The top Republican and Democrat on the committee have said they want to question Manafort about a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer. The meeting was described in emails to President Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., as a Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign.
Manafort met with Senate investigators Tuesday, providing his recollection of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer and agreeing to turn over contemporaneous notes of the gathering last year, according to people familiar with the closed-door interview.
The appearance by Paul Manafort came the same morning that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner returned to Capitol Hill for a second day of private meetings, this time for a conversation with lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee.
The committee, along with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible collusion with Trump associates.
The two men have faced particular scrutiny about attending the Trump Tower meeting because it was described in emails to Donald Trump Jr. as being part of a Russian government effort to aid Trump’s presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, Manafort met with bipartisan staff of the Senate intelligence committee and “answered their questions fully,” his spokesman, Jason Maloni, said.
Manafort’s discussion with committee staff was limited to his recollection of the June 2016 meeting, according to two people familiar with the interview. Both demanded anonymity to discuss details because the interview occurred behind closed doors.
Manafort had previously disclosed the meeting in documents he turned over to the committee. He has now provided the committee with notes he took at the time, one of the people said. The other person said Manafort has also said he will participate in additional interviews with the Senate intelligence committee staff on other topics if necessary. Those meetings haven’t yet been scheduled.
Also Tuesday, Kushner spent about three hours behind closed doors with the House committee.
Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who is leading the panel’s Russia probe, said he found Kushner to be “straightforward, forthcoming, wanted to answer every question we had.” He said Kushner was willing to follow up with the committee if it has additional questions.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, said the questions touched on “a range of issues the committee had been concerned about.”
“We appreciate his voluntary willingness to come and testify today,” Schiff added.
On Monday, Kushner answered questions from staff on the Senate’s intelligence panel, acknowledging four meetings with Russians during and after Trump’s victorious White House bid and insisting he had “nothing to hide.”
In an 11-page statement, he acknowledged his Russian contacts during the campaign and immediately after the election, in which he served as a liaison between the transition and foreign governments.
He described the contacts as either insignificant or routine and said they had been omitted from his security clearance form because of an aide’s error.
“Let me be very clear,” Kushner said later in a rare public statement at the White House, “I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.”
Emails released this month show that Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, accepted a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya with the understanding that he would receive damaging information on Democrat Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help Trump’s campaign. But, in his statement for the two intelligence committees, Kushner said he hadn’t read those emails until recently shown them by his lawyers.
Kushner’s statement was the first detailed defense from a campaign insider responding to the controversy that has all but consumed the first six months of Trump’s presidency. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia sought to tip the 2016 campaign in Trump’s favor.
Kushner called the meeting with Veselnitskaya such a “waste of time” that he asked his assistant to call him out of the gathering.
“No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign; there was no follow-up to the meeting that I am aware of; I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted,” he said.
In addition to the Senate and House intelligence committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee has also been investigating Russia’s election interference. The committee has been negotiating terms of a private, on-the-record interview with Trump Jr. about the meeting with Veselnitskaya.
The committee also withdrew a separate subpoena issued for the co-founder of the research firm behind a dossier of salacious allegations about Trump and his ties to Russia. Instead, Glenn Simpson has agreed to a private interview, Grassley said.
Kushner on Monday confirmed earlier media reports that he had suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities to set up secure communications between Trump adviser Michael Flynn, who would become national security adviser, and Russian officials. But he disputed that it was an effort to establish a “secret back channel.”
His statement describes a December meeting with Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in which Kushner and Kislyak discussed establishing a secure line for the Trump transition team and Moscow to communicate about policy in Syria.
Kushner said that when Kislyak asked if there was a secure way for him to provide information from his “generals,” Kushner suggested using facilities at the Russian Embassy.
“The ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred,” the statement said.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
The post Senate committee drops subpoena of Manafort in Russia probe appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence stepped in to break a 50-50 tie vote in the Senate, allowing debate on health care reform to move forward.
Now what happens?
Here’s how the week will play out, according to lawmakers we spoke with on the Hill. (All of this, of course, with the caution that this is a highly fluid, if not unstable, legislative situation).
WHICH BILL WILL THE SENATE DEBATE?
The Senate will return to the House-passed bill, The American Health Care Act or ACHA. You can read the CBO’s full assessment of the legislation here.
WHAT ARE THE KEY AMENDMENTS?
There will be some early motions for amendments:
Both amendments are expected to fail.
WHAT OTHER AMENDMENTS WILL COME UP?
There will be scores — possibly hundreds — of amendments to the bill. Any senator can offer one. A flurry of votes known on Capitol Hill as a “voterama” will be the last step before final passage and could last many hours or a even a whole day. Note: Debate is not required on amendments, though Republicans may allow it if they choose.
HOW MANY VOTES WILL THE BILL NEED?
WHEN WILL ALL OF THIS HAPPEN?
WHAT ELSE DO WE KNOW?
The post The Senate voted to open debate on health care. Now what? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
PBS NewsHour’s P.J. Tobia talks to Lt. Cmdr. Brynn Tannehill, a transgender woman who served as a Navy pilot for nearly a decade and is now director of advocacy for SPARTA, an LGBT military organization.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced on Twitter that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military “in any capacity,” contradicting present policy and bringing confusion and uncertainty for trans soldiers who are currently serving.
The statement follows months of efforts to train the military on transgender issues, a process that began last July, when then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that transgender troops could serve openly in the U.S. military.
“This was a big surprise … I have several hundred panicked service members that are worried about whether they need to start looking for a job,” said Blake Dremann, president of SPARTA, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ people in the military.
Last June, Carter and the Department of Defense set a one-year deadline for the military to conduct force-wide training on transgender issues and to determine how it would begin accepting transgender recruits. It also laid out a path to medical transition for service members who were currently enlisted.
Over the last year, each branch of the military has held trainings on transgender issues — and about 250 people have begun the process of transition-related care within the military, according to the Associated Press. But last month, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced that the military would delay accepting transgender recruits for six months while the Department of Defense researched the effects that accepting transgender troops could have on military “readiness or lethality.”
Now, trans soldiers are wondering what comes next. At a press briefing Wednesday, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the White House and Department of Defense would work together on implementing a new policy but gave no further details. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
The conservative Family Research Council praised Trump’s announcement. “The military can now focus its efforts on preparing to fight and win wars rather than being used to advance the Obama social agenda,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said in a statement.
In interviews with the PBS NewsHour, trans soldiers and others voiced caution in the wake of Trump’s statement, saying they would continue the work of defending the country.
Last summer, when Carter made the initial announcement that trans troops would be allowed to serve openly, Sarah* was in limbo.
She was already out as a transgender woman to her chain of command and had been officially diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a medical diagnosis for people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. But she had not yet begun hormone therapy, and was not sure when, or if, she would be allowed to do so.
Hearing the announcement from Carter was a “really good feeling,” she said. “There [were] a lot of emotions, like a relief, as far as saying, I can finally start this, or there will finally be some answers.”
Now, Sarah said that Trump’s statement made her future in the armed services less clear. “I don’t know if I’m going to come into work and there’s essentially going to be a red slip waiting for me, and here’s a severance package,” she said.
Regardless, “I don’t want to overreact to a series of tweets … It does not dictate law,” she said, adding that she has not had any issues serving with her unit since she came out. “I think everyone in the military has the sense of, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter who you are and it doesn’t matter what I agree with,’” she said. “We have one job to do and that’s to protect America.”
Logan Ireland, an active duty member of the Air Force stationed at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, said he was not worried about the possibility of discharge.
“For the President to deny an able bodied, fully qualified person the inherent right to raise their right hand and serve their country, potentially giving their own life for our freedoms, is doing this country an injustice,” he wrote in a Facebook message. “I would love for my President to meet me so I can tell him about the 15,500 honorably serving transgender military members that are fighting right now for their liberties and for their country.”
Dremann said the announcement “really came out of the blue,” but cautioned active-duty soldiers to remain calm. “I encourage service members that are worried about what comes next, that we need you to continue to serve as you always have,” Dremann said. “We will continue to fight to make sure your service is not turned off, and we want to do everything in our power to make sure that happens.”
He also pointed out that the Veterans Health Administration provides hormone therapy and counseling to transgender veterans, about 5,000 of whom receive health care from the VA, according to its website.
In his announcement, Trump also claimed that transgender soldiers incur “tremendous” health care costs, a claim that research and health providers have rebuked.
In September 2015, Aaron Belkin, a professor at San Francisco State University who studies LGBTQ military issues, released a report estimating that transition-related care for transgender troops would carry a price tag of $5.6 million a year, which he called “little more than a rounding error” in the military’s $47.8 billion annual budget for health care.
And a study released last year by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization that works with the Department of Defense, estimated that 29 to 129 service members would seek transition-related care in a year, between 30 and 140 would request hormone therapy, and between 25 and 130 would see surgery, increasing health care costs by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million.
On Tuesday, Dr. George Brown, who trains clinicians in the Veterans Affairs system about trans issues, spent six hours driving from East Tennessee State University to Fort Knox, where he led a half-day-long training on transgender issues. On Wednesday morning, he heard the news of Trump’s announcement. “I think that sends a pretty chilling message to anybody who is currently serving in the military who’s transgender,” he said.
Over the last seven years, Brown has led such trainings dozens of times, mainly for health providers at Veterans Affairs facilities, but more recently for the U.S. Navy and other parts of the armed forces. He said the announcement raised concerns for trans people who followed existing policy by coming out.
“Those people have in good faith followed existing regulations and have come forward for a treatment plan,” he said. Now, he said, “their commander in chief has come out against them.”
Trump’s announcement puzzled some in his party who asked how it would affect existing regulations from the Department of Defense. In a statement, Sen. John McCain called the tweets “unclear” and pointed out that the Department of Defense is currently researching various issues related to trans people in the military, including “the medical obligations it would incur, the impact on military readiness, and related questions.”
“I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress,” he added.
Jennifer Williams, who was an honorary delegate at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, last summer, is a trans woman who advocates for LGBTQ issues within the Republican party. As a supporter of Trump’s party, the announcement was “sad news to me,” she told the NewsHour. “I do feel like less of an American today.”
*Name has been changed.
The post After Trump announces ban, trans soldiers wonder what comes next appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
In a sense, the Russia story that’s so enveloping Washington today actually started last July, when the FBI opened an investigation into Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Now, roughly one year later, that investigation is still open, and lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are conducting inquiries of their own.
But while the different probes overlap significantly, their missions aren’t identical — and the entities carrying them out have different resources and powers at their disposal. Here’s a guide to the four ongoing investigations into Russia’s role in the 2016 election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Justice Department and FBI
WHAT’S THE SCOPE?
Normally, FBI and Justice Department officials are tight-lipped in public settings about the bureau’s ongoing investigations. But earlier this year, the Justice Department broke from convention in March when it gave then-FBI Director James Comey permission to discuss his agency’s Russia probe during a public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee.
At the hearing, Comey said the FBI’s probe on Russia was a counterintelligence investigation; typically, these are aimed at identifying, or even stymieing, foreign intelligence operations on American soil. The investigation, he said, would take a close look at whether any of Mr. Trump’s campaign associates were involved in Russia’s efforts to meddle in the election. Comey added that the FBI would also examine whether any crimes were committed as part of those efforts.
News reports in recent months have also indicated that the FBI may also be looking into Paul Manafort (Trump’s former campaign chairman), Donald Trump Jr. (Trump’s eldest son), Jared Kushner (a senior White House adviser who is also Trump’s son-in-law) and Trump himself — specifically, his finances and whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to interfere in the investigation.
But to date, no current or former FBI or Justice Department official has publicly confirmed any of those details.
In the meantime, there has been turnover at the very top of the investigation’s chain of command. When the FBI opened its investigation last July, Comey was the bureau’s director, and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch was overseeing it. In the wake of Comey’s firing, the probe is being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who served as FBI director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May, two months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had served as a Trump campaign adviser, recused himself from any federal investigations that involve the Trump campaign. The recusal infuriated Trump, who has stepped up his public criticism of Sessions in recent days, sparking speculation that the president is pushing the attorney general to resign.
When Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he defined the scope of the special counsel’s probe, writing that it included looking into “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Rosenstein also authorized Mueller to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
WHAT POWER DOES THE SPECIAL COUNSEL HAVE?
As special counsel, Mueller has roughly the same authority as a U.S. attorney, meaning that he can file criminal charges, issue subpoenas and litigate a prosecution. The special counsel is an independent investigator, but ultimately answers to the Justice Department.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
After he was fired, Comey talked with the Senate Intelligence Committee about memos he had written about his meetings with Trump before he was dismissed as FBI director — including one conversation at the White House where, Comey claimed, Trump asked him to drop the bureau’s investigation of Flynn. The memos, the content of which was leaked just after Comey’s firing, raised the question of whether Trump obstructed justice by interfering in the FBI’s Flynn probe. Trump has denied asking Comey to stop investigating Flynn.
After Comey testified publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, the Washington Post reported that Mueller had expanded the FBI probe to look at whether Trump obstructed justice. And this month, Bloomberg reported that Mueller expanded the scope of his investigation again to include a look at the Trump family’s finances.
Most everything else about the FBI probe remains hidden from public view. In June, after Trump fired him as FBI director, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau had also been conducting a criminal investigation into Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, over some of the statements Flynn had made about his contacts with Russians. It is unclear, however, whether the investigation into Flynn — who was fired in February — is still ongoing, or how closely it was intertwined with the broader Russia probe.
As the FBI investigation continues, it’s unclear how many Justice Department or FBI staffers are working for Mueller. Mueller has reportedly hired a dozen or so lawyers — many of them with Justice Department experience — to join his team of prosecutors. The FBI’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, has told a House subcommittee that “a great number of folks” from the FBI are assigned to Mueller’s team.
“I have assured Director Mueller that we will do everything necessary to deliver the resources and to meet the needs that he has to do that work,” McCabe said at the hearing in June.
At the end of the investigation — regardless of whether Mueller decides to bring charges — he is required by federal regulations to produce a report explaining his decision. That report goes to Rosenstein, who must notify Congress of the investigation’s conclusion and decide whether the report should be released publicly.
Senate Intelligence Committee
WHAT’S THE SCOPE?
The Senate Intelligence Committee is leading its own investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential links to Trump’s campaign.
Indeed, the panel’s two highest-profile public hearings so far — the one in early June with Comey after his firing, and one with Sessions about five days later — have called attention to the independence of the FBI probe, and whether Trump himself attempted to influence it.
Other hearings focused on the history of Russia’s interference operations, and its meddling in elections across Europe. Yet others zeroed in on what is known — and what remains unknown — about Russia’s meddling in the United States, including its attempts to gain access to state and local election systems.
WHAT POWER DO THEY HAVE?
There is some overlap between the panel’s probe and the FBI’s, but there is one key difference: The FBI is part of the Justice Department, which can bring charges and prosecute crimes based on the evidence collected by the bureau’s investigators. The Senate Intelligence Committee has no such powers — and neither does the full Senate.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Senate Intelligence Committee is able to conduct and discuss more of its work in public, compared to the FBI. In a joint statement in January launching the panel’s inquiry, its leaders — Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va. — said they would hold open hearings when possible to keep the public informed.
When the committee completes its probe, it plans to detail its findings in two reports: one classified and one unclassified. Burr said recently that he was hoping the committee might wrap up by the end of the year.
House Intelligence Committee
WHAT’S THE SCOPE?
The House committee is pursuing more or less the same scope as its Senate counterpart: Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible ties to Trump’s campaign.
WHAT POWER DO THEY HAVE?
Like its Senate counterpart, the House Intelligence Committee can call public hearings and issue subpoenas compelling individuals to testify. The House panel is also planning to produce a public report at the end of its investigation. But it, too, doesn’t have the power to prosecute crimes.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Still, the panel’s hearings have made news and shed light on the unfolding Russia story. It was at Comey’s public testimony before the panel back in March that he first confirmed the existence of the FBI’s Russia investigation. And former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson’s appearance before the committee in June gave its members a chance to hear from a former administration official who had been charged with protecting the country’s voting systems.
But the committee’s investigation drew the biggest headlines earlier this year over a controversy surrounding its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, D-Calif. In March, Nunes faced heavy criticism after suggesting, without producing evidence in public, that U.S. intelligence agencies improperly picked up communications involving members of Trump’s transition team. Nunes also came under fire after it was revealed that he met with White House officials before making the claim.
Nunes removed himself from the committee’s Russia probe soon after, leaving Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, in charge of the committee’s probe. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a vocal Trump critic, remains the top Democrat.
The committee doesn’t have any hearings scheduled — for now. It spent early this week talking with Kushner behind closed doors.
Senate Judiciary Committee
WHAT’S THE SCOPE?
Though the Judiciary Committee has signaled that it plans to play a part in the Russia investigations, it’s not clear what the scope of its own probe is, or what goals it has. It could include things like whether Trump obstructed justice, according to reports last month.
WHAT POWER DO THEY HAVE?
Unlike the Justice Department, the Senate Judiciary Committee cannot bring charges or prosecute crimes based on what they learn in their hearings.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, expressed disappointment when Comey, after getting fired, spurned their invitation to appear before the committee. Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee instead.
Despite failing to land testimony from Comey, some of the panel’s members have heard from Sally Yates, who was serving as the acting attorney general during the first days of the Trump administration and raised concerns with the White House over Flynn.
Yates appeared before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism — which is also examining Russia’s role in the 2016 race — in May, and confirmed that the Obama administration had doubts about Flynn before Trump appointed him national security adviser.
The panel’s leaders — Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — succeeded in getting information from Trump Jr. and Manafort after threatening to force both to appear at a public hearing Wednesday. Grassley and Feinstein issued a subpoena to make Manafort testify, but retracted the request after Manafort began handing over documents to the committee.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn now to the second half of our series on political divisions in unlikely places.
In May, NewsHour producer Elizabeth Flock wrote about a group of women in a conservative West Virginia coal mining town who spoke out against President Trump and received backlash from their neighbors.
Her new piece, out this week, is an in-depth look at a group of conservative women trying to find their voice in a city known for its progressive politics, Portland, Oregon.
And Liz joins me now.
Liz, welcome back.
You were in Portland for several days and just got back. Why did you choose that city?
ELIZABETH FLOCK: In part, I chose Portland just because it was a progressive city, and I was really interested to see, what is it like to be a Trump supporter in such a liberal place?
But there had also been a number of recent pro-Trump rallies even after the election in Portland and the surrounding area, and those had ended in some violent clashes between the left and the right. And so I was really interested to see what was going on there.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And we actually covered — covered some of those.
How did you find these women? How did you get in touch with them and how easy was it to get them to trust you, to talk to you?
ELIZABETH FLOCK: Yes.
Well, I found all of them online through pro-Trump Facebook groups, Women for Trump. It was really hard to gain their trust. A lot of them had no interested in speaking to me. There is a perception that the media is very liberal, very biased, produces fake news.
Some of them said they’d speak to me and later made the decision that they didn’t want to.
And one of the women I met in a public park because she said: “I’m concerned about meeting you. I don’t know what you’re going to do when I meet you. Maybe you will try to hurt me. I think we should meet in a public place.”
So there was a lot of fear of the media and how they’re portrayed.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Tell us about what it’s like for them? What do they go through as they express their political views?
ELIZABETH FLOCK: Well, they certainly get a lot of pushback for their beliefs. And some of them do have more extreme beliefs, to be certain.
Others hold more moderate views, but they’re all sort of clumped together as one thing. They’re called racists and bigots regularly. And they’re attacked online. They’re told that they should go die.
One woman told me, one day, when she was walking her dog and wearing a Trump hat, a man just stopped to say to her: “Your kind isn’t wanted here. You should just leave.”
And if they go to these rallies, they face even more of an extreme reaction. Many people in Portland, in the Pacific Northwest come out to counterprotest these rallies. And some of them are more liberal Portlanders who just want to say, I don’t agree with what you have to say.
But others are militant leftists that show up and basically say, we’re unapologetic about using physical violence against these Trump supporters.
And, certainly, violence happens on both sides, but the militant leftists are very unapologetic and open about it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I think, for people who didn’t realize it, it’s eye-opening.
One of the women you talked to, Liz, is transgender.
ELIZABETH FLOCK: Yes.
Her name is Athena Brown. And Athena switched parties from being a Democrat to being a Republican in mid-2016, just before the election. She became fed up, she said, with what she saw as political correctness on the left and in the liberal LGBT community.
And she told me: “You know, when I became — when I came out as transgender, I lost two friends. When I came out as Republican, I lost 100 friends on Facebook.”
And so she really saw that as an example of the left’s intolerance to people who do not share their views.
JUDY WOODRUFF: How do these women keep going? In that environment, where they are such a minority, what keeps them going? How do they deal with it?
ELIZABETH FLOCK: I think they’re actually invigorated by the pushback that they’re getting.
I think they really feel that it’s worth, it’s important to go out and defend what they see as an attack on free speech. And, you know, one of the interesting things I saw is, as the left tried to shut down what they had to say, these Trump supporters, these women were more determined to go out and to speak.
They just wanted to get more active and became more even strident in their beliefs.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, in a way, it was a mirror image of the anti-Trump women you talked to in conservative West Virginia.
ELIZABETH FLOCK: Absolutely.
In both places, I think, as people tried to shut down what they had to say, these women just wanted to speak out louder. They wanted to get more involved and more active. But, in both places, it felt like people on opposite sides of the political divide were not speaking to each other. They were speaking past each other, and there was no interest in really hearing what the other side had to say.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Discouraging, but some great reporting.
Liz Flock, thank you very much.
ELIZABETH FLOCK: Thanks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can find Liz’s full reports on our Web site. That’s PBS.org/NewsHour.
The post What it’s like to be a Trump supporter in an ultra-liberal city appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller is here to provide the answers you need on aging and retirement. His weekly column, “Ask Phil,” aims to help older Americans and their families by answering their health care and financial questions. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.
William: I took Social Security benefits early in 2014 when I was 62. At the time, my daughter was 15, but Social Security did not ask me if I had a minor child. I did not realize she was eligible until I read an article. I called Social Security, and they said our family was only eligible for six months of retroactive benefits and not the 36 months I think we should receive. I was wondering if you knew how I could get help in getting these back benefits?
Phil Moeller: I would like to tell you that you can get all the past benefits you feel you deserve. Unfortunately, Social Security is not legally responsible for telling you about its rules and benefits. The burden is on you to know these rules as impossible as this may be.
You can file an online appeal, but citing the agency’s failure to tell you about benefits for your daughter is unlikely to be a compelling reason for the agency to change its decision. Having said this, I urge you and anyone else in this situation to appeal, to complain and to copy the offices of their elected representative in Washington.
What good is providing benefits if no one knows about them!
Patrick – Illinois: I turn 65 in August. I am currently employed with great insurance. However, I want a particular treatment that is covered by Medicare but not covered by my current carrier (because it’s more expensive than other available treatments). I need to keep my employer insurance, because it covers my 61-year-old wife, who has no other access to health insurance. I’m thus wondering what happens if I sign up for Medicare Part B, have the procedure and then drop Part B. Are there any penalties now or in the future for doing so?
Phil Moeller: As you might know, Part B pays only 80 percent of covered expenses. So the first thing I would suggest is that you consider how you would be paying for that other 20 percent. Would your employer plan become a secondary insurer for this treatment? Would you get a Medigap supplemental policy? Would you pay the 20 percent out of your own pocket?
Narrowly defined, you can drop Medicare the day after you’ve received all the care you are seeking from this treatment. In the real world, however, I wouldn’t drop it until you are sure it has covered its share of the treatment’s expenses. Given the often long lag time between a procedure and Medicare’s payment and record-keeping, this might take several months. Whether paying premiums during this period is worth it to you would depend on the cost of the treatment and the “hassle factor” of dealing with any payment disputes once you’re no longer on Medicare.
Because you will be keeping your employer insurance, Medicare should not hit you with any late enrollment penalties if you get it, drop it and then later get it again. Once you retire or otherwise lose access to the employer plan, you will have a special enrollment period to get Medicare without facing late enrollment penalties.
As for your wife, have you considered that she can get guaranteed health coverage from your state Obamacare exchange? This might be cheaper than keeping your employer plan. If you also left the employer plan, of course, you’d probably want to keep Medicare.
Tommy – Mississippi: I am getting Medicare and have been considering a Plan F Medicare supplement policy. I have read that it will be altered or discontinued in 2020. If I elect Plan F in 2018 and it is altered or discontinued in 2020, will I continue in the plan with the same benefits available to me as in 2018? Will Plan F go into a death spiral with ever increasing premiums, ultimately forcing participants to leave? Can I change plans in 2020 or later regardless of health?
Phil Moeller: In 2020, Plan F plans sold to new purchasers will no longer be able to cover the annual deductible for Part B, which is $183 this year. If you buy a Plan F policy before then, you would be able to renew it, and it would continue to cover the Part B annual deductible. However, as you suggest, if this provision causes fewer new enrollees to purchase Plan F policies, it could have a negative impact on existing Plan F policyholders.
I have been advising people to consider purchasing Plan G policies. Plan G covers everything that Plan F covers except for the Part B deductible. And the last time I checked with a broker, Plan F annual premiums were far more than $183 and higher than Plan G premiums.
You are free to change Medigap plans every year during open enrollment. However, you would no longer enjoy the guaranteed issue rights available to new Medicare enrollees. These rights require insurers to sell Medigap policies without raising rates due to a person’s pre-existing medical condition or age. Once this period has passed, it can be difficult to find a policy or to find one at an attractive price.
Jim – New York: I would like to begin Social Security benefits at age 64. I am worried that income from stock options I have received would count as wages. Because I have not yet reached full retirement age, would Social Security reduce my benefits?
Phil Moeller: My reading of Social Security’s official rules is that stock options would not count as wage compensation for purposes of calculating whether your earnings would be subject to the earnings test.
Joe – Michigan: I’m 66 years old. Do I have to have Medicare? Why would I have to pay for that? Can’t I just get Medicaid?
Phil Moeller: For those 65 and older, Medicaid is only available to people who have Medicare. So, you must apply for Medicare if you want health insurance. When you do, you would be judged eligible for Medicaid if your income and financial resources were small enough. These rules are set on a state-by-state basis. Free Medicare counseling is provided by the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). I suggest you contact a Michigan SHIP office and see if someone there can help you apply.
Kurstin: My father has Medicare and is living in Singapore. He was diagnosed with a brain cancer and has been receiving treatment there with the intention of coming back to the United States for further treatment. However, his cancer has progressed, so he’s not allowed to fly to return to the United States. He is getting close to needing additional medical assistance and possibly hospice. Would Medicare cover the cost if he’s in Singapore? We are very confused and at a total loss for next steps.
Phil Moeller: I am sorry to hear about your father’s illness. Unfortunately, I do not believe Medicare’s hospice benefit would be available to someone who was not in the United States. I wish I had better news.
Tom – Florida: I am 65, covered by health insurance at work and have decided not to get Medicare at this time. However, when I do enroll later, I wondered if the costs would be higher than if I’d enrolled when I turned 65?
Phil Moeller: The Part B premium is the only part of Medicare that charges less to some earlier enrollees. This is due to Social Security’s “hold harmless” rules, which are explained here. However, these rate differences should disappear over time.
It’s also possible that a 65-year-old purchaser of a Medigap supplement plan might pay slightly less than a new 66-year-old enrollee a year later.
There is no “early bird” edge for purchasers of Medicare Part D drug plans or Medicare Advantage plans. All similar purchasers pay the same premiums and any year-over-year changes in these plans are applied to all policyholders.
Even with the possible differences in Part B and Medigap premiums, they are not large enough to justify paying an entire year’s premium for a product you don’t need.
Chris: I’m 55, and my wife is 44. We have two children, ages 12 and 18. I understand that if I die prior to my youngest turning 18, any minor children will get benefits until they’re 18, and my wife would get benefits for caring for them. Is this right? There seem to be so many scenarios here that it’s easy to get confused.
Phil Moeller: Your understanding is correct, but you should keep in mind that individual benefits to three people based on one person’s Social Security earnings record – yours in this case – are likely to be reduced because of Social Security’s family maximum benefit.
Jeffrey: I’m trying to figure out if I earn enough money to be required to pay Medicare’s high-income surcharges? I understand these surcharges are based on something called modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI. But I need help in figuring out how to calculate it.
Phil Moeller: Social Security often does this — tossing out a concept but then failing to provide a detailed definition.
Here is a definition of MAGI that I found on an IRS webpage. It was dealing with education tax credits and not Medicare surcharges, but the definition shouldn’t change:
MAGI for most people is the amount of AGI, or adjusted gross income, shown on your tax return. On Form 1040A, AGI is on line 22 and is the same as MAGI. If you file Form 1040, AGI is on line 38 and you add back the following:
If you need to adjust your AGI to find your MAGI, there are worksheets in the Publication 970 to help you.
Notice that the IRS even fudges here when it says this is the definition for “most people.” No wonder we have so many tax lawyers!
The post Why won’t Social Security give me the retroactive child benefits I’m entitled to? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: A new study raises even stronger concerns about the risks of brain injury from the country’s most popular professional sport.
It’s the focus of our weekly segment the Leading Edge.
And Hari Sreenivasan has the story from our New York studios.
HARI SREENIVASAN: We have known about the dangers of hard hits and concussions from football, and that many players are suffering from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
But, yesterday, the largest study to date concluded that 110 of 111 former NFL players who had died and donated their brains had CTE. These included former greats such as quarterback Kenny Stabler and linebacker Dave Duerson.
Researchers also looked at the brains of 202 former players, including high school and college athletes; 87 percent were found to have CTE.
The NFL released a statement.
It said in part: “We appreciate the work for the value it adds in the ongoing quest for a better understanding of CTE. The NFL will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes.”
Michael Alosco is a co-author of the study from the Boston University CTE Center.
Michael, thanks for joining us.
You and your researchers point out that this is not a random sample, that the group of brains that you were studying either came directly from the athletes or from members of their family who thought there might be something wrong.
That said, what does this information tell you? What does this data point to?
MICHAEL ALOSCO, Boston University CTE Center: This is the largest case series study to date of CTE.
You know, it’s among football players. The sheer numbers, the sheer size of the individuals who had CTE is really concerning. It’s really suggesting a link between prior participation in football and CTE.
It’s really going to serve as a foundation, as a rich data source going forward to really study this disease and figuring out what causes it and identifying the risk factors and to really better understand it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Help us understand what CTE does to the brain.
MICHAEL ALOSCO: It’s a neurodegenerative disease, so a neurodegenerative disease similar to Alzheimer’s, but it’s very distinct from Alzheimer’s disease.
What we see in CTE is this protein called tau. Tau is a protein that helps stabilize the cell, but in CTE, it becomes abnormal. And, specifically, it starts to collect around the blood vessels.
And it’s located at the base of the (INAUDIBLE) kind of right below the bottom of the tissue of the brain. And it’s a really unique presentation.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, Michael, I know you sent us a slide. We’re going to put that on the screen.
On the left-hand side, you kind of see a cross-section of a brain that’s almost off-white. And then, on the right-hand side, you see a lot more dark edges. And that, I suppose, is where the CTE is.
But what — how does this affect a player’s behavior?
MICHAEL ALOSCO: We see a lot of different types of symptoms in CTE. A lot of them are nonspecific, meaning that, you know, we see these symptoms across various conditions.
However, in CTE, we’re commonly seeing behavior changes, so we’re seeing aggressive behaviors, violent behaviors. We’re seeing changes in mood, like depression. And we’re also seeing changes in thinking and memory.
What we need to identify is what symptoms are specific to CTE. And by doing that, it will help us diagnose CTE in life and really characterize it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: One of the things I found interesting was that you actually found this in high school players.
And so that means that this wasn’t just the big-time NFL superstars that were hitting each other with tremendous force, but does this have a cumulative effect?
MICHAEL ALOSCO: That was actually really surprising to us as well is, we’re finding CTE kind of across the levels of play going from high school up to the people who play professionally, as you mentioned.
But we don’t know how much is too much yet. You know, we don’t know what it means if you just play high school football. We don’t know what that means in terms of risk for CTE. We did find it in three individuals.
But we need to, you know, identify those people and follow them over time to see what happens to them.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Speaking of that, while this is obviously the gold standard, you have someone’s brain to work with, but that’s, unfortunately, posthumously.
Is there anything that science is doing now to be able to detect and diagnose and intervene while a player is still alive?
MICHAEL ALOSCO: Right now, we can only diagnose CTE after death, as you mentioned.
Our work at Boston University is also, though, studying living subjects, and we’re trying to identify tools that look at the brain, that look at different proteins in the blood, trying to identify these tools that can detect CTE in life.
And we’re really hopeful that, you know, in the next five or seven years, we will make a lot of progress on that front.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s important to point out you’re not just focused on NFL players. You have actually the brains of athletes from other sports as well?
MICHAEL ALOSCO: Right.
So, the paper that we’re talking about is all about football players. But, really, it’s a brain bank for all individuals who had some type of exposure to repetitive head impacts.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I think one of the questions that parents want to know is, should I pull my child out of football?
MICHAEL ALOSCO: So, that’s the million-dollar question we always get.
And it’s a very tough question, and the reason being is, we know there’s a lot of benefits associated with playing sports and participating in sports. But this study and our findings, they raise a lot of concern.
But we need to do more future research. We need to know more about the disease, more about the risk factors for the disease before we can really make any informed recommendations about policy or about safety. We need to learn more.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Michael Alosco, thanks so much for joining us today.
MICHAEL ALOSCO: Thank you for having me.
The post What football does to the brain, according to a major study appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
Weeks before the NFL season begins, new research reminds us of the physical cost of America’s most popular sport.
A new study of 111 former NFL players found all but one had a degenerative brain disease as known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). These injuries may have started early in the players’ careers, based on the findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The results also suggest those who play American football have a higher chance of developing long-term neurological conditions, like CTE.
“This is the largest study to date on CTE,” Michael Alosco, a clinical neuropsychology fellow Boston University and study co-author said. “It provides a rich source of data on what CTE look like on the brain and how the symptoms play out over the course of years.”
CTE is a disease that occurs in people who have endured repeated brain trauma. Symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases, such as CTE, not only affect one’s behavior, memory and mood, but can also promote dementia, the report stated.
Alosco and his colleagues studied the brains of 202 deceased players of American football across all levels of play, including those who participated in football before high school, in high school, semi professionally, in the Canadian Football League and in the NFL. All the players involved in the study had donated their brains for research.
Overall, 87 percent — or 177 players — had CTE. But the rate was significantly higher — 99 percent — in former NFL players. On average, participants with mild signs of CTE had played for 13 years, while subjects with severe CTE had careers lasting 15.8 years.
“We have followed the studies and the science on this serious issue closely, which is why we have advocated for and mandated the health and safety advancements in the NFL in recent years,” Kaitlin Murphy, a spokeswoman for the NFL Players Association said in a statement to PBS NewsHour. “Our union will continue to look at the developments in the medical and scientific community to fight for additional changes in the future.”
Last year, Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of health and safety, admitted that a connection existed between football and brain damage in response to a Boston University study that found CTE in 90 of 94 former NFL players.
But in response to Tuesday’s study, the NFL stated, “There are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE.” The NFL did not respond to the NewsHour’s request for comment.
The study exposes what happens during glimpses into this disease’s during its early stages and its progressions, by looking at a large number of people who endured the same type of repetitive head trauma within the same sport. Three out of 14 (56 percent) high school players had mild CTE pathology, whereas severe CTE was found in the majority of former college (91 percent), semi-professional (64 percent) and professional players (99 percent).
Brain injuries can promote mental conditions like bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Anne McDonnell, executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia, told the NewsHour.
Out of the 27 former players participants with mild CTE pathology, 96 percent had behavioral or mood symptoms while they were alive. That rate was similar for the 84 participants with severe CTE pathology. Of those, 89 percent had behavioral or mood symptoms, 95 percent showed a decline in cognitive ability, and 85 percent had signs of dementia.
“Damage to the brain, even a mild injury, can cause a decrease in the life span and puts people in the risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s,” McDonnell said.
Suicide was the most common cause of death for those with mild CTE, pathology whereas those with severe CTE typically passed away due to complications with neurodegenerative diseases, like pathology was neurodegenerative such as dementia or pParkinson’s disease. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Long, former Chicago Bears defensive back David Duerson and Adrian Robinson, who played for several NFL teams throughout his career, are all examples of players whose suicides have been linked to brain disease.
Dr. Gregory J. O’Shanick, president and medical director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation Services in Virginia, said he isn’t sure if the NFL will do anything further with this information but that the study outlines path to addressing the long-term consequences of head injuries, like concussions.
“What this does show though is that in essence, you have nearly 100 percent evidence in abnormality in these players,” O’Shanick said. “[But what deserves more scrutiny] is the one individual who has no evidence of CTE. That’s the person that needs to be focused on to see what can be duplicated … to hopefully protect others.”
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Earlier this month, Walter Shaub resigned as director of the federal Office of Government Ethics, a position he’s held since January 2013.
In the final months of his tenure, Shaub clashed with the Trump administration on a number of ethics issues. Currently, he is senior director of ethics for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center.
And Mr. Shaub joins me now.
Thank you for being here at the NewsHour.
So, you had been — you were just telling me you had been at the Office of Government Ethics for, what, 15, 16 years?
WALTER SHAUB, Campaign Legal Center: Right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Leading up to your decision to resign. You had another six months to go as director of the office. Why leave? Why not stay until the end, next January?
WALTER SHAUB: Well, first of all, thanks for having me.
I started at OGE in 2001 and have served there continuously, except for two years, when I left. I have seen OGE operate under three different presidential administrations right now, including the administrations of President Bush and President Obama, who were incredibly supportive of the ethics program.
Both of those administrations really supported OGE in absolutely every way they could, and our work functioned very smoothly. In the past eight months, we have departed from ethical norms. And the program is under significant pressure from the White House that has set a tone from the top that ethics doesn’t matter.
And so I did all I could, and I reached a point where I thought there wasn’t more I could achieve from inside. But, by leaving, I would actually have more freedom to continue to try to push for the restoration of our ethics program.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you have been speaking out since then. Give us an example of the way or ways that this administration, as you say, was putting stress on the ethics procedures.
WALTER SHAUB: Well, in one way, it really began with the president declaring that he’s not going to divest his financial interests.
And that means there is a cloud over all government decision-making that stems from the president, because you can’t know whether his decisions are being made on the basis of policy aims or on the basis of financial interests.
And when he travels to all of his properties on a frequent basis, he’s giving each of them free advertisements, and he speaks freely about those. He could have, instead, divested his interests and told his administration to stay away there his properties, which would have kept some of the foreign governments or charities or businesses that have booked his business — his properties to be closer to the president not to do that.
I think a lot of things happen on a day-to-day basis as well. I fought a battle that took over a month to get them to release some waivers that they had been issuing, and OGE’s collection of waivers…
JUDY WOODRUFF: To individuals.
WALTER SHAUB: To individual appointees.
And OGE’s collection of waivers and other ethics documents has been a routine function of OGE’s program dating all the way back to its beginning. OGE is by statute the supervising Ethics Office.
When I finally got the waivers, I was shocked to see that a number of them, most of them, actually, were unsigned, undated, either explicitly or implicitly retroactive, and two of them were issued by the counselor of the president to a group of people that included himself.
So, that’s about as bad an ethics program as you can run.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, now you know that — what the White House has been saying since you left your position. They were criticizing you before. They have been criticizing since.
They say you have been talking to the news media. I saw one quote where they said you were “grandstanding,” that you’re trying to give additional powers to the Ethics Office that it never had before.
WALTER SHAUB: Well, I do think that, based on recent experiences, the Ethics Office needs more power than it’s had before, because its functions depended on a White House that wanted to support the ethics program.
So, when they threw roadblocks in the way of the supervising Ethics Office’s ability to again access to routine ethics documents, that was a clear signal that OGE didn’t have enough ability to carry out its mission.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And then very recently, Walter Shaub, you have spoken out about the person who has been named the acting director of the Ethics Office since you left. Why the concern there?
WALTER SHAUB: So, you know, I want to make clear that I think that individual, Dave Apol, is a good person and an excellent attorney.
I hired him because he has got a particular viewpoint, which is at odds with the traditional interpretation of the ethics role that OGE has always had, because I wanted diversity of opinion.
And it worked well while I was in charge because I had two see senior officials who had very differing opinions, and we could have robust debate. And Dave was always very respectful when a decision was finally made.
But I am concerned that he has a particular outlook, that he would wind up loosening the ethics rules and OGE’s interpretations.
And, to be clear, I would have no problem if they nominated him, so the Senate could vet these viewpoints. But I think that the administration did an end-run around the natural succession of the chief of staff to appoint one of her subordinates as acting director in order to avoid the Senate confirmation process and have someone in the office who is sympathetic to their views.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just very quickly, in the time that we have left, you are trying now, as we said, to beef up the Office of Government Ethics. You’re working with members of Congress from both political parties to do this.
Just in a quick nutshell, what do you think needs to be done, needs to be added?
WALTER SHAUB: So, there’s a number of measures I’m proposing to try to get OGE a little bit more independence, including the ability to gather records and information, if necessary, by issuing subpoenas.
I also think that there’s a number of tweaks that can be done to the ethics rules. And, ultimately, I would like to see some accountability for resolving presidential conflicts of interest.
That last one might be a tougher sell, but some of the proposals are technical enough that they shouldn’t be controversial.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I hope we can stay in touch with you as you work on this.
Walter Shaub, the former director of the office of Government Ethics, thank you very much.
WALTER SHAUB: Thanks for having me.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The battle to retake Mosul from ISIS is nearing its end. And yet a new deadly campaign is under way by some Iraqi forces of revenge and retribution against those suspected to have fought for or aided ISIS.
From Northern Iraq, special correspondent Marcia Biggs and videographer Alessandro Pavone report.
And a warning: Images and accounts in this story may disturb some viewers.
MARCIA BIGGS: It starts at dawn here in West Mosul, members of Iraqi special forces going door to door in search of ISIS sleeper cells. Clashes continue in a small pocket of the Old City, but for most of Mosul, this is where the fight against ISIS stands.
In some houses, we find the remnants of life under ISIS.
This was a Da’esh prison, he says.
So this was once the home of a local politician. When ISIS took the area, they turned his house into a jail. ISIS imprisoned anyone who didn’t pledge loyalty to them, who didn’t join them and stick to their rules, this lieutenant says. They considered them outlaws.
After several hours searching, they come across this man, who they believe may have escaped the current clashes in the Old City. He is arrested immediately.
Do you believe he is an ISIS fighter?
STAFF MAJ. QUSAY KENANI, Head of Diyala Regiment, Iraqi Special Forces (through interpreter): I think he is. He is not from this area. No one has ever seen here. People here don’t know him. He is very thin, and the I.D. card is fake. So, probably he is ISIS.
MARCIA BIGGS: We are told he will be released if there is no evidence against him. But for residents here, this is a familiar and frightening scene.
We heard the same story everywhere we went.
ABU ISSA, Mosul Resident (through interpreter): For no reason, the militias took my son five months ago. We don’t know where. We are not ISIS. My son is a shepherd. If we were ISIS, you could come and kill me. Ask anyone here.
MARCIA BIGGS: Just last week, this photo emerged of suspected ISIS fighters rounded up and held in a small dark room in the 120-degree heat, an eye for an eye, as the captors become captive.
Dr. Mansour Maarouf Mansour was working in Qayyarah General Hospital when this video was taken last spring. The hospital was inundated with unidentified bodies coming down the Tigris River. The morgue could barely handle the grim deluge.
A local resident described the what he saw at the riverbank.
MAN (through interpreter): They had their hands tied behind their backs. They were blindfolded and shot in the head. They were floating down the river.
MARCIA BIGGS: And just last week, even more bodies.
You received a lot of bodies that looked to have been the victims of execution, is that right?
MARCIA BIGGS: What was the state of the bodies that you received?
DR. MANSOUR MAAROUF MANSOUR: Yes, most of them were killed by shooting to the head. It’s very little in compared to those who were killed by the liberation process, through the mines, land mines, or the bombs, mortar bombs, or airstrike.
MARCIA BIGGS: The number of civilian casualties has been staggering. Former Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Hoshyar Zebari says at least 40,000 dead, many of them at the hands of coalition airstrikes, which include both Iraqi and American firepower.
As residents return home to a Mosul depleted of ISIS fighters, the new campaign may be one of collective punishment against possible ISIS sympathizers. We traveled to a village just south of the city, where many of the residents collaborated with ISIS.
We had heard reports of so-called revenge death squads coming for them in the dead of night. Um Nazim’s husband was a taxi driver, and she says he just joined the group to survive. He was later killed in an airstrike. She was too scared to let us show her full face.
“UM NAZIM,” ISIS Widow (through interpreter): They told us, if your sons and husbands do not declare loyalty, we will bring back the religious police and we will behead them. He was an old man when we were threatened, so he was scared. He thought it would be better to declare loyalty. It is better than being killed.
MARCIA BIGGS: Since the liberation of her town from ISIS, she says local militias have threatened her, demanding that she leave, even shooting up and raiding her home.
UM NAZIM (through interpreter): We have lost our minds. Every night when we sleep, we don’t know if we will be alive in the morning. What is our life? We were all throwing their clothes in bags, but we didn’t know where to go. We don’t have money to leave or even to rent a car. I don’t know what to do, where to go. I was pacing back and forth in the front yard. I told them, kill me. It’s better than this. Come on and kill me and end my suffering.
MARCIA BIGGS: The Iraqi government maintains that any abuse is being dealt with in due process, and Iraqi commanders admit the mistakes.
MAJ. GEN. NAJIM AL-JUBOURI, Iraqi Commander: We don’t lead eagles. We lead humans. I mean, our soldiers, our police, they are human, not eagles. Maybe someone make some bad thing, but the majority, the general of our forces deal very good with the people.
MARCIA BIGGS: So what do you do when you find out one of your men has been part of this abuse?
MAJ. GEN. NAJIM AL-JUBOURI: We put him in the jail, and we send him to the court. e
MARCIA BIGGS: Do you worry about revenge attacks creating an atmosphere that would make Iraq vulnerable to another ISIS?
MAJ. GEN. NAJIM AL-JUBOURI: Yes, I worry about that. We try to push the local government to put some solution to these things.
MARCIA BIGGS: Human rights groups say this is not enough.
TOM PORTEOUS, Deputy Program Director, Human Rights Watch: The Iraqi government sometimes responds to our reports and our advocacy by making the right sort of noises and making the right kinds of statements, but it’s never followed up with a proper procedure to secure accountability for the abuses that we document.
You can win the war militarily against the Islamic State, but if you are continuing to commit abuses with impunity, then you are simply sowing the seeds for the reemergence of extremism and radicalism in Iraq.
MARCIA BIGGS: Like many Sunni Arabs that lived under ISIS, Um Nazim feels she is under siege by the Shia-dominated government and militias that fought and won the battle against ISIS.
Do you hope that ISIS will come back?
UM NAZIM (through translator): I don’t hope that ISIS will come back, but there was peace and no one interfered in the life of anyone else. No one oppressed anyone. The situation was calmer.
MARCIA BIGGS: For you, but for those who weren’t part of ISIS, they were very scared.
UM NAZIM (through interpreter): No, no one in Iraq was scared. Everybody was living in peace under ISIS, not just us, because my husband was with ISIS.
MARCIA BIGGS: But how can you say that? We have heard so many stories of people who were killed, people who were repressed, who couldn’t go to school?
UM NAZIM (through interpreter): I don’t know. I didn’t go out. I didn’t see anything. I’m only responsible for myself, not for others. I didn’t see anyone kill anyone else in front of me. I heard people say that others were killed, but who knows who killed them.
MARCIA BIGGS: What do you say to the children whose parents were killed by ISIS suicide bombers?
UM NAZIM (through interpreter): I don’t know. I didn’t see. I wasn’t with ISIS to know anything about that. ISIS became a state and a government. Who can say anything to them under their rule?
MARCIA BIGGS: Like many under occupation, Um Nazim turned a blind eye in order to ensure her own safety.
The dust is beginning to settle in Mosul, but revenge can be a dirty game. The battle may have ended, but a new war in Iraq may be just beginning.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Marcia Biggs in and around Mosul, Iraq.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: It has been just over two years since the Iran nuclear agreement was signed under the Obama administration. But President Trump may very well be on the way toward pulling the United States out of the deal.
John Yang has that.
JOHN YANG: Candidate Donald Trump ran against the agreement, but President Trump has twice followed the State Department’s advice, and certified that Iran is complying with it.
But now, in a Wall Street Journal interview published today, Mr. Trump indicates he’s willing to overrule the State Department when the next certification is due in October.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have given them the benefit of every doubt. We’re doing very detailed studies. And, personally, I have great respect for my people. If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago.
QUESTION: Do you expect them to be declared noncompliant next time?
DONALD TRUMP: Personally, I do.
JOHN YANG: What would it mean if Mr. Trump said Iran is not complying? What’s at stake here?
We get two views. First, Rob Malley is here in the studio. As special assistant to President Obama, he was the lead senior White House negotiator for the agreement. He is now a vice president of the International Crisis Group. And joining us from Toronto is Mark Dubowitz. He is chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. He has been advising the Trump administration on Iran policy.
Rob, let me start with you.
What’s your response to what the president said? I should point out that, in that interview, he went on to say that he thinks Iran is taking advantage of this country. He said: “They have taken advantage of a president named Barack Obama who didn’t know what the hell he was doing.”
ROBERT MALLEY, International Crisis Group: I’ll respond to that, but let’s get the facts straight.
We have now, since President Trump has been in office, twice, they — the administration certified that Iran was in compliance of the deal. Twice, the administration waived the sanctions, which is a way of indicating that it’s mutually reciprocal. This is the administration’s response to the fact that Iran is doing its share, we do our share.
Twice, the agency, the international agency that’s responsible for deciding whether — decides on compliance — whether Iran is in compliance with its nuclear restrictions, the International Atomic Energy Agency, twice since Trump has been in office, it has said that Iran is living up to its deal.
And, twice, the joint commission, which is a commission formed by all of the member countries that negotiated the deal, including the United States, twice, including recently, they have said that Iran is in compliance.
So maybe the president has information that he hasn’t shared with anyone else. But, at this point, it’s clear that for almost every objective observer, every objective observer — the subjective observers may have another view — but every objective observer has said Iran is in compliance.
So, I don’t know where he comes up with saying that he knows, but others don’t know. Even his Cabinet disagrees, apparently, but he knows that Iran is not in compliance.
So, that really would be breaking our own obligations under the deal, but also breaking with our allies, which would put us in a very difficult position.
JOHN YANG: Mark Dubowitz, you are advising the administration. I presume you wouldn’t want to talk about that advice, make that advice public.
But what should the president should do? What do you think the president should do when this next certification comes up?
MARK DUBOWITZ, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: So, the president should make it very clear that Iran is not in compliance with the deal.
It’s been very clear. And Secretary Tillerson’s letter to Congress again made it very clear that there are incremental violations of the deal. The president actually didn’t certify that Iran is in full compliance with the deal. He merely said that Iran meets certain conditions that were laid by Congress, which didn’t require full compliance.
So, my advice to the president would be state the facts, which is, Iran is incrementally violating the deal, but unless there’s a material breach of the JCPOA, the nuclear deal, don’t go to the joint commission, don’t snap back the U.N. sanctions, but use that noncompliance as a predicate to roll out a much more comprehensive Iran policy that deals with all forms of Iranian malign behavior, not only nuclear misbehavior, but Iran’s malign behavior across multiple fronts.
That’s a full, comprehensive policy, and it gets us away from this myopic focus on the nuclear deal, which I think paralyzed U.S.-Iran policy under President Obama.
JOHN YANG: Rob Malley, myopic focus on the nuclear deal? Or should there be consideration of things, a broader consideration, as he says?
ROB MALLEY: There should, there has been, and there will continue to be.
I mean, what the Obama administration, what President Obama did was take one issue, which was a critical issue, not only our national security experts, but Israeli and other experts said, if Iran were to rush to a bomb, we would be in a very difficult situation.
Let’s look at the case of North Korea. We wouldn’t want to see a North Korea in the Persian Gulf. So, that was a priority at that point wasn’t not to give up on the other issues. Let’s at least make sure that Iran is not in a position to get a bomb.
At the same time, let’s push back on their regional activities, let’s see what we can do about their ballistic missiles, but the deal itself — and deliberately — was about this issue. It wasn’t a case of myopia. It was a case of, we’re going to deal with the issue. We solved it, at least for the time being. And let’s work on the other issues at the same time.
There is nothing in the nuclear deal that would prevent us from taking action against Iran if it engaged in terrorism, ballistic missiles, human rights violations. The question at the heart of what the president said is whether we are going to continue to honor our part of the deal, to make sure that Iran also honors its part and doesn’t rush to a nuclear bomb, so that we don’t have what we now in North Korea.
North Korea, we have a country that has a nuclear bomb, and we have no visibility on what they’re doing. In Iran, we have a country that doesn’t have a nuclear bomb, and we have almost maximum visibility as a result of the deal in every aspect of their nuclear program.
JOHN YANG: Mark Dubowitz, what about that, the idea that it’s better to know what is going on, to work within this agreement and know what Iran is doing?
MARK DUBOWITZ: Well, I’m glad Rob brought up the fatally flawed North Korea nuclear agreement, because the Iran nuclear agreement is similarly fatally flawed.
It contains within it sunset provisions, where the restrictions of Iran’s nuclear program actually go away over time, and Iran can emerge, by actually faithfully complying with the deal, with an industrial sized nuclear program, with near zero nuclear breakout capability, with a much easier covert sneak-out capability with an ICBM, with a powerful economy fortified against our ability to use sanctions, and with increased regional hegemony.
So, Rob is right. The deal temporarily pushed the Iranians further in terms of breakout, but over the medium term, Iran is going to emerge with everything it wants by faithfully complying with the deal.
So, we don’t want another fatally flawed nuclear agreement like we had with North Korea. What we need to start dealing with is this flawed agreement. And I think the president has already made it very clear that he thinks this is a terrible deal, he thinks it’s a fatally flawed deal.
And I think my advice to him is don’t certify compliance and begin to lay the predicate for a massive pressure campaign and get the Iranians back to the table to negotiate a nuclear deal number two that addresses some of these fatally flawed elements of the deal, and, by the way, give us inspection rights into military sites, which, right now, we have in theory, but, in practice, the Iranians aren’t letting us into their military sites, where they’re likely to engage in nuclear weaponization activities like they have in the past.
So, we better rectify this fatally flawed deal, or the Iranians are going to a nuke, ICBMs, and they’re going to have the ability to dominate like nothing we have seen before.
JOHN YANG: Rob Malley, what would be the consequences? What is at stake here? What would be the consequences if the president did say Iran is not living up to this deal?
ROB MALLEY: Well, first, I have to say, I’m a little bit confused about argument that Mark was making.
Is the argument that the deal is fatally flawed and, therefore, we shouldn’t accept it, we should walk away, we should renegotiate it, which would be one path? Very dangerous. And I won’t get into that.
Or is his view, the deal is OK for now, but in 12, 13, 14, 15 years, as some provisions are going to expire, and so we should think of whether we can negotiate what happens afterwards, but in which case we’re going to give something to Iranians in return. Nobody is going to — the Iranians are not going to accept to negotiate more restrictions in exchange for nothing.
So, I think we need to clarify. Right now, we’re in a much better position than we were at the time President Obama took office, because we have these restrictions. And according to every inspection that has been done, every report by the IAEA, Iran is in compliance.
Now, if tomorrow, the president were to decide to announce that Iran is not in compliance, first of all, I think we would have a little bit of deja vu in terms of Iraq. I think most people in the international community would believe that we’re just fabricating evidence, because we haven’t shared it, because, right now, we’re the only ones who are claiming that Iran is not in — or we would be the only ones claiming that.
That would not put us in a strong position. If we were to do that, and that is it, and continue to honor the deal, it would be a hiccup. It would once again signal to the world that we have a rather erratic administration.
If he were then to impose sanctions, to reimpose the sanctions that were lifted, reimpose sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program, then we would be in breach. And either Iran would itself say we’re not only bound by our own commitments, and we have a possibility of Iran trying to acquire a nuclear bomb, or we would be isolated in the international community, because the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, everyone would say, it’s on you. It’s not on Iran.
Why would we want that?
JOHN YANG: Mark Dubowitz, let me — I want you to respond.
What would happen? What practically would happen if the president said they weren’t complying? And then what should the next step be?
MARK DUBOWITZ: Well, actually, practically speaking, what Rob’s not telling you is that, if the president says they’re not complying, but he doesn’t say that they’re in material breach, then actually nothing happens.
Then we don’t go to the joint commission. We don’t snap back U.N. and U.S. sanctions. We merely say Iran is engaging in incremental violations. And we know that the Iranians violate incrementally, not egregiously, even though, over time, the sum total of the incremental violations is always egregious.
What Rob’s not telling you is that he knows and we know that the Iranians have been incrementally violating this deal. They have exceeded heavy water caps. Heavy water is the essential ingredient you need for a plutonium bomb.
They’re testing more advanced centrifuges than they are permitted under the nuclear agreement. They have been illicitly procuring nuclear and ballistic missile technology in Germany, according to German intelligence services.
And they have exceeded their enrichment cap. So, the fact of the matter is, there are violations. They’re not material breaches. They’re incremental violations. The president should state that, certify that, and say Iran is not in full compliance.
Now, the second step is to say whether it’s a material breach. And it’s. It’s not a material breach. And he should move ahead with the maximum pressure campaign.
JOHN YANG: Mark Dubowitz, I’m sorry. We’re out of time.
Mark Dubowitz, Rob Malley, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you, gentlemen.
ROB MALLEY: Thank you.
MARK DUBOWITZ: Thanks so much.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Republicans faced another challenge today in their efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Lisa Desjardins has more.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: This certainly won’t be easy. Hardly anything in this process has been.
LISA DESJARDINS: The whirlwind process ticked on in the Senate today, but Republicans found themselves no closer to passing a plan to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act.
Two key GOP ideas failed by significant margins in the past 24 hours. First, last night, nine Republicans voted against the latest Senate plan, including Senator Ted Cruz’s proposal plan to allow insurance plans with almost no regulations.
Then today came an idea backed by conservatives like Kentucky senator Rand Paul, a straight repeal in two years with no replacement attached. Paul said Obamacare’s relations mean options are far too limited.
SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.: Do you think that the — that every American should get to choose, that every American gets to choose whether they have insurance or not, and what kind of insurance they have? This is what it’s about. It’s a freedom of choice.
LISA DESJARDINS: But his straight repeal lost 45-55. Seven Republican senators rejected the idea.
Republican leaders instead focused on a longer game, reminding their party of its pledge to repeal Obamacare.
SEN. JOHN THUNE, R-S.D.: We made a commitment to the American people. It’s time to make good on that promise.
LISA DESJARDINS: And it now appears the Senate GOP’s best shot at a bill is what’s known as skinny repeal, repealing the individual mandate, and not much else. That is expected to be one of the last votes this week, and so begins the jockeying for what goes in it.
South Carolina Lindsey Graham wants more block grants for states in the plan.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R- S.C.: And if it can’t do that, I’m not voting for it.
LISA DESJARDINS: All this a day after the Senate barely voted to begin debate.
Today, President Trump singled out Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski for her vote against starting debate yesterday, tweeting that she “really let the Republicans and our country down yesterday. Too bad.”
Murkowski defended her vote to The Alaska Dispatch News, saying, “I didn’t think that we were ready for the debate, and I have said pretty consistently that process really does matter.”
As it does to Democrats, like Oregon’s Ron Wyden, calling for fixes, rather than repeal for Obamacare.
SEN. RON WYDEN, D-Ore.: We all agree that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. We’re going to take steps immediately to stabilize the private insurance market.
LISA DESJARDINS: The clock is now ticking on the 20 hours of debate required for any bill. After that, any amendments not already passed can be tacked on in a process known as vote-a-rama.
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn:
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: We will conclude one way or another on either late Thursday or Friday morning.
LISA DESJARDINS: That means the Senate, and Americans watching, have two days to weigh in on this critical draft about the future of health care.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And in the day’s other news: The Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that same-sex couples deserve the same protections from domestic violence as heterosexual couples. The court said that the state’s existing law is unconstitutional. Several other states have already changed their laws on the issue. Activists expressed hope that today’s decision encourages more to do so.
The U.S. Senate voted down a proposal today to repeal the Affordable Care Act two years from now, while it works on a replacement. It was the latest sign that it is going to be tougher to win passage of a health care reform bill than it was just simply to get the votes yesterday to begin debate. We will have a full report on this after the news summary.
President Trump took a new verbal shot at U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions today. On Twitter, he complained that Sessions ought to fire acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe for allegedly being too close to his fired predecessor, James Comey, and to Hillary Clinton.
Even so, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders left open the possibility that the president may decide to keep Sessions.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House Press Secretary: He’s obviously disappointed, but also wants the attorney general to continue to focus on the things the attorney general does. Look, you can be disappointed in someone, but still want them to continue to do their job.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the past week, the president has subjected Sessions to daily hectoring for recusing himself in the Russia probe. But at a rally last night, Mr. Trump rejected criticism of his own behavior, saying — quote — “It is so easy to act presidential, but that’s not going to get it done.”
In Afghanistan, Taliban gunmen killed at least 26 Afghan soldiers today after storming an army base in the country’s south. The attack took place near Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city. It came as the Taliban has made significant gains across the country.
Back in this country, a bit of good news: Republican Congressman Steve Scalise has been released from a Washington hospital after being shot and critically wounded last month. He will now begin what the hospital called intensive rehabilitation. The Louisiana lawmaker was one of four people shot by a gunman during a baseball practice. He has had several surgeries.
The Federal Reserve is keeping its standard interest rate unchanged. The Central Bank today cited solid job gains, but noted that inflation remains below the target level. Fed officials already raised rates twice this year.
President Trump today announced that the Taiwan-based Foxconn will build a $10 billion plant in Wisconsin to make liquid crystal display panels. It could mean 3,000 jobs, if it’s built. Foxconn has not always followed through on new projects in the U.S.
And on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 97 points to close at 21711. The Nasdaq rose 10, and the S&P 500 was up a fraction.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: From President Trump today, an abrupt announcement. He is reinstating a ban on transgender troops, and reopening the debate on who gets to serve in the U.S. military.
Word of the military policy reversal came not from the Pentagon, but from the president on Twitter. He said: “The United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”
And he went on: “Our military must be focused on victory, and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Candidate Trump had promised to protect the rights of transgender people.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about that today.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House Press Secretary: He’s also voiced that this is a very expensive and disruptive policy, and based on consultation that he’s had with his national security team, came to the conclusion that it erodes military readiness and unit cohesion, and made the decision based on that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Socially conservative groups welcomed the decision, but it drew quick condemnation from many Democrats, including New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney.
REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY, D-N.Y.: We have heard every tired — every tired discriminatory argument before, and they have always fallen away over time in the face of reason and decency and equality.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some leading members of the president’s own party also rejected the new ban, including Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch and Joni Ernst, who served in the U.S. military in Iraq.
ASHTON CARTER, Former U.S. Secretary Of Defense: I’m announcing today that we’re ending the ban on transgender Americans in the United States military.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All of this comes more than a year after the Obama administration’s secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, announced that transgender people would be allowed to serve openly.
The RAND Cooperation estimates there are up to 6,600 transgender troops on active duty, with possibly another 4,000 in the Reserves. Carter gave the armed services until this month to adjust. But his successor, James Mattis, recently delayed implementation by another six months.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said they need to determine whether transgender recruits have medical issues affecting their ability to deploy and meet physical standards.
Republican Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler of Missouri has unsuccessfully proposed legislation to bar medical services for transgender troops.
REP. VICKY HARTZLER, R-Mo.: The bottom line is, do we need to spend any of our precious tax dollars on these surgeries, when we have soldiers that are having trouble getting body armor and bullets?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Brynn Tannehill is a transgender former Navy pilot, and director for an advocacy group that fights for transgender service members.
LT. CMDR. BRYNN TANNEHILL (RET.), U.S. Navy: What’s extraordinarily disruptive to unit cohesion is taking people who have unique, valuable skills within their units, and yanking them out of those units, ones that are often only one deep in their units. And you can’t replace that. And that’s what affects mission and mission accomplishment.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House indicated today that the military will take the lead on deciding what becomes of transgender people already serving.
Our own William Brangham has reported on transgender people serving in the military. He joins me now to further explain today’s move by the president.
So, William, first, something about the term. We are talking about people who are transgender. The term transition or transitioning is also used. Help us understand the distinction.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I understand this can be confusing for a lot of people.
Just basic facts. To be transgender just means that your gender identity doesn’t match your birth certificate. So, you’re born as female, but you do not feel you’re female. You feel like you’re a male.
To transition can mean a whole spectrum of things. It can mean — it’s not just the surgery people tend to think of, and certainly not every transgender person has that surgery. It can simply mean taking hormones. It can just mean changing your clothes, changing your name.
So, transitioning can be an entire spectrum from things, from medical technologies to just changing your personality a little.
William Brangham explored what it means to be transgender in the armed forces in May 2016.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we heard the president — the press secretary at the White House, Sarah Sanders, citing the president’s concerns, and he tweeted about this.
He says it’s expensive, the cost, the disruption. She talked about readiness, unit cohesion.
Are those factors that the Pentagon is concerned about?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As far as we know, there’s no good evidence that the Pentagon has ever been concerned about those two things. On the issue of disruption, the RAND study that you cited in your report, they did a study that looked at whether or not having trans service members would cause this disruption.
And they surveyed 18 different countries around the world, including the U.K., Australia, Israel, all of whom have trans service members, and those countries reported no disruptions whatsoever, no need to change their policies.
On the issue of cost, the president said this is — I think he’s implying that somehow this is going to cost a fortune for the budget. Again, this RAND study indicated that the rough costs per year are about $2 million to $8 million. That’s not a lot in a $600 billion Pentagon budget.
And just for point of comparison, let’s say those RAND numbers are totally wrong and it’s even more. The Pentagon right now spends 10 times that amount on Cialis and Viagra, so just as a point of comparison.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Another kind of medication.
William, why is this happening now? Is there a sense out of the blue the president tweeted about this, this morning?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It did seem to come out of the blue.
In fact, we reached out to the Pentagon today to ask them about that. And an indication of how much they were caught flat-footed about this, they had nothing to say and referred us back to the White House.
My sense is that there’s two reasons. One, ever since the Obama administration introduced this change, there have been social conservatives, Mike Pence in particular, who have been very resistant to it. They think it’s social engineering of the worst kind.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The vice president.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Exactly. And they have fought it.
But, today, very specifically, there was a fight in the House amongst the GOP — they were trying to getting a spending bill passed with all sorts of goodies that the president wanted, including money for his border wall.
Some deficit and defense hawks said we need to put in a piece of legislation that bans transgender sex reassignment surgery. That was pushed back on by the leadership. And, apparently, some of these members went to the president and said, help us out with this policy.
And he then went 10, 50 yards further down the line and announced this outright ban.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But, again, we see divisions inside the Republican Party over this.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Exactly.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, finally, William, what does this mean for active-duty members now who are transgender, whether they’re serving in this country or overseas?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s the great unknown.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, we’re working out the policy. The Pentagon has no comment on this.
I talked to some people today who are in touch with trans service members right now, and they said that there is an incredible feeling of fear and panic and just uncertainty, that you have signed up. You might be deployed overseas right now.
All of a sudden, you look at your phone, the president has tweeted that your position in the military is over, so big unanswered questions.
JUDY WOODRUFF: A number of questions here.
William Brangham, we thank you.
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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is knocking down a flurry of speculation that he is unhappy in his job and may soon quit.
Asked about the resignation rumors on Wednesday, Tillerson told reporters at the State Department that “I’m not going anywhere.”
He said he would remain as the nation’s top diplomat “as long as the president lets me.” Asked about his relationship with President Donald Trump, Tillerson replied “It’s good.”
Washington has been buzzing with rumors since the beginning of the week that Tillerson will soon leave his post due to frustration with Trump and others in the White House. The State Department had previously denied them but Wednesday marked the first time that Tillerson has addressed them directly.
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WASHINGTON — After seven years of emphatic campaign promises, Senate Republicans demonstrated they didn’t have the stomach to repeal “Obamacare” on Wednesday when it actually counted. The Senate voted 55-45 to reject legislation to throw out major portions of Barack Obama’s law without replacing it.
Seven Republicans joined all Democrats in rejecting a measure by GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky that would have repealed most of former President Obama’s health care law, with a two-year delay but no replacement. Congress passed nearly identical legislation in 2015 and sent it to Obama, who unsurprisingly vetoed it.
Yet this time, with Republican President Donald Trump in the White House itching to sign the bill, the measure failed on the Senate floor. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing “Obamacare” without replacing it would cost more than 30 million Americans their insurance coverage, and that was a key factor in driving away more Republican senators than Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could afford to lose in the closely divided Senate.
The result frustrated other GOP senators, some of whom expressed disbelief that their colleagues would flip-flop on legislation they had voted for only two years ago and long promised to voters. Of the current Republican senators, only moderate Susan Collins of Maine opposed the 2015 repeal bill.
“Make no mistake: Today’s vote is a major disappointment to people who were promised full repeal,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska. “We still have a long, long way to go — both in health policy and in honesty.”
Yet the outcome was hardly a shock in a Senate that’s already shown that unity is elusive when it comes to dealing with Obamacare. The real-world implications of repeal have proven sobering to GOP senators answering to voters who’ve come to rely on expanded insurance coverage under the law.
It’s not over yet. But what the party’s senators might end up agreeing on instead is far from clear. They are plunging ahead with debate toward their unknown goal, pressured by an impatient president. By week’s end Republicans hope to reach agreement among themselves, and eventually with the House, on some kind of repeal and replacement for the Obama law they have reviled for so long.
“We have to keep working hard,” said McConnell, R-Ky. “We’re determined to do everything we can to succeed. We know our constituents are counting on us.”
One possibility taking shape in talks among senators was a “skinny repeal” that would abolish just a few of the key elements of Obama’s law including its mandates that everyone purchase insurance and its taxes that all GOP senators can agree to oppose. But in a sign of the general confusion, some said the tactic was aimed chiefly at moving the process forward into the purview of a committee of Senate-House bargainers while others expressed the hope that the House would swallow a “skinny bill” whole, freeing Congress to move on to other issues.
Either way, after weeks spent on the issue including false starts and near-death experiences that have eaten up months of Trump’s presidency, the realization was dawning on senators that they may be unable to pass anything more complex for now than a lowest-common-denominator bill.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to start somewhere. This is a start,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
The day’s proceedings began with prodding from Trump, who’s proven impatient and inconsistent throughout the health care debate and yet can claim some credit for resuscitating Senate talks after McConnell essentially declared them dead last week.
The president singled out Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who’d voted the day before against opening long-awaited debate on the legislation, and also opposed a wide-ranging McConnell amendment Tuesday that offered a replacement for Obamacare and went down to defeat.
“Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!” Trump wrote.
“I don’t really follow Twitter that much,” Murkowski remarked to reporters later with a shrug.
Murkowski was also among the seven GOP senators who voted “no” Wednesday on the repeal-only bill. The others were Collins, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Dean Heller of Nevada, John McCain of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
In a statement defending his vote, Portman wrote: “We need a rescue plan for Ohio families who are suffering under the status quo, not one that makes the health care system worse for Ohio families.”
Senators were working their way through 20 hours of debate. At week’s end, a “vote-a-rama” of rapid-fire voting on a mountain of amendments was expected before moving to final passage — of something.
Internal GOP differences remain over how broadly to repeal the law, how to reimburse states that would suffer from the bill’s Medicaid cuts and whether to let insurers sell cut-rate, bare-bones coverage that falls short of the requirements.
While pressure and deal-making helped win over vacillating Republicans to begin debate, they remained fragmented over what to do next. Several pointedly left open the possibility of opposing the final bill if it didn’t suit their states.
“It seems the Republican majority is no clearer on what the end game is, because there’s no good way out of this,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said.
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The U.S. Education Department has not approved any applications for student-loan forgiveness in cases of possible fraud since President Donald Trump took office, according to records sent to an Illinois senator.
Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin released those records Wednesday and blasted the department for its inaction and for a June decision to delay and rewrite Obama-era rules that would have made it easier for students to get loans forgiven if they were deceived by their schools.
“This response shows that while the Department of Education has illegally delayed the new borrower defense rule, it has also stopped processing federal student loan relief under current regulations for tens of thousands of defrauded borrowers,” Durbin said in a statement. “The department can’t ignore these borrowers any longer.”
Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Durbin and four other Democratic senators sent a series of questions to the department on May 17 amid concerns that the pipeline to student-loan forgiveness had stalled under the Trump administration. Also signing the letter were Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Under President Barack Obama, the department approved more than 28,000 claims for loan forgiveness from former students of Corinthian Colleges, a chain of for-profit colleges that closed in 2015 amid accusations that it falsified job-placement data and altered student grades. Those claims topped $558 million.
But in the letter responding to Durbin’s questions, Acting Under Secretary James Manning wrote that “no borrower defense applications have been approved between Jan. 20, 2017, and today.”
The records also revealed that the department has continued to receive new applications from borrowers who say they were victims of fraud. In total, the department said it received nearly 15,000 applications between Jan. 20 and July 5, mostly from Corinthian borrowers and from former students of ITT Technical Institute, a chain that closed last year.
The number of new applications is likely to swell even further, experts say, amid a campaign by many state attorneys general to notify students who might be eligible for loan relief.
Overall, the department said there are more than 65,000 pending claims for relief. Although most come from Corinthian and ITT students, others are from people who attended schools that are still in operation, including DeVry University and the University of Phoenix.
Many advocacy groups and some Democrats in Congress have urged the department to clear the backlog, saying the delay has left thousands of borrowers strapped with debt that’s eligible to be erased under existing federal rules.
In June, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that “promises made to students under the current rule will be promises kept” and added that her office was working to discharge more than 16,000 loans that were previously approved to be erased under Obama.
But in the same announcement, DeVos unveiled plans to rewrite an Obama-era regulation known as the borrower defense to repayment rule, which aimed to quicken the path to loan forgiveness when schools commit fraud, and to hold those schools financially responsible. DeVos called it “a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools.”
Since then, the department has released little information about its progress, and questions sent to a spokeswoman have gone unanswered.
Even top officials in the department aren’t being briefed on the progress, according to the records sent to Durbin.
The letter from Manning says that while the department “is in the process of establishing reports including borrower defense information, there are currently no regularly produced reports provided to senior officials. Information is provided upon request.”
Borrowers who are awaiting a decision from the department have continued to accrue loan interest, which the department revealed amounts to $143 million. And while most borrowers are given a grace period from their loan payments while they wait, the department said it has expired for “fewer than 50 borrowers” and that “these are exceptions.” But over the next six months, the period is set to expire for 31,000 borrowers. Manning wrote that those borrowers “could have their forbearances extended if their applications are still pending.”
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SEOUL — Sixty-four years ago this month (July 27, 1953) the guns stopped firing in the Korean War, officially ending a conflict that cost the lives of more than 30,000 American combatants.
But for Koreans on either side of a heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone, the three-year war that killed as many as two million Korean fighters and civilians concluded not with a treaty but only an armistice, and the world’s coldest and most dangerous peace. Today, on one side, the communist North lives between nuclear braggadocio and economic privation. On the other, a democratic South that has achieved Western levels of prosperity amid disciplined anxiety.
For me, a third time visitor to South Korea, the country is always an array of contrasts. The risk of war is never far away but Seoul on the surface resembles the more peaceful capitals of Asia. It is now the 12th richest nation in the world, but the economy is struggling to make the transition from big companies making big things like supertankers to a more innovative and risk taking model. A newly-elected liberal president will try to govern a fundamentally conservative society.
The city offers frequent jarring reminders of both the grim post-war decades and the current prosperity — and of the knife’s edge between peace and the dangers of war.
In an elegant Seoul hotel, I saw a business executive talk to an international conference of his boyhood experience immediately after the war, going out from the city with his family into the mountains, stripping bark from trees for nourishment.
At another sprawling hotel complex on the edge of Seoul, a think tank analyst described an increasingly volatile Northeast Asia: a nuclear North Korea, an ambitious China, a restless Japan and, beyond Asia, a United States now more interested in transactional than traditional diplomacy. (The latest Pew Research global survey shows a 75 percent approval rating among South Koreans for the United States, among the world’s highest, but a tanking 17 percent approval of President Donald Trump. By comparison, President Barack Obama had 88 percent).
Almost every day, television newscasts and newspapers carry lead stories of another North Korean missile or nuclear test. (Last Friday, the U.S. also announced it would soon ban citizens from traveling to or through North Korea). Yet in Seoul, a once bland city now becoming more architecturally ambitious, Koreans start their working days walking past signs pointing to the nearest bomb shelters and head into the city’s ubiquitous coffee shops.
But get deeper into conversation and sometimes you hear something different, especially when there is talk in in Washington that all options are on the table for dealing with the North. The South Korean capital is only 30 miles from the Demilitarized Zone, and experts calculate that even a North Korean conventional attack would kill tens of thousands within hours.
“I cannot imagine living in a country even more barren than it was in the 1950s, full of the waste from nuclear and biological weapons,” a mid-30s Seoul resident told me.
Other reminders of those barren post-war days pop up in odd ways. Many Seoul restaurants carry a dish called Military Stew, which has become popular with younger customers offering a big dish of food for $6 to $8. But when they ask their parents about the ingredients — spam, sausage, ham and bits of green ( Koreanized with kimchi and hot sauces) — they are told these were the leavings their elders gathered from U.S. military bases in the years immediately after the war.
(In the interests of journalism, I tried it, but probably will forsake it in future visits for the wide variety of interesting Korean cuisine).
So, the question for many here: What’s our next move?
Newly-entrusted with preserving the peace and expanding the prosperity is liberal South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who was elected in May following the impeachment of his conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye for her involvement in an influence peddling scandal.
President Moon comes from the line of South Korean politicians going back to former President Kim Dae-jung who sought some kind of rapprochement with the north. So far, every Moon gesture to reach out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been rebuffed or ignored. But he keeps on trying.
Moon has gained time and a bit of running room, according to both American and South Korean diplomats, with his Washington and G-20 summit meetings with President Trump. Moon’s entourage has so far spun the conservative South Korean media and foreign policy establishment to the view that the encounters were successful, especially the Washington summit that gave South Korea a leading role in dealing with the North.
Former U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert said “there is a modicum of alignment” between Seoul and Washington. But he and other American officials think the relationship between South Korea and the U.S. could come under increasing strain if Moon’s efforts with the North do not bring results.
South Koreans are giving Moon sky high approval ratings, nearly 80 percent in some polls, said Asan Institute analyst Kim Jiyoon, partly reflecting the collapse of the usually dominant conservative establishment in the wake of the Park impeachment.
As with most democratic leaders, Moon’s ultimate political success rests on the country’s economic performance, especially reversing the upward trend of youth unemployment. The economy is expected to grow by 2.6 percent or more this year, reasonably healthy by western standards but lagging behind Asian dynamic expectations.
And, expressed by both analyst Kim and others, Seoul youth unemployment — and to loosen the grip of the major corporations, or chaebols, on the economy and to encourage more dynamic small businesses — is a dilemma perhaps beyond the ability of Moon or any politician to resolve quickly.
Young South Koreans advance through one of the most competitive education systems in the world; more than 70 percent are now going to higher education. (Males go through two years of mandatory military service). When they emerge, they want nice office jobs, which the chaebols are producing in smaller numbers.
The system, explained Kim, does not produce risk-takers ready to settle for lower salaries with small start ups.
“Korean society does not allow for failure,” she said.
Moon’s dependence on the chaebols was symbolized by the big business retinue that accompanied him to the Trump summit. To rebuff accusations that the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is one sided against the United States, the business executives came with promises to expand South Korea’s already formidable direct investment across America.
As analyst Kim observed, South Korea is a country of rapid changes.
President Moon has a five-year term, but realistically he has maybe only months to show he can induce peaceful changes from the regime in the North or offer better jobs to the impatient youth of his country amid a still sluggish world economy.
But as much as modern South Korea symbolizes rapid change, most visibly embodied in the spread of its pop culture through Asia, it is still rooted in centuries and millennia of cultural traditions, the kind on display in art and history museums. T
Those museums also reflect a saga of rising and falling dynasties, wars, invasions and colonization. Even after 60-plus years of a fragile peace, South Koreans are fully aware that their efforts to build a modern society and economy are constantly at risk of being turned quickly again into rubble, by accidents, blunders and miscues from as close as North Korea and as far away as Washington.
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Editor’s note: Restauranter Mac Hay employs about 70 Jamaican workers to be the dishwashers and cooks in his three restaurants and three seafood markets on Cape Cod. And to do so, he relies on H-2B visas — temporary work visas that grant employers permission to supplement their American workforce with a limited number of international workers. But this summer, businesses on the Cape are struggling with a dearth of workers after Congress restricted the number of these visas. There simply aren’t enough American workers, Provincetown business owners say, pointing to an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent and a year-round population of just 3,000.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman met Hay in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where H-2B visas are popular among business owners.Hay says the visas keep the seasonal economy there afloat. Hay has become politically active on the issue, building a coalition of small business owners in Cape Cod and New England to lobby Washington to support the program.
“It’s become so important not just for the season, but for the future of Cape Cod. For the future of families like mine that depend on these businesses,” he told Paul.
The shortage of H-2B visas has hurt not just Cape Cod but also Maryland’s crab-picking and oyster-shucking houses, Texas’s shrimpers and Michigan’s tourist destinations. Below, Paul and Hay discuss the importance of the H-2B visa program and why so many business owners opt to hire foreign rather than American workers. Read their conversation below, and tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e report, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour.
— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e editor
The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
PAUL SOLMAN: So why is this program important to you?
MAC HAY: The H-2B program is the spark that basically feeds our economy. The workers that come in on this program do the jobs that we can’t find American workers for — cooks, dishwashers, prep cooks. That doesn’t mean that these jobs are necessarily low-skilled; we need our cooks to have skills. But finding the American workers to fill those positions is virtually impossible.
Trying to bring workers from Jamaica or Mexico is incredibly challenging, incredibly expensive and time-consuming. And now because of the way that the government has treated this program, it’s incredibly stressful.
PAUL SOLMAN: But there are brokers, right?
MAC HAY: Well, there are firms you can use to help recruit. We now have been bringing back the same workers year after year, so essentially, we don’t need any of the recruiting firms. So we go directly to the workers.
Originally, our workers were already in Provincetown or Wellfleet [on Cape Cod] and they came to us. They were working for someone else on an H-2B visa, and they said, “We’d like to come back next year and work for you.” So I started with four or five H-2Bs 12 years ago, and now we have up to 65, 70 workers through the program.
PAUL SOLMAN: Is that because they’re referring their friends?
MAC HAY: Their family members, their friends. If you want to build a legitimate business, you can’t be grabbing people from random places that may or may not work out, that may or may not have the skills that we’re looking for. We’re trying to establish real businesses on the Cape. We’re not trying to be this two-month just get in, grab as much money as you can and get out. We’re trying to be a sustainable business that creates jobs year-round. And that’s what the H-2B program does. Like I said before, the economy is an engine. The seasonal economy is an engine that gears up extremely quickly. And if you don’t have that core staff, that spark that ignites the economy, the rest of it isn’t going to function.
PAUL SOLMAN: But why shouldn’t you, business owners like you, make an effort in places like Franklin, Canton, Foxborough – nearby towns – and see if you can find American workers who then will refer their friends year after year and come back?
MAC HAY: We’ve tried programs reaching out into other communities. It’s just not realistic. Workers from New Bedford are looking at a 2.5 to 3 hour commute each way in the middle of the summer.
PAUL SOLMAN: But you put up the foreign workers, right?
MAC HAY: Sure, if they’re willing to relocate and stay down here. But from our experience, the reality is Americans don’t want to relocate their life for six months. Some will, but not enough. And like I said, if they’re willing to do it, I’m more than happy to hire them. But the issue is longevity. Are they committed to us for not just one season but two or three or four or beyond? Are they actually willing to relocate, to move down here for what amounts to a good paying job? It’s not a front of house position where you make $30, $40, $50 an hour. Pay ranges from a dishwasher at $12.50 to a cook who can make $17, $18 an hour plus overtime. So they’re making legitimate wages. We’re not talking about $8 an hour wages.
PAUL SOLMAN: So then what’s the disconnect here? Are you saying there just isn’t a way for people like you to connect with Americans who would want that wage?
MAC HAY: It is extremely difficult. The recruiting process that we go through, we have to advertise these positions on the job banks in Massachusetts. We advertise in newspapers. They have to be in our region, in our local newspapers in the Cape Cod area. We have to advertise on the job bank in Massachusetts. So an American could have gone on the Massachusetts workforce job site and looked at all of these vacancies – and believe me, every other business that uses the program on the Cape is advertising for these positions.
PAUL SOLMAN: Because you have to.
MAC HAY: Because we have to. And not just we have to; we want to. We want to see who’s going to apply for these jobs. And I can tell you this. In the 12 years that I’ve been using this program, I’ve advertised over 50 job postings. Four or five people in 12 years have responded to the advertisements. And they run for two weeks at a time.
So the labor shortage down here is real. This is not a program to circumvent paying higher wages. This is not a program to circumvent not trying to hire American. If you take a look at the history of immigration labor in the United States, this goes back before the visas were required to work in the United States. Back when Mexicans used to come up into the farms and the fields for the season and then return. So the H-2B visa was born out of necessity to keep an immigrant or a non-immigrant labor program going, to help fuel the businesses that need that program.
Also, I couldn’t continue on running a business if it didn’t have purpose and meaning behind it. One of the stories that is a bit untold is the purpose and meaning we give to the H-2B workers themselves.
PAUL SOLMAN: What do you mean?
MAC HAY: They come here because they respect the opportunity. They want to work hard, they want to make money. They send the money either back to their families or to build a house at home, to put their kids through school, to better their lives. Those are the workers that I want, whether they’re American or foreign. I don’t really care.
I want people who are invested in making themselves better. And if I can find them here in the United States, that’s great, but we don’t have them here. We just don’t have them. We have some, we have a few, but where we are in a seasonal environment, where our population in the winter is 2,000, and it goes to 30,000 in the summer. Where does the workforce come from to fuel the businesses that service those people?
WASHINGTON — Battered by repeated failures to repeal or replace “Obamacare,” Senate GOP leaders retreated to a narrow approach Thursday that would undo just a few of the most unpopular elements of Barack Obama’s law. Democrats vowed opposition as the Senate prepared for a bizarre Capitol Hill ritual, a “vote-a-rama” on amendments that promised to last into the wee hours of Friday morning.
The “skinny repeal” they were considering was being touted as a way for Republicans to get something, anything, out of the Senate after frittering away the first six months of Donald Trump’s presidency trying unsuccessfully to abolish the current law. Talks with the House would follow, with the aim of crafting a compromise repeal-and-replace bill that could pass both chambers sometime in the fall.
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Whether Republicans can make it that far looks iffy at best. But Trump tweeted his encouragement, albeit with an ominous touch: “Come on Republican Senators, you can do it on Healthcare. After 7 years, this is your chance to shine! Don’t let the American people down!”
The “skinny bill” strategy emerged after Republicans barely succeeded earlier this week in opening debate on health legislation in the narrowly divided Senate, winning the procedural vote to do so thanks only to Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie.
Hours of debate followed, as well as a few amendment votes that starkly revealed Republican divides. On Tuesday, on a 57-43 vote with nine GOP defections, the Senate rejected a wide-ranging proposal by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to erase and replace much of the Affordable Care Act. Then on Wednesday, a straightforward repeal measure failed 55-45 with seven Republicans joining Democrats in voting “no,” even though nearly identical legislation had passed Congress two years earlier.
That left Republican senators hunting for other options, and the skinny repeal rose to the top. The measure has not been finalized, but senators have said it could eliminate Obamacare’s two mandates — for individuals to carry insurance and for employers to offer it.
GOP Senators hold a news conference Thursday to discuss the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare.
Lobbyists said Republicans were also planning to include a one-year ban on federal payments to Planned Parenthood, extra money for community health centers and waivers for states to permit insurers to sell policies with far narrower coverage than current law allows.
But leaders were encountering problems. The Senate parliamentarian advised that the waiver language violates chamber rules, meaning Democrats could block it. And plans to eliminate Obama’s medical device tax could be abandoned because Republicans need that money for their package.
“It is being called a skinny bill because it won’t have much in it,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. “It is not a solution to the Affordable Care Act problems. But it is a solution on how we can get to a place where we can write a solution to the Affordable Care Act.”
Whether Republicans have the votes even to pass that much is unclear. And in a peculiar twist, some GOP senators were seeking assurances that the House would not pass the “skinny repeal” as-is, but would commit to going into a conference committee with the Senate to hammer out a more comprehensive replacement.
On their own, the changes in the skinny bill could roil insurance markets and send premiums skyrocketing. Yet the scenario at hand, with senators trying to pass something while hoping it does not clear the House or become law, was highly unusual.
“We’re in the twilight zone of legislating,” said Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
A countervailing argument was also circulating, that House passage of a Senate skinny bill could allow Republicans to claim at least partial victory and move on to other issues. With tax legislation and other priorities waiting in the wings, Republicans are eager to rid themselves of the burden of making good on their many campaign promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, which has proven far more difficult than they seem to have expected.
During the “vote-a-rama,” unlimited amendments can be offered from both sides.
Most will be dismissed along partisan lines; some may resurface in years to come in the form of attack ads. But at some point along the way McConnell is expected to offer the skinny bill as an amendment of his own, with hopes it will get a majority.
“I think it is quite likely we will be here much of the night, if not all night,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “And at the end of it hopefully we’ll have a bill that can bring us together.”
Yet as has happened every step of the way, no sooner did the latest bill emerge than opposition arose against it.
The insurance company lobby group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, wrote to Senate leaders Thursday saying that ending Obama’s requirement that people buy insurance without strengthening insurance markets would produce “higher premiums, fewer choices for consumers and fewer people covered next year.”
And a bipartisan group of governors including John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada also announced against it.
Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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