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Report: White House Rushed Condolences To Gold Star Families

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At least three families said they received express-shipped packages from the White House after Trump claimed he called “virtually everybody.”

Multiple families of military service members killed in the line duty are now getting rush-delivered letters from President Donald Trump, days after Trump claimed he had called the immediate families of all service members who had been killed since he took office in January.

The Atlantic reported Saturday that their reporters had spoken to three Gold Star families who received condolence packages from the president this week.

Timothy Eckels Sr., whose son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant ship in August, told the magazine he had not heard from Trump until Friday, Oct. 20. His letter from the White House was dated Oct. 18.

The families of Corey Ingram and John M. Hoagland III, two other sailors who died in the USS John McCain collision, also received rush-delivered packages from the White House this week, according to the Atlantic.

The sudden outreach appears to follow mounting criticism over Trump’s reaction to the Niger ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers.

When asked during a Monday press conference why he hadn’t publicly acknowledged the deaths in Niger, Trump pitted himself against past presidents, saying he had written the soldiers’ families personal letters, while “President Obama and other presidents ... didn’t make calls.”

On Tuesday, Trump followed up that remark by claiming he had called “virtually” all Gold Star families who had lost kin since he took office.

“To the best of my knowledge I think I’ve called every family of somebody who’s died,” Trump told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade during a radio interview. “It’s the hardest call to make... the hardest thing for me to do is to do that.”

He later hedged his claim to Kilmeade saying, “I have called, I believe, everybody ― but certainly I’ll use the word virtually everybody.” 

Hours after that Oct. 17 radio broadcast, the White House scrambled to identify and find the contact information for Gold Star families who lost a service member since January, according to an internal Defense Department email obtained by political news site Roll Call.

The email exchange, between the White House and the Pentagon, revealed that senior White House aides knew Trump’s statement about having called “virtually” all Gold Star families was not accurate ― and they needed to correct it as soon as possible.

The White House was attempting to find out which Gold Star families Trump had not yet reached out to, according to Roll Call.

Multiple news outlets have found Trump has yet to reach out to a number of families who lost loved ones since January. In a report published Wednesday, the Washington Post interviewed the families of 13 service members who were killed after Trump took office: Half of the families received phone calls from the president, the remainder had not heard from Trump.

The Associated Press reported it had reached out to the families “of all 43 people who have died in military service since Trump became president,” but only “made contact with about half of the families.”

Some families told AP they were comforted by Trump’s call, while others hadn’t heard from the president.

The family of Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter, who died in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in August, was promised a call from the president but instead heard from Vice President Mike Pence.

Brittany Harris, the widow of Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris who also died in Afghanistan in August, said she had not heard from the president either.

AP identified at least two other Gold Star families who had wanted, but did not receive a call from the president.

 

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Trump Undermines Obamacare By Slashing Subsidies

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U.S. President Donald Trump moved to undermine Obamacare dramatically late on Thursday by cutting off subsidies to health insurance companies for low-income patients, sparking threats of legal action and concern of chaos in insurance markets.

The decision is the most dramatic action Trump has taken yet to weaken the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature healthhcare law, which extended insurance to 20 million Americans.

The move drew swift condemnation from Democrats and threats from state attorneys general in New York and California to file lawsuits.

Trump has been frustrated by Republicans' failure to repeal and replace the law known as Obamacare, thwarting a promise he made during his successful 2016 presidential campaign.

His decision is likely to please those among his political base who detest the Obamacare system, which many Republicans have attacked for years as an unneeded government intrusion in Americans' healthcare.

In a nod to that same constituency, the president signed an executive order earlier on Thursday to make it easier for Americans to buy bare-bones health insurance plans exempt from Obamacare requirements.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi derided the subsidies cut-off in a joint statement, saying Trump would single-handedly push Americans' healthcare premiums higher.

"It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America," they said. "Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it."

Insurers and proponents of Obamacare have implored Trump for months to commit to making the payments, which are worth billions of dollars. Several insurers have cited uncertainty over the payments when hiking premiums for 2018 or exiting insurance markets altogether.

Healthcare stocks have edged lower in recent days. Ending the payments could hurt shares of insurers such as Anthem Inc, Molina, Cigna Corp and Centene, which are offering plans on Obamacare markets for 2018.

Trump has made the payments, guaranteed to insurers under Obamacare to help lower out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income consumers, each month since taking office in January. But he has repeatedly threatened to cut them off and disparaged them as a "bailout" for insurance companies.

LAWSUITS

The White House said late on Thursday that it could not lawfully pay the subsidies anymore.

A White House statement said that based on guidance from the Justice Department, "the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies under Obamacare."

"In light of this analysis, the Government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments," it said.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement he was prepared to lead other attorneys general in a lawsuit.

"I will not allow President Trump to once again use New York families as political pawns in his dangerous, partisan campaign to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act at any cost," he wrote.

The payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans against the Obama administration that alleged they were unlawful because they needed to be appropriated by Congress. A judge for the federal district court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Republicans, and the Obama administration appealed the ruling.

The Trump administration took over the lawsuit and had delayed deciding whether to continue the Obama administration’s appeal or terminate the subsidies, but in April Trump began threatening to stop the payments. That case became more complicated in August when a U.S. appeals court allowed 16 Democratic state attorneys general to defend the payments and have a say in the legal fight.

The political turbulence has affected insurers' decisions.

Anthem Inc, one of the largest remaining Obamacare insurers, in August scaled back its offerings in Nevada and Georgia and blamed the moves in part on uncertainty over the payments.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina earlier this year raised premiums by more than 20 percent, but said it would have only raised premiums by about 9 percent if Trump agreed to fund the payments.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that cutting off the insurer payments would cause premiums to rise 20 percent in 2018, and said that 5 percent of Americans would live in areas that do not have an insurer in the individual market in 2018.

Trump has taken a number of other steps to undermine Obamacare. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued rules that let businesses or non-profit organizations lodge religious or moral objections to obtain an exemption from Obamacare’s mandate that employers provide birth control in health insurance with no co-payment.

The administration also slashed the Obamacare advertising and outreach budget and halved the open enrollment period.

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John McCain: ‘I Cannot In Good Conscience Vote’ For The GOP Obamacare Repeal Bill

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He basically just killed Republicans’ effort to gut the Affordable Care Act. Again.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Friday that he doesn’t support the latest Obamacare repeal bill, all but ensuring Republicans’ last-ditch effort to gut the Affordable Care Act is dead in the water.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” McCain said in a statement.

“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” he said. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full [Congressional Budget Office] score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.”

Since the entire Democratic caucus opposes the bill, dubbed Cassidy-Graham, Republican leaders can afford to lose only two GOP senators on it. McCain’s decision means the bill doesn’t appear to have the votes to pass. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said he’s opposed to it, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she’s “leaning against” it. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted against the last repeal bill, has also raised concerns with this one. 

In a lengthy statement, McCain underscored that the process has been terrible and suggested he won’t support any repeal bill that wasn’t vetted through the usual rigorous, bipartisan debate. Republican leaders have been rushing to try to pass the bill ― any repeal bill, really ― because their ability to pass something with 51 votes (including Vice President Mike Pence’s tiebreaker) instead of 60 expires at the end of the month. 

“I would consider supporting legislation similar to that offered by my friends Senators Graham and Cassidy were it the product of extensive hearings, debate and amendment. But that has not been the case,” he said. “Instead, the specter of September 30th budget reconciliation deadline has hung over this entire process.”

He also nudged leadership to let the senators working on a bipartisan solution to health care continue their work. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have been holding hearings and trying to come up with a health care bill both parties can get behind, but GOP leaders effectively shut down their work to clear the path for the Cassidy-Graham bill.

“Senators Alexander and Murray have been negotiating in good faith to fix some of the problems with Obamacare,” said McCain. “But I fear that the prospect of one last attempt at a strictly Republican bill has left the impression that their efforts cannot succeed. I hope they will resume their work should this last attempt at a partisan solution fail.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hailed McCain’s decision to move on from his party’s months-long repeal effort.

“John McCain shows the same courage in Congress that he showed when he was a naval aviator,” Schumer said in a statement. “I have assured Senator McCain that as soon as repeal is off the table, we Democrats are intent on resuming the bipartisan process.”

The Arizona senator’s announcement isn’t a total surprise. He helped bring down the GOP’s last repeal bill in a dramatic, late-night vote. But this time, his close friend Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is leading the charge on the legislation, and it was unclear if McCain was prepared to vote against his pal. McCain acknowledged that made his decision more difficult.

“I take no pleasure in announcing my opposition. Far from it,” he said. “The bill’s authors are my dear friends, and I think the world of them. I know they are acting consistently with their beliefs and sense of what is best for the country. So am I.”

Graham tweeted later that there’s no hard feelings.

One of the first people to praise McCain for his decision was late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel. He’s been tearing into the bill’s other author, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), all week for going back on his word about advocating a repeal bill that ensures pre-existing condition protections and lower costs. The Cassidy-Graham bill does neither.

“Thank you, @SenJohnMcCain for being a hero again and again and now AGAIN,” tweeted Kimmel.

 

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