Number of uninsured Americans jumps by nearly 2 million: Census Bureau

Valeriya/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The number of Americans without health insurance jumped by nearly 2 million in the year after President Donald Trump took office — the first time in a decade that there has been a year-to-year increase, according to federal data released Tuesday.

The data, based on a U.S. Census Bureau survey, swiftly reignited attacks by Democrats on Trump’s handling of health care. The president campaigned on repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law and has argued in federal court in favor of dismantling it.

While the law mostly remains intact, Democrats have said the administration’s reluctance to fund outreach and educational programs has depressed enrollment via federal exchanges.

“President Trump’s cruel health care sabotage has left 2 million more people without health insurance, forced to live in constant fear of an accident or injury that could spell financial ruin for their families,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Added Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York: “The relentless effort by Republicans to sabotage our health care system has resulted in millions of fewer Americans with health insurance and skyrocketing costs for American families.”

According to the Census Bureau, about 25.6 million didn’t have coverage at any point during 2017, the Trump administration’s first year. That number increased to 27.5 million — almost 8.5% of Americans — last year.

It’s the first year-to-year increase since 2008 to 2009, according to the report.

Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, called the survey data “questionable” and said it conflicts with other administrative data released by the federal government. He said there’s evidence that about 1.6 million people have dropped Medicaid, the government’s health care program intended for low-income and disabled Americans, as well as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, in one year.

That potential drop in Medicaid and CHIP enrollments is likely due to an improved economy and that some of those people no longer qualify, he said. Worth noting, too, is that those 1.6 million Americans no longer enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP aren’t necessarily going without insurance or health care, he said.

“Uninsured does not mean people don’t get care,” Haislmaier said.

In an interview with ABC News last June, Trump called the current health care law a “disaster” and said he would revamp it if the GOP regained a majority in the House. It remains unclear, however, for which specific plan the president would advocate. A GOP-led health care bill failed under his presidency when Republicans held control of both chambers.

“If we win back the House, we’re going to produce phenomenal health care,” he told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “And we already have the concept of the plan, but it’ll be less expensive than Obamacare by a lot.”

Last June, Trump signed an executive order aimed at curbing health care costs by requiring health insurers and providers to reveal pricing for care to patients. He said it would “blow everything away” in the health care industry.

Looking ahead to the 2020 campaign, Democrats have seized on health care — particularly the rising cost of prescription drugs — as an issue where they think they can sway voters.

According to Kaiser Health News, enrollment in states that use the federal platform has been sluggish in 2018 compared to 2017. From Nov. 1 through Dec. 1, about 3.2 million people had chosen plans for 2019. Compared with the previous year, that’s about 400,000 fewer, a drop of just over 11%. The wider availability of short-term plans was one big change, as well as the elimination of the penalty for not having health insurance.

Haislmaier said the data doesn’t support Democratic claims that Trump’s policies or funding of outreach programs are culpable in suppressing enrollment in federal health care exchanges under the Obama-era law.

“When you look at all the trends,” he added, “it’s pretty much flatlined for three years.”

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McConnell punts to White House on gun control

Political News McConnell punts to White House on gun control

Moussa81/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Senate Republicans expressed cautious optimism on Tuesday that a deal on stronger gun control measures can be reached between Congress and the White House, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that it’s entirely up to President Donald Trump.

“My members know the very simple fact that to make a law you have to have a presidential signature,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

During a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, a senior administration official laid out a range of gun control options that Trump is considering, including expanding background checks and a implementing a federal “red flag” law.

“They are working on coming up with a proposal that the president will sign. Until that happens, all of this is theatrics,” McConnell said.

The Senate’s top Democrat – Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York – on Tuesday slammed McConnell for calling out Democrats on their “theatrics” and for failing to call up background check legislation that the House passed in February.

“Shame on him. There are people who died. Shame on him. Put the bill on the floor and stop ducking the issue and calling names. Shame on him,” Schumer said.

McConnell has said on multiple occasions that he will not put anything on the floor that the president has already vowed to veto.

While Democrats are proposing wide-ranging measures, including universal background checks and federal firearm licensing, some Republicans think their best shot may be to go back to the failed 2013 Manchin-Toomey bill, which would expand background checks on all commercial gun sales.

“The president is interested in doing something in this space,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., told reporters Tuesday morning. “The idea of having background checks on commercial gun sales makes all the sense in the world and is very broadly supported. I don’t think there’s any reason to give up yet and I don’t intend to.”

Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., co-authored the bill that failed in the Senate following the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which dozens of school children were killed.

But some Republicans have criticized the bill for being too far-reaching.

“I would urge all of my colleagues to look at the substance of this legislation. A background check on commercial gun sales does not curb the second amendment rights,” Toomey said.

But he also acknowledged the bill does need work.

“I am not of the view that Manchin-Toomey was handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. This is open to discussion,” Toomey added.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she thinks Congress will act on gun control – and soon. When asked if she thinks the Senate will pass something in this session, she responded, “Yes, I do.”

“Over the August recess I had extensive conversations with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and with the White House, and I’m optimistic that we can reach agreement on a package would pass the Senate,” Collins said.

GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said that he would be willing to consider bills like Manchin-Toomey if he thinks there’s bipartisan agreement.

“I’m open to anything that we can get bipartisan consensus on that also makes sure that we’re not overreaching and really beginning to threaten the rights of law abiding citizens of which the majority of people who own guns are,” Tillis said.

Most Republicans admit they can’t get anything done without the president’s buy-in. And they agree with McConnell’s strategy – saying it’s practical to wait and see what the president decides to do.

“It’s going to be hard for me to convince Leader McConnell to give up a week or so on the Senate floor for something that is clearly destined to fail,” Toomey said.

“The president has been very thoughtful, he’s called me, we’ve had a number of discussions, he’s very interested,” Toomey said. “I think he’s learning about this issue and considering he’s gotten a lot of ideas thrown at him. So I think he’s sorting through this. I’m hoping that the merits of the argument will persuade him.”

“I think it’s critically important,” Tillis said of the president’s support. “At the end of the day he has to sign whatever we send to him.”

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Posted On 10 Sep 2019

Russian media claim to identify alleged top CIA spy

WORLD NEWS Russian media claim to identify alleged top CIA spy

Eplisterra/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Some Russian media outlets said Tuesday they believed they had identified the CIA spy who American news reports this week alleged had been at the heart of Vladimir Putin’s government, setting off frantic speculation in Russia over who the mole could be.

The Kremlin confirmed that a former Russian official had worked as an employee in the country’s presidential administration but sought to downplay the idea he could have been a spy, dismissing the American media coverage as “pulp fiction.”

CNN and The New York Times on Monday both reported that the U.S. had helped a high-value spy inside the Kremlin flee Russia in 2017, fearing that he was about to be exposed. The reports said the source had been an official working in the top levels of Putin’s administration, who had given the CIA an extraordinary vantage point into the Russian government’s decision-making.

At an unrelated briefing Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the reporting false.

“The reporting is materially inaccurate and you should know, as the former CIA director, I don’t talk about things like this often,” Pompeo said. “It is only the occasions when there’s something I think puts people at risk or the reporting so egregious as to create enormous risks to the United States of America. I won’t say anything more. I know the CIA put out a statement. Suffice it to say the reporting there is factually wrong.”

Neither CNN nor The New York Times named the agent, citing requests from U.S. officials to protect the spy’s safety.

But following the reports, Russian media outlets brought to light an article from September 2017 about an official in the presidential administration who mysteriously disappeared along with his entire family in June 2017.

The 2017 report appeared on a small news site launched by former tabloid journalists with connections to Russia’s media establishment. According to the site, police had opened a murder inquiry into the family’s disappearance but had found no trace of them. The official, his wife and three children were reported to have traveled to Montenegro on holiday and never returned.

The article at the time attracted almost no notice and was not picked up by Russia’s larger media until Monday night, when the explosive CNN and NYT stories appeared. Since then, some of Russia’s leading media have reported the official as the possible mole.

Kommersant, a leading newspaper with sources in the Russian government, said its own security services sources had confirmed a murder investigation had been opened into the official’s disappearance but it was closed after they found the family was alive and living in a “foreign country.”

Asked by reporters on Tuesday, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed that the official had been an employee in the presidential administration but said he had been fired between 2016 and 2017.

“[He] did really work in the presidential administration but several years ago he was fired over internal regulations,” Peskov told journalists during his daily briefing call. He said that the Kremlin was not aware whether the man had gone missing.

Asked if the official had been an agent, Peskov laughed, dismissing it as speculation.

“I can’t confirm that. I don’t know whether he was an agent. I can only confirm that there was such a person in the presidential administration who was later sacked,” he said. “All this U.S. media speculation about who urgently extracted who and saved who from who and so on — this is more the genre of pulp fiction, crime reading, so let’s leave it up to them.”

U.S. officials have not publicly confirmed the reports about the alleged CIA asset and have not commented on the suggestion that it could have been the official named in the Russian media. ABC News has not been able to independently verify the Russian reports.

CNN and The New York Times both reported that the anonymous agent had played an instrumental role in informing American intelligence about Russia’s operation to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. They reported that the source’s information allowed the intelligence services to confirm that Putin himself had ordered the operation.

According to the Times, U.S. officials reportedly decided the source was in danger of being exposed after the intelligence community published its findings about the Russian operation and media outlets began reporting details they feared could identify him. The source initially rejected the offer to flee then, the paper reported, but eventually accepted several months later, after Barack Obama had already left office.

Sources quoted by The Times said there was no public evidence Trump’s behavior affected the decision and that it was taken exclusively because of “media scrutiny of the agency’s sources.”

A spy inside the presidential administration would have been an extraordinary coup for American intelligence. Recruiting spies in Russia’s government has long been considered exceptionally difficult, due to the country’s extensive counter-intelligence defenses and closed nature of its administration.

The Times, citing anonymous officials, described the source as “the American government’s best insight into the thinking of and orders from Mr. Putin.” The informant “was outside of Mr. Putin’s inner circle, but saw him regularly and had access to high-level Kremlin decision-making,” according to the article. The source’s identity was deemed so sensitive, it said, that then-CIA Director John Brennan made the information available only to then-President Barack Obama and a tiny circle of senior officials.

Peskov on Tuesday downplayed the official’s importance, but Russian government documents published online showed that the man in fact had received a senior government rank awarded by President Dmitry Medvedev. Another publicly available State Department document showed the man had served for a time in the Russian embassy in Washington.

Attention also quickly focused on whether the official and his family may now be living in the U.S. after journalists found a real estate listing that showed a couple with the same name as the official and his wife had bought a large family home in June 2018.

It would be remarkable that a former spy in the top levels of Russia’s government would be living openly after being exfiltrated by the CIA, particularly in light of a number of recent assassinations targeting former Russian intelligence officers. In 2018, the former Russian double-agent Sergey Skripal was poisoned with a nerve agent in the British town Salisbury. British and U.S. officials have accused Russian military intelligence of carrying out the assassination attempt.

Peskov on Tuesday denied that the Kremlin is aware of the official’s current whereabouts. “We don’t do manhunts for people,” he said.

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Posted On 10 Sep 2019

Husband and wife Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker reuniting on Broadway for ‘Plaza Suite’

Entertainment News  Husband and wife Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker reuniting on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'


ABC/Heidi Gutman(NEW YORK) — Real-life married couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker will reunite — on Broadway, that is — for the first time in 24 years, in a revival of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite.

The run is set for 17 weeks; previews begin March 13, 2020, and opening night is slated for  April 13 at New York City’s Hudson Theatre.

The pair haven’t hit the boards on the Great White Way together since 1995’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — and Parker is psyched.

“A classic American comedy A legendary playwright An actor whom I get to love onstage and off 2 actors, 6 roles,” she posted to Instagram, along with a black and white photo of herself and Broderick. “Neil Simon’s comedy about love, marriage, children and all the absurdity and heartbreak that can happen in room 719.”

She added, “I feel I’ve waited a lifetime.”

Broderick won a Tony Award for his performance in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs; he also appeared in Simon’s Biloxi Blues and in a Broadway revival of Simon’s The Odd Couple, opposite Nathan Lane. 

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Posted On 10 Sep 2019

NOAA inspector general opens probe into agency statement backing Trump, firing threats

Political News NOAA inspector general opens probe into agency statement backing Trump, firing threats

shaunl/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The circumstances surrounding an unsigned NOAA statement on Friday backing President Donald Trump on Hurricane Dorian, including reported threats of firings, are now “matters under review” by the Commerce Department’s inspector general, a spokesman said Tuesday, but he declined to comment further.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross threatened to fire top political appointees at NOAA if they didn’t get in lock step with the president’s assertion that Alabama would be affected by Hurricane Dorian, The New York Times reported Monday.

Department officials have described the story as “false.”

A separate Commerce Department spokesman said “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian.”

NOAA Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs, whom Ross reportedly called to make the threat, did not criticize him during remarks at a conference in Huntsville, Alabama, on Tuesday. He also appeared to support the president’s contention that Alabama was in the storm’s potential path at one point although Trump’s comments came after the threat had effectively disappeared.

“Having a category 5 sitting 150 miles off the coast is incredibly intimidating situation for forecasters to deal with,” Jacobs said. “At one point, Alabama was in the mix, as was the rest of the southeast.”

In an unsigned statement issued late last week, NOAA said the NWS Birmingham office, which originally contradicted the president’s claim on Sunday, before Dorian came near the Florida coast, that Alabama would be affected, was wrong to speak “in absolute terms” when it tweeted: “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

The NOAA statement on Friday ignited a firestorm of criticism from career staffers at the National Weather Service, who in recent days have been speaking out in support of their colleagues at the NWS Birmingham office.

Former NOAA general counsel in the Clinton Administration Monica Medina tweeted, “As a former @NOAA leader I can say two things with certainty. No NOAA Administrator I worked for would have done this. And I would have quit if I had been directed to agree to let this BS go out.”

 The White House has yet to respond to questions first asked Friday about whether Trump or anyone at the White House was involved in how the initial statement from NOAA came about.

NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McClean, announced Monday that he wants to launch an investigation into potential policy violations involving that same statement.

Morale at the National Weather Service has been describe as extremely low by representatives of the employees’ union, the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

“Never before has anyone tried to politicize weather forecasting,” said Richard Hirn, a union attorney. “As a result, the morale of the NWS has been totally shattered. These employees work under extremely arduous circumstances.”

“They did what any office would do to protect the public,” said Louis Uccellini, director of the National Weather Service on Monday. “They did that with one thing in mind: public safety.”

Members of Congress were being briefed Tuesday on the threat to fire NOAA staff, according to people familiar with the ongoing conversations.

“I am extremely disturbed by the directive that NOAA leadership sent on September 6, which threatens the integrity and public trust of weather forecasts at the peak of Hurricane season,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The Committee will pursue this issue and we expect full cooperation from the Department of Commerce in our efforts.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 10 Sep 2019

Dems to force GOP senators to vote on border funding that diverts money from military

Political News Dems to force GOP senators to vote on border funding that diverts money from military

rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday that Democrats will force a second vote to try to terminate the “national emergency” President Donald Trump declared in order to get funding for his southern border wall.

“The president’s national emergency declaration was and is an outrageous power grab,” Schumer, D-NY, said in a Senate floor speech, adding that the vote would be “in the next month.”

The move puts Republicans who supported Trump’s move in a difficult political position, including Cory Gardner of Colorado and Arizona’s Martha McSally, both of whom are in tough 2020 reelection battles.

“Does our country have checks and balances, particularly when we have such an overreaching president?” Schumer asked, wondering, “We all must consider the dangerous precedent this would set if presidents may declare national emergencies every time their initiatives fail in Congress. It is outrageous.”

In the last Senate vote, on March 14, 2019, 12 Republicans broke with the president, who used the National Emergencies Act to essentially do an end-run around Congress, which normally has the power of the purse. Under the NEA, Congress may vote every six months to end the presidential declaration.

Schumer said Trump “adds insult to injury” by “stealing” from funds meant for military construction funds.

The $3.6 billion taken from 127 military projects is expected to fund 11 ventures yielding 175 miles of new or reconstructed wall along the southern border with Mexico.

Specifically, Schumer cited funds taken from three states with key 2020 Senate races, including McConnell’s own state of Kentucky, which lost funding for a new, long-awaited middle school on Fort Campbell.

Schumer also highlighted McSally’s state where a $30 million project was shelved, at least for now, although he downplayed the loss, saying the money would eventually be appropriated; he noted that North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis’ state lost some $80 million in projects, as well.

House Democrats are considering a similar move.

President Trump, who said last week that the Defense Secretary Mark Esper agreed with him that the border wall was an emergency that needed critical funding, vetoed the resolution of disapproval that passed both houses of Congress back in March. Neither chamber was able to override that veto.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 10 Sep 2019

Newly released transcripts tell gruesome moments of Saudi columnist killed in embassy

WORLD NEWS Newly released transcripts tell gruesome moments of Saudi columnist killed in embassy

CIL868/iStock(WASHINGTON) — Newly released transcripts provide insight into the final moments of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi before he was killed by Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The authenticity of the transcripts, which were published Tuesday in the Turkish media for the first time, were confirmed to ABC News by Turkish authorities.

The transcripts reveal gruesome details from the murder that has cast a shadow over Saudi relations with the United States.

The reported transcribed conversations show the 15-member team of Saudi officials discussing what to do with Khashoggi’s body before he arrived at the consulate, seeking paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his fiancée Hatice Cengiz. It’s unclear how Turkey was able to record the events in the Saudi consulate as they unfolded.

Saudi Arabia has said that the team was rogue, misinterpreting an old edict to convince Saudi dissidents to come home and killing Khashoggi by accident. Those 15 individuals have been on trial in the kingdom, but the proceedings have been closed to the public.

“Is it possible to put the body in a bag?” asked Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a senior member of the team, 12 minutes before Khashoggi arrived on Oct. 2.

Dr. Salah Muhammed Tubaigy, who served as forensic chief at the Saudi General Security Department, responded, “No. Too heavy, very tall too.”

“I know how to cut very well,” Tubaigy added. “I have never worked on a warm body though, but I’ll also manage that easily. I normally put on my earphones and listen to music when I cut cadavers. In the meantime, I sip on my coffee and smoke. After I dismember it, you will wrap the parts into plastic bags, put them in suitcases and take them out.”

According to Turkish officials, the team did that, removing Khashoggi’s body in pieces in five suitcases. His remains have never been found.

In another portion of the transcript, after Khashoggi arrived, he was told to send his son a text message. Mutreb told him to “write something like ‘I’m in Istanbul. Don’t worry if you cannot reach me.'”

Khashoggi responded, “How can such a thing take place at a consulate? I’m not writing anything.”

“Write it, Mr. Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so we can help you, because in the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don’t help us you know what will happen eventually,” Mutreb fired back.

“There is a towel here. Will you have me drugged?” Khashoggi asked.

Tubaigy then stepped in and said, “We will put you to sleep.”

The team then put a plastic bag over his head and suffocated him, with scuffling and struggling heard and a few commands given, such as, “Keep pushing” and “push it well.”

Khashoggi’s last words were, “I have asthma. Do not do it, you will suffocate me,” according to the transcripts.

Shortly afterward, the sound of a bone saw is heard.

A United Nations special investigator determined in a report in June that Khashoggi’s murder was perpetrated at the highest levels of the Saudi Arabian power structure and required further investigation of senior Saudi officials, including Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia blasted the report as based on “many unfounded accusations” and questioned “the impartiality and lack of objectivity of the report” and its author, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnès Callamard.

“The kingdom will never accept any attempt to harm its sovereignty and that it categorically rejects any attempt to derail this issue away from the kingdom’s justice system or any attempt to influence it in any way,” according to Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir.

President Donald Trump was equally dismissive of the investigation, saying he did not raise the issue with the crown prince in a meeting at the G-20 and telling NBC News that the murder had “been heavily investigated. … By everybody.”

The Trump administration has said it continues to collect evidence on the murder, but has largely accepted the Saudi defense that it was a rogue operation carried out by a 15-member team — all of whom were placed under U.S. sanctions last November.

“We continue to urge the Saudi government to ascertain all the facts and hold those responsible for the murder accountable. We are awaiting conclusion of the criminal trial in Riyadh,” a State Department spokesperson told ABC News on Tuesday. “If additional facts come to light, we will consider further measures.”

Members of Congress — in both parties — have challenged Trump on his efforts to dismiss Saudi Arabia’s role in Khashoggi’s death in an effort to keep business as usual.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 10 Sep 2019