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The Free Press WV

►  Why Ted Lieu compared Donald Trump to Scott Disick

Representative Ted Lieu is known for weaponizing Twitter humor against Donald Trump (he peppers his missives with the Trumpian “bigly” and ends put-downs of the GOP with a sarcastic “cheers!“).

But a Tuesday tweet was little a bit of a head scratcher. “I prefer Scott Disick to Trump because he also knows nothing about government policy but has the decency to not be President,“ he wrote.

Uh, OK. Funny, maybe to some. But kind of random.

But now it makes sense - on Wednesday night, comedian Jim Jefferies aired an interview with the congressman on his Comedy Central show in which bad boy reality TV star Disick was a topic of conversation. Jefferies suggested an unprintable (and definitely un-congressman-like) comparison between Disick and Trump.

“Do you think you could tweet out that?“ he asked.

“I probably won’t tweet that exact language,“ Lieu wisely responded.

So there’s the explanation: Lieu’s tweet was a family-friendly version of a Trump-Disick correlation. Well played, sir.

The interview with Lieu is a preview of Jefferies’s new political-interview series: Like many comics (helloo, Jimmy Kimmel!; hiya Sam Bee!), he’s finding the subject a particularly target-rich environment these days.


►  Republicans have the budget votes they need, but Democrats prepare to make it painful

Senate Republicans say they have the votes they need to pass their budget on Thursday, a step the GOP must take to later be able to pass a package of large-scale tax cuts without Democratic support.

But before they can pass the budget, Republicans face a series of Democratic amendments aimed at forcing Republican members into uncomfortable votes on the tax plan.

Colloquially known as a “vote-a-rama,“ the series of amendment votes began Thursday at 3 p.m. Once it ends, probably late Thursday night, the Senate will be ready to vote on a budget.

If Republicans succeed in that vote, they will be one step closer to approving the tax cuts that have become their essential policy objective since the Senate failed to pass multiple bills to rewrite Obamacare. Approving the budget would also help shore up ties between Senate GOP leaders and Donald Trump, who is angry at Republicans’ failure on health care and bent on Congress approving a tax-reform package by the end of the year.

The GOP appeared to win enough votes to pass its budget Tuesday when Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., threw his support behind the proposal, saying it would provide a “path forward on tax reform.“ Senator Thad Cochran’s, R-Miss., return from a health-related absence also added to leaders’ confidence they have the votes for passage.

Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, meaning they can lose two votes from their own party and still pass the budget. Without Cochran, Republicans would have only been able to lose one vote.

The vote-a-rama process allows senators to offer amendments to the budget resolution on any issue. But Democrats said they planned to focus on four key tax-reform topics intended to make Republicans cast politically awkward votes: tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class, reductions to Medicare and Medicaid spending and increases to the budget deficit.

“I would like and I am urging my caucus to limit it to four issues,“ Schumer said Wednesday.

In a sign of amendments to come, Senator Mark R. Warner, D-Va., floated a proposal earlier Thursday to stop Republicans from adding to the deficit with their tax-reform package. It was defeated 51-47.

Trump projected confidence Thursday about the Senate’s ability to approve a budget, suggesting it would happen Thursday night following the vote-a-rama.

“I think we have the votes for the budget, which will be phase one of our massive tax cuts and reform,“ Trump said during a meeting with Puerto Rican Governor Rosello. “But I think we’ll be successful tonight with respect to the budget . . . I think we have the votes. And frankly, I think we have the votes for the tax cuts, which will follow fairly shortly thereafter.“
Political pressure is on leaders’ side: Republicans cannot cut taxes without first passing the budget resolution, giving them a strong incentive to support it.

On the Republican side, defense hawks were ready to use the amendment process to highlight their priorities.

McCain, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, prepared an amendment to ensure increases in federal defense spending are prioritized over increases in spending in other areas.

“Defense and nondefense are not of the same urgency,“ he told reporters Thursday. “We have men and women serving in the military today who are being wounded and killed because they’re not sufficiently funded, armed, trained and equipped.“

A vote midday Tuesday to begin debate on the budget was the first big test for GOP leaders. It passed 50-47, with three senators absent and all other Republicans voting “yes.“


►  Senators push for more online transparency in elections

Senators are moving to boost transparency for online political ads, unveiling on Thursday what could be the first of several pieces of legislation to try to lessen influence from Russia or other foreign actors on U.S. elections.

The bill by Democratic Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota would require social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to keep public files of election ads and meet the same disclaimer requirements as political broadcast and print advertising. Federal regulations now require television and radio stations to make publicly available the details of political ads they air. That includes who runs the ad, when it runs and how much it costs.

The bill also would require companies to “make reasonable efforts” to ensure that election ads are not purchased directly or indirectly by a foreign national. The move comes after Facebook revealed that ads that ran on the company’s social media platform and have been linked to a Russian internet agency were seen by an estimated 10 million people before and after the 2016 election.

Warner is the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 race, and Klobuchar is the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees elections. The legislation also has support from Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Lawmakers on the Senate intelligence panel and other committees investigating Russian influence have said one of the main roles of Congress will be to pass legislation to try to stop the foreign meddling. That’s in contrast to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is also investigating and has the ability to prosecute if he finds any criminal wrongdoing.

Other lawmakers are working on legislation to help states detect if foreign actors are trying to hack into their systems. That’s after the Department of Homeland Security said that 21 states had their election systems targeted by Russian government hackers.

But it’s unclear if Congress will be able to agree on any such legislation amid heightened partisan tensions. Warner and Klobuchar are still trying to woo additional Senate and House Republicans, who have spent much of the year rolling back federal regulations they see as burdensome.

McCain, who has for years broken with many of his GOP colleagues on campaign finance laws, said in a statement that he has “long fought to increase transparency and end the corrupting influence of special interests in political campaigns, and I am confident this legislation will modernize existing law to safeguard the integrity of our election system.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., has said he wants to wait until after an upcoming hearing with social media executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google before weighing in on the legislation. Late last month, after Warner first floated the bill, Burr said it was too soon to discuss legislation and that the hearing will “explore for the first time any holes that might exist in social media platform regulation or campaign law.”

Another Republican member of the intelligence panel, Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, said he has concerns about the bill, including that “there is a difference between the public airwaves and privately held fiber, basically, and how it’s managed.”

He said the “idea isn’t bad,” but he wants to look at the technical issues.

Lankford said he believes there will be several pieces of legislation coming out of the Russia probe, but “whether that’s the first or not, I don’t know.”

Announcing the legislation at a news conference, the two Democrats framed the issue as a matter of national security.

“Russia attacked us and will continue to use different tactics to undermine our democracy and divide our country, including by purchasing disruptive online political ads,” Klobuchar said. “We have to secure our election systems and we have to do it now.”

Warner, who has worked closely with Burr on the intelligence panel, has said repeatedly that he hopes the social media companies will work with them on the legislation, which he calls “the lightest touch possible.”

The companies have said very little publicly about the bill or the prospect of regulation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his company will now require political ads to disclose who is paying for them, a move that Warner and Klobuchar said their bill would “formalize and expand.”

“We stand with lawmakers in their effort to achieve transparency in political advertising,” Erin Egan, Facebook vice president for United States public policy, said in a statement after Warner and Klobuchar introduced their bill. “We have already announced the steps Facebook will take on our own and we look forward to continuing the conversation with lawmakers as we work toward a legislative solution.”

Google also said it supports efforts to “improve transparency, enhance disclosures, and reduce foreign abuse.” The company said it is evaluating steps it can take.

Twitter would only stay in a statement that “we look forward to engaging with Congress and the FEC on these issues.” The Federal Election Commission regulates campaign finance laws.

Lawrence Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan election advocacy group, said that some foreign entities could potentially get around the legislation if it were passed, but it would make it harder for them and put more responsibility on the companies.

“There is a difference between them saying they will do something and the law saying they have to do something,” Noble said.

Political News

The Free Press WV

►  Trump appears to back further away from bipartisan health-care push

Donald Trump became the subject of an unusually public lobbying campaign over the fate of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday as Senate Democrats and a key Republican sought to salvage a bipartisan health deal, while conservatives pressured Trump to disavow the agreement.

In a morning tweet, Trump appeared to distance himself from the compromise, which would authorize payments to insurers that help offset millions of lower-income Americans’ health costs in exchange for granting states greater flexibility to regulate coverage. But the president later told reporters that he was not closing the door on a deal altogether, and proponents of the plan authored by Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., sought to keep him on board.

The convoluted campaign, in which Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., insisted that a deal remained in reach even as he blasted the president’s “zig zagging,“ underscored the unpredictable nature of dealmaking in Trump’s Washington. With constantly shifting alliances, the city’s key political players are jockeying to win the president’s support one issue at a time.

For Senate Democrats, trying to sway Trump to back the plan carries both potential risks and rewards. Working with a president despised by their base and prone to changing his mind could drag them into a political quagmire with unpredictable outcomes.

For conservatives who are pressing for a different deal or oppose the idea of propping up the ACA altogether, the moment presents a test of how much influence they have with the president, who has suggested a greater willingness to hash out deals with Democrats and has become more and more frustrated with his own party.

For both sides, the president’s conflicting signals have created a chaotic situation where even some of Trump’s aides have found themselves scrambling to keep up with the latest developments.

He began the morning by warning that the new agreement might be tantamount to an insurance giveaway. “I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care,“ Trump wrote on Twitter.

But shortly afterward, Alexander – who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and was encouraged by the president to pursue a deal – said in an interview that Trump expressed an openness to preserve it in a phone call Wednesday morning.

“He told me that he wanted to encourage me but that he will review it, as I would expect a president to do,“ Alexander said. “He may want to add something to it. It may come up as part of the end-of-the-year negotiations. We’ll see.“

Speaking later to reporters in the Cabinet Room, Trump praised Alexander’s efforts, saying, “If something can happen, that’s fine, but I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies.

“They’ve been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody’s ever seen before,“ the president added.

Although Trump has repeatedly described cost-sharing payments as a “bailout” to insurers, the money directly covers the discounts that low-income Americans on ACA plans receive for deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. This group includes about 7 million Americans earning up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

Insurers are obligated to provide the discounts, which totaled about $7 billion this year and are estimated to reach $10 billion next year, even if the federal payments are cut off. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Trump’s decision last week to end the subsidies will cost insurance carriers more than $1 billion this year.

Facing the prospect for months that the Trump administration would cut off the payments, most insurers have opted to factor this shortfall into their 2018 premium rates for their customers. The cutoff in cost-sharing payments has translated into premium increases of 12 percent to 20 percent, according to several analyses.

Alexander suggested that he may tweak the language of the proposal to address Trump’s concerns that insurers would benefit from the cost-sharing reduction payments. He added that during their Wednesday call, he told Trump that he was about to tell reporters, “They’re underestimating your leadership on health care, because what you’ve done is you’ve created a bipartisan option for the Senate and for the country.“

Alexander said that the compromise already has language to ensure that the subsidy “benefits go to consumers, not to insurance companies,“ but he was open to making it stronger.

Schumer, for his part, alternated between attacking Trump’s inconsistent policy positions and arguing for why the president and the deal’s proponents agreed on a short-term health-care fix.

Trump ended the cost-sharing reduction payments, known as CSRs, last week, arguing that they were illegal because they were not explicitly authorized under the ACA. He left it to Congress to decide whether to fund them.

Schumer, who discussed the prospect of a bipartisan deal with Trump less than two weeks ago when the president called him in the Senate gym, said in a floor speech that the allegations of an insurance bailout show that “the president doesn’t know what he’s talking about.“

“It helps people who are sick and need health care. It keeps their premiums low,“ Schumer said of the funding, adding that there is language in the agreement that bars insurers from pocketing the money.

During the negotiations, Democrats had proposed delaying the open enrollment period for ACA plans, which is set to begin November 1, for a month after the bill’s enactment to ensure that firms could lower their 2018 premium rates to reflect the fact that the government would keep funding the subsidies. White House Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg opposed that provision, Schumer said, but he added that Democrats are willing to insert stronger language to guarantee that insurers pass on the payments to their customers.

“We’re all of the same mind,“ Schumer said of Trump, Senate Democrats and Alexander. “And we can do that.“

And in a brief interview Wednesday afternoon, Murray brushed aside the president’s suddenly hostile rhetoric.

“This is not about the president. This is about just doing the right thing so the American people’s rates don’t go up and that’s where we’re focused,“ she said.

Asked whether she was willing to alter the terms of the agreement, Murray replied: “No. We have a deal, we’re moving it forward.“

But conservatives were already mobilizing to block the measure, which would authorize CSR payments for two years. The framework would also allow insurers to offer catastrophic insurance plans to consumers 30 and older on ACA exchanges, while maintaining a single risk pool. It would shorten the period for federal review of state waiver applications, expedite review for states in emergency circumstances and those with waiver proposals that have already been approved for other states, and allow governors to approve state waiver applications rather than requiring state legislative approval.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser, whose political action committee backs antiabortion candidates, described the proposal Wednesday as “an inadequate, shortsighted approach which fails to address the abortion funding problems created by the health-care overhaul.“

“Right now nearly 900 health-care plans subsidized by taxpayer dollars cover abortion, forcing taxpayers to be complicit in the destruction of human life,“ she said. “In no way does the Alexander-Murray bill fulfill Republicans’ campaign promise to repeal and replace the ACA.“

A handful of Senate Republicans have expressed support for the plan, including Mike Rounds, S.D.; John McCain, Ariz.; and Bill Cassidy, La. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., has not committed to bringing it up for a floor vote, and some GOP senators questioned Wednesday why they should keep funding the subsidies.

“Well, I don’t want to just vote to put paint on rotten wood,“ Senator John Neely Kennedy, R-La., told reporters. “I just want to understand what the benefits are. I understand the money going out the door.“

Several key House Republicans have already said they don’t see how the bill would win passage in their chamber.

Many senior White House officials oppose the bill, according to administration officials and Republicans who have been briefed on the matter. At times, Trump’s aides have been sidelined as he has conferred with Alexander, according to one Republican, fueling confusion about the state of negotiations.

The bipartisan plan does enjoy support among patients’ rights groups, even though they have raised some concerns about whether the new flexibility it offered could raise health-care costs. On Wednesday, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network endorsed it.

“This deal offers important, immediate action to stabilize the individual insurance market,“ said the group’s president, Chris HanSenator “Restoring $106 million per year in outreach and education programming would help to reduce public confusion over the law and ensure more people who need health coverage get it.“

Even as elected officials and interest groups debated in Washington how to handle cost-sharing payments, attorneys general from 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a motion in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction that would require the administration to continue making the payments to insurers. The AGs argued that the court order was needed “to prevent immediate and irreparable harm to the Plaintiff states and the millions of Americans who benefit from affordable health coverage under the ACA.“

And while Schumer made no predictions as to whether the bipartisan agreement would actually make it to Trump’s desk, he held out hope that the president could serve as an ally in the end.

“This president keeps zigging and zagging,“ Schumer said on the floor. “Our only hope is maybe tomorrow, he’ll be for this bill.“


►  Kelly kept tragedy out of politics, but Trump brought it up

It’s known as some of the saddest ground in America, a 14-acre plot of Arlington National Cemetery called Section 60 where many U.S. personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are interred. On Memorial Day this year, Donald Trump and the man who would be his chief of staff visited Grave 9480, the final resting place of Robert Kelly, a Marine killed November 9, 2010, in Afghanistan.

“We grieve with you. We honor you. And we pledge to you that we will always remember Robert and what he did for all of us,” Trump said, singling out the Kelly family during his remarks to the nation that day. Turning to Robert’s father, then the secretary of homeland security, Trump added, “Thank you, John.”

The quiet tribute contrasts with Trump’s messy brawl this week with critics of his handling of condolences to Gold Star families who, like Kelly, have lost people to recent warfare. Trump brought up the loss of Kelly’s son as part of an attack on former President Barack Obama, dragging the family’s searing loss into a political fight over who has consoled grieving families better. Kelly has not commented on the controversy, but it was exactly the sort of public attention to a personal tragedy that the reserved, retired Marine general would abhor.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged Kelly was “disgusted” that the condolence calls had been politicized, but said she was not certain if the chief of staff knew Trump was going to talk about his son publicly.

Trump sparked the controversy during an interview Tuesday with Fox News Radio. Asked whether he’d called the families of Americans killed in Niger nearly two weeks before, Trump replied, “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”

The remark set many in the military community seething. Kelly is the most senior U.S. military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“I would be surprised if he comes in and starts allowing people to use his family as a tool,” said Charles C. Krulak, a former Marine Corps commandant who has known John Kelly since the mid-1990s.

There was a sense among some that Trump’s words were not an appropriate part of the national political dialogue.

“If there is one sacred ground in politics it should be the ultimate sacrifices made by our military,” wrote Chuck Hagel, a defense secretary under Obama and before that, a Republican U.S. senator. In an email to The Associated Press, Hagel added: “To use General Kelly and his family in this disgusting political way is sickening and beneath every shred of decency of presidential leadership.”

Trump has had a fraught relationship with grieving Gold Star families since the 2016 campaign, when he feuded with the parents of slain Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.

Now the commander in chief, Trump ranked himself above his predecessors on such matters, insisting this week that he’s “called every family of someone who’s died,” while past presidents didn’t place such calls. But The Associated Press found relatives of soldiers who died overseas during Trump’s presidency who said they never received calls from him, and more who said they did not receive letters.

As for whether Obama called Kelly, White House officials said later that Obama did not call Kelly, but White House visitor logs show that Kelly and his wife attended the Obamas’ lunch with Gold Star families.

The public controversy has to have been painful for Kelly, whose son had been awarded the Purple Heart. The White House chief of staff is a military veteran of more than four decades who has rarely discussed his son’s death and refused to politicize it.

Robert Kelly, 29, was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan’s remote Helmand province. His father, aware that Robert Kelly accompanied almost every patrol with his men through mine-filled battlefields, had just days before warned the family of the potential danger, according to a report in The Washington Post. When General Joseph Dunford Jr. rang the elder Kelly’s doorbell at 6:10 a.m. on November 9, 2010, John Kelly knew Robert was dead, according to the report.

Four days later, the grieving father with the four-decade military career asked a Marine Corps officer not to mention Robert’s death during an event in St. Louis. There, without mentioning Robert, John Kelly delivered an impassioned speech about the disconnect between military personnel and members of American society who do not support their mission.

“Their struggle is your struggle,” Kelly said.

“We are only one of 5,500 American families who have suffered the loss of a child in this war,” Kelly wrote to The Post in an e-mail. “The death of my boy simply cannot be made to seem any more tragic than the others.”

In March 2011, Kelly accompanied his boss, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, on a visit to the Sangin district, in Helmand province — the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the war and where Robert Kelly had been killed.

As Gates’ senior military assistant, Kelly stood silently among young Marines gathering under a harsh sun as Gates applauded what they had accomplished.

“Your success, obviously, has come at an extraordinary price,” Gates said without mentioning names.

Ahead of Trump and Kelly’s visit to Robert’s grave on Memorial Day, Kelly’s voice caught when he was asked on Fox & Friends to describe his son.

“He’s the finest man I ever knew,” Kelly said. Asked to elaborate, Kelly struggled at first. “Just is. Finest guy. Wonderful guy. Wonderful husband, wonderful son, wonderful brother. Brave beyond all get out. His men still correspond with us. They still mourn him as we do.”


►  Trump says Comey knew he was going to exonerate Clinton

Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to revive his long-standing complaint about the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, alleging that then-Director James Comey had protected the Democratic presidential nominee by prematurely “exonerating” her before the 2016 election.

“Comey stated under oath that he didn’t do this — obviously a fix?” Trump wrote. “Where is Justice Dept?”

Trump’s latest online burst came in response to the FBI’s release of heavily blacked out draft statements from May 2016 by Comey in preparation for closing the Clinton investigation without criminal charges.

Trump tweeted that the draft statements, whose existence was previously known, show the FBI had exonerated “Crooked Hillary Clinton” long before the investigation was complete. He tweeted: “James Comey lied and leaked and totally protected Hillary Clinton. He was the best thing that ever happened to her!”

In interview excerpts released in August by the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI officials said Comey and investigators had determined by the spring of 2016 that charges weren’t warranted, and had begun thinking of how the public should be informed of that decision. Clinton was interviewed by the FBI in early July, just days before Comey announced the investigation’s conclusion. That timing has prompted criticism that FBI leadership had prejudged the conclusion before completing the investigation.

When Comey announced the end of the case last year, he said the FBI had found no evidence that anyone intended to violate laws governing classified materials, which it considered a prerequisite for bringing a case. He said the FBI had thoroughly investigated the case for a year before deciding to conclude it.

“We went at this very hard to see if we could make a case,” Comey told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee days after announcing his recommendation that Clinton not face charges.

Trump, as both a candidate and now president, has long complained about the FBI’s handling of the email case, though his criticism has varied.

He initially cited Comey’s actions in the investigation as a basis for Comey’s firing in May, though Trumo later acknowledged that he was determined to replace the FBI director even without the recommendation of the Justice Department.

The president complained again after Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released excerpts of interviews with FBI officials close to Comey. Those interviews showed that draft statements to close out the Clinton investigation had begun circulating among a tight circle of FBI officials in the spring of 2016.

The interviews were conducted by officials from the Office of Special Counsel who were trying to determine if Comey’s actions had violated a federal law that bars government officials from using their positions to influence an election. That investigation was closed following Comey’s firing by Trump in May.


►  Trump’s health subsidy shutdown could lead to free insurance

If Donald Trump prevails in shutting down a major “Obamacare” health insurance subsidy, it would have the unintended consequence of making free basic coverage available to more people, and making upper-tier plans more affordable.

The unexpected assessment comes from consultants, policy experts, and state officials trying to discern the potential fallout from a Washington health care debate that’s becoming harder to follow.

What’s driving the predictions? It’s because another of the health law’s subsidies would go up for people with low-to-moderate incomes, offsetting Trump’s move.

“It’s a kind of counter-intuitive result,” said Kurt Giesa, a health insurance expert with the Oliver Wyman consulting firm.

According to one estimate, more consumers would sign up for coverage next year even though Trump says the Affordable Care Act is “virtually dead.”

On Wednesday, the fate of the health law’s subsidy for copays and deductibles remained unclear as a bipartisan congressional deal to continue payments ran into political roadblocks. Separately, state attorneys general asked a federal court to order the administration to keep the money flowing.

But if Trump succeeds, it may be like pushing down on one end of a see-saw only to see the other end go up.

His attempt to shut off the subsidy for copays and deductibles would cause a different subsidy to jump up, the one for premiums.

The Obama-era health care law actually has two major subsidies that benefit consumers with low-to-moderate incomes. The subsidy Trump targeted reimburses insurers for reducing copays and deductibles, and is under a legal cloud. The other subsidy is a tax credit that reduces the premiums people pay, and it is not in jeopardy.

If the subsidy for copays and deductibles gets erased, insurers would raise premiums to recoup the money, since by law they have to keep offering reduced copays and deductibles to consumers with modest incomes.

The subsidy for premiums is designed to increase with the rising price of insurance. So government spending to subsidize premiums would jump.

“This is where the counting gets sort of weird,” said Matthew Buettgens, a senior research analyst with the Urban Institute.

The nonpartisan policy research group has estimated that richer premium subsidies could entice up to 600,000 more people to sign up for health law coverage, depending on how insurers and state regulators adjust.

The group also found that the federal government would end up spending more overall on health insurance through higher premium subsidies.

That hasn’t been lost on officials at the state level.

“It means many more Californians and people across the country will get a zero-premium bronze plan,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, the health insurance marketplace in the nation’s most populous state.

“Bronze” is the health law’s basic coverage level. “Silver” is the mid-range standard plan and the most popular. “Gold” is close to employer health insurance in value.

In addition to free bronze plans, many consumers would be able to buy a gold plan for about the same monthly premium as silver coverage, Wyman and the Urban Institute concluded.

Other states where consumers could see zero-premium bronze plans include Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming, according to an industry estimate.

It’s complicated, but here’s why:

— First, the subsidy for copays and deductibles is provided only if you have a silver plan.

— Next, the other subsidy, the one for premiums, is pegged to the cost of a lower-priced silver plan.

In California, regulators instructed insurers to increase premiums for silver plans sold on the public marketplace to account for the loss of the subsidy for copays and deductibles.

Premiums for bronze plans and gold plans were shielded from that increase.

But because the federal subsidy for premiums is tied to the cost of a silver plan, that subsidy will be higher for everybody whose income qualifies them for financial assistance.

So consumers can use their richer premium subsidy to get a bronze plan for no monthly cost or very little, or a gold plan for much less than they would pay now.

Lee, the California official, said he believes regulators in close to half the states have taken a similar approach.

Final premiums for 2018 have not been officially unveiled yet, and some states are still making adjustments. Sign-up season starts November 01.

Political News

The Free Press WV

►  Sessions won’t discuss Texas lawsuit threat

The Latest on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee (all times local):

11:45 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions won’t say whether he spoke with state officials who had threatened to sue the Trump administration if it did not end a program protecting young immigrants who were brought into the country as children and now living in the U.S. illegally.

During a Senate hearing Wednesday, Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Sessions whether he discussed the threatened lawsuit with the Texas attorney general before Donald Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Sessions says such conversations would be “work product” that should not be revealed. It was yet another line of questioning Sessions refused to answer. Lawmakers are asking about his role in ending the Obama-era program that protected hundreds of thousands of young people.

He also won’t discuss his private conversations with Trump, citing longstanding Justice Department tradition.

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11:40 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he has not been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators.

Mueller has been investigating potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Sessions recused himself from the investigation in March, before Mueller was appointed, but he is seen as a possible witness because of his involvement in the May firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, asked Sessions if he had been interviewed. Sessions at first told Leahy that he would have to ask Mueller that question, but then later answered the question by saying no.

The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has spoken to Mueller’s team.

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11:10 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he urged the firing of former FBI Director James Comey because of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Sessions says he gave Donald Trump his opinion on Comey at Trump’s request. But, under questioning by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, Sessions refused to say whether he also discussed with Trump Comey’s involvement in the Russia investigation.

Sessions, speaking Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he won’t disclose his private conversations with Trump, citing longstanding Justice Department policy against the practice.

Sessions wouldn’t say when he first discussed Comey’s conduct with Trump. But Sessions said the errors of Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case can’t be overstated. He said Comey usurped prosecutors when he announced Clinton would not face criminal charges.

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10:50 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions told senators he won’t discuss “confidential” conversations he had with Donald Trump.

Sessions told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an opening statement of his oversight hearing Wednesday that the president is entitled to have private conversations with Cabinet secretaries.

Members of the committee have told Sessions that they intend to press him on his conversations with Trump, particularly about the firing in May of FBI Director James Comey.

At a separate hearing in June, Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he would not disclose his communications with Trump.

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10:25 a.m.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is defending the Trump administration’s travel ban as an important tool in fighting terrorism.

Speaking Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he defended the legality of an executive order that seeks to block the travel to the U.S. of citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

In his opening statement, Sessions says “the order is lawful, necessary, and we are proud to defend it.”

He says he is confident that the Justice Department will prevail in its effort to defend and enforce the ban.

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3:45 a.m.

Democratic senators plan to press Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his private communications with the president when he appears to answer questions before a Senate committee.

Sessions will testify to the Judiciary Committee Wednesday for the first time since his January confirmation. He’ll face questions about his swift reversals of Obama-era protections for transgender people and criminal justice policies. But lawmakers are also expected to ask about the investigation into Trump campaign connections to Russia. Sessions recused himself from that probe, a decision that still frustrates Donald Trump.

Democratic senators want Sessions to detail his conversations with Trump or announce that Trump is invoking executive privilege to shield them. At a different committee hearing in June, Sessions refused to discuss his talks with Trump, pointing to longstanding Justice tradition.


►  States suing to force insurance subsidy payments

The Latest on Donald Trump and health care legislation (all times local):

12:01 p.m.

State attorneys general say they’ll immediately seek a court order to force the administration to keep paying health insurance subsidies that Donald Trump has ordered stopped.

The office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he and 18 counterparts will seek a temporary restraining order against the administration Wednesday in federal court in California. The administration would have 24 hours to respond to the demand from the state attorneys general, allowing for a speedy decision by the court.

The so-called “cost sharing subsidies” reimburse health insurers for reducing copays and deductibles for consumers with modest incomes. They’re under a legal cloud because of a suit previously filed by Republican foes of the Obama health care law.

A bipartisan effort in Congress to restore the payments has run into opposition.

__

11:50 a.m.

A leading sponsor of a bipartisan Senate deal to steady health insurance markets says Donald Trump has told him he may want to change the agreement before he supports it.

Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander says Trump called him Wednesday morning to discuss the accord with Democratic Senator Patty Murray. It would continue federal payments to insurers that Trump has blocked and make it easier for insurers to skirt some coverage requirements under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Alexander says in an interview that Trump told him he will review the deal and may want to add something to it and include it in a larger piece of legislation. He provided no detail.

Asked if Trump backs his proposal, Alexander says, “You’ll have to ask him.”

__

10 a.m.

Donald Trump is criticizing a bipartisan Senate deal to curb the growth of insurance premiums.

Trump says on Twitter Wednesday that he “can never support bailing out” insurance companies that have “made a fortune” under so-called Obamacare.

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, announced Tuesday they had reached a deal to resume federal payments to health insurers that Trump had halted. Trump spoke favorably of the deal Tuesday but then later in the day reversed course.

Trump said on Twitter Wednesday that he is “supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.”

__

9:06 a.m.

Senator Lamar Alexander says Donald Trump called him Wednesday morning “to be encouraging” of bipartisan efforts to come up with a plan to stabilize health insurance premiums after Trump stopped them.

Alexander, R-Tenn., and Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, announced Tuesday they had reached a deal to resume federal payments to health insurers that Trump had halted. Insurers had warned that unless the money was quickly restored, premiums would go up and prompt some carriers to abandon unprofitable markets.

Trump had spoken favorably of the deal Tuesday but then later in the day reversed course.

Alexander said Wednesday that Trump “wanted to be encouraging” in the Wednesday phone call and is still reviewing the bipartisan deal. Alexander said “I think he wants to reserve his options.”

Alexander predicts his deal will pass “in one form or another” by years end.

__

3:52 a.m.

A bipartisan Senate deal to curb the growth of health insurance premiums is reeling after Donald Trump reversed course and opposed the agreement and top congressional Republicans and conservatives gave it a frosty reception.

Senators Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, announced their accord Tuesday after weeks of negotiations and five days after Trump said he was halting federal subsidies to insurers.

Under the lawmakers’ agreement, the payments would continue for two years while states were given more leeway to let insurers sidestep some coverage requirements imposed by President Barack Obama’s health care law.


►  IRS still enforcing Obama-era insurance mandate

Contrary to widespread perceptions, the IRS still appears to be enforcing the unpopular Obama-era requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk a fine.

The agency says on its website that it will automatically reject electronic returns for tax year 2017 that don’t specify if the taxpayer had health insurance. That insurance requirement, known as the individual mandate, is the top target of so-far fruitless efforts by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Under the ACA, taxpayers are supposed to specify if they had coverage, or they were eligible for an exemption, or if they will pay the fine. But several million skip over that question and file “silent” returns.

This year the IRS continued to process such returns. However, taxpayers who skipped the health care question took a chance that they might later get a letter from the tax agency demanding answers.

Last week, the IRS released a new policy saying the health insurance question must be answered up front on tax returns. “Taxpayers remain obligated to follow the law and pay what they may owe at the point of filing,” the agency said on its website. With paper returns, processing may be suspended and refunds delayed.

The shift got little attention amid major “Obamacare” announcements from the White House. Donald Trump ended a key health insurance subsidy. Tuesday a bipartisan deal was announced in the Senate that may yet preserve the subsidies, and Trump initially indicated he would support it. But later he appeared to backtrack.

The IRS has gone back and forth on how to treat silent returns.

As former President Barack Obama left office, the tax agency had planned to start rejecting such returns with the 2017 tax filing season — similar to what it will do next year.

But as one of his first acts, Trump ordered government agencies to provide relief from “Obamacare.”

So the IRS decided to keep processing returns that failed to answer the health care question, and follow up later with taxpayers.

Some supporters of the health care law took that as a sign that the IRS would no longer enforce the insurance requirement. Failure to carry coverage can bring a fine of $695, or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater. Critics have accused the administration of ignoring the law in an attempt to “sabotage” the ACA.

That assessment may shift now.

“I would say that the IRS has and continues to enforce the individual mandate,” said Gordon Mermin of the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

“The (earlier) announcement was interpreted by some as weakening of the mandate but really it just said they weren’t going to step up enforcement,” added Mermin. “Now it appears they are going to increase compliance.”

The reason for the IRS policy shift appears to have nothing to do with the contentious politics of the health care law. There’s evidence that resolving the health insurance question up front when a return is filed makes the whole process simpler for most people.

Political News

The Free Press WV

►  Bannon contradicts Trump’s claim about canceling ‘Obamacare’ payments

The White House said it was acting on the recommendation of the Justice Department – that it was canceling illegal federal subsidies that helped sustain the Affordable Care Act.

Donald Trump said what he was doing would hurt the insurance companies only: “That’s not going to people; that’s making insurance companies rich,“ he said, adding: “That money is going to insurance companies to prop up their stock price.“

But former top Trump White House aide Stephen Bannon told a very different tale this weekend. And it will confirm what every opponent of the move already suspected: that Trump was trying to cause the Affordable Care Act to fail.

In the midst of playing up Trump’s accomplishments Saturday at the “Values Voters Summit” in Washington, Bannon turned to Trump’s controversial “Obamacare” executive order the day before.

“Then you had ‘Obamacare,‘ “ Bannon said. Trump is “not gonna make the [cost-sharing reduction] payments. Gonna blow that thing up. Gonna blow those exchanges up, right?“

Trump’s decision to cancel about $7 billion in annual federal payments to subsidize the policies of low-income Americans will clearly test the resilience of the already-strained health care marketplaces. Whether that was the intention is for all of us to speculate upon. At the very least, it seems to be a perhaps-intentional side effect for a president who ran hard against the Affordable Care Act and has lashed out at the Republicans who were unable to repeal and replace the law.

Less convenient for Trump, of course, is the possibility that voters will punish him for hurting the most vulnerable Americans for purely political reasons – an eventuality of which I’m more skeptical than many critics of Trump’s move.

But the idea that this was a craven political move to actually cause “Obamacare” to fail – rather than a move just abiding by the law and/or that only hurt insurance companies – is completely confirmed by Bannon’s commentary.

I’m not sure Bannon didn’t intend to make that contradictory implication – no matter how unhelpful it might seem to his former boss. Bannon, after all, no longer works for Trump, which means anything he says carries with it the kind of plausible deniability for which the White House has already shown a huge affinity. Bannon can tell the GOP base that Trump just “blew up” “Obamacare,“ and it’s not clear that this is a sanctioned message from the White House.

But if the Affordable Care Act does implode, and especially if Congress doesn’t pass something to help stabilize it, Bannon’s comments would seem to complicate things for Trump. Here we have one of the president’s top allies promoting the idea that Trump just acted deliberately to undermine the insurance policies that many poor Americans have come to rely upon.

However you feel about the law, that’s a pretty brazenly dangerous way of doing business. And even if you think that he was just acting according to the law, it completely flies in the face of Trump’s pledge that this would hurt insurers rather than regular people. If those marketplaces do indeed “blow up,“ real people’s lives will be affected – not just the insurers. Trump himself has suggested that won’t be the case, but Bannon clearly disagrees.

It at the very least behooves the administration to try to square those versions of events. If Bannon is a rogue actor and they don’t agree with his assessment of how this will affect Americans relying on “Obamacare” policies, by all means say that. But if this wouldn’t, in fact, “blow up” “Obamacare,“ then the White House should explain why Bannon is wrong.


►  McCain condemns ‘half-baked, spurious nationalism’ in clear shot at Trump

An emotional Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., launched a thinly veiled critique of Donald Trump’s global stewardship Monday night, using a notable award ceremony to condemn “people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.“

McCain said that “some half-baked, spurious nationalism” should be considered “as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.“

The 2008 Republican presidential nominee spoke with Independence Hall in his line of sight, having just been awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan institution built across the street from the spot where the Founding Fathers debated the nation’s future.

The award was presented by Joe Biden, the former vice president who served 22 years in the Senate with McCain. Biden is now chairman of the Constitution Center.

In his remarks, Biden paid tribute to McCain’s commitment as a captured Navy pilot refusing early release from his Vietnamese captors to his bipartisan work in the Senate. Biden ended on a deeply personal note discussing his late son Beau’s admiration for McCain, when Beau Biden went to Iraq on a tour of duty with the Army as a judge advocate general in 2008.

Beau Biden died of glioblastoma in 2015, the same form of brain cancer that McCain was diagnosed with in July.

McCain grew emotional at times during his remarks, recounting the 1991 speech of President George H.W. Bush on the 55h anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks. Bush is one of 29 recipients of the Liberty Medal. Last year the center honored Representative John Lewis, D-Ga.

When it came to the portion of his speech about America’s place in the world, McCain gathered himself and delivered a blunt denunciation of the nationalist forces around the world, but most particularly those at home. Here’s that key portion of the speech:

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain “the last best hope of earth” for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.“


►  Senator Manchin calls on Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination as drug czar in wake of Post/’60 Minutes’ probe

Donald Trump said “we’re going to be looking into” a report about Representative Tom Marino, R-Pa., his drug czar nominee, in the wake of a Washington Post/“60 Minutes” investigation that found the lawmaker helped steer legislation that made it harder for the government to take some enforcement actions against giant drug companies.

“He was a very early supporter of mine from the great state of Pennsylvania. He’s a great guy. I did see the report. We’re going to look into the report,“ Trump told reporters when asked about whether he still supports Marino to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Trump also said that he will have a “major announcement, probably next week” about how his administration plans to tackle opioid addiction in the United States, a “massive problem” that he wants to get “absolutely right.“

“This country and, frankly, the world has a drug problem,“ he said. “We’re going to do something about it.“

Trump’s comments came as congressional Democrats reacted sharply to the report that Marino helped guide the legislation that sailed through Congress last year with virtually no opposition.

“We’re going to look into that very closely,“ Trump said in a White House Rose Garden appearance.

Marino, Trump said, is “a good man, I have not spoken to him, but I will speak to him and I will make that determination.“ If Marino’s work was detrimental to Trump’s goal of combating opioid addiction, “I will make a change,“ Trump said.

Trump first said he was doing to declare a national opioid emergency in August, but has not done so.

Asked by a reporter whether he would be declaring the epidemic a national emergency, Trump said, “We’re going to be doing that next week.“

“That is a very, very big statement. It’s a very important step and to get to that step a lot of work has to be done and it’s time-consuming work. We’re going to be doing that next week,“ he said.

Earlier Monday, Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, said he was “horrified” to read details of an investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” that detailed how a targeted lobbying effort helped weaken the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to go after drug distributors, even as opioid-related deaths continue to rise. He called on Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination.

Manchin added in an interview that he’s not attacking Marino’s motives or character, but that “there’s no way that in having the title of the drug czar that you’ll be taken seriously or effectively by anyone in West Virginia and the communities that have been affected by this knowing that you were involved in something that had this type of effect.“

Marino was first floated as a potential drug czar last spring, but withdrew from consideration, citing a family illness. But the White House formally nominated him for the post in September. The Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to set a date for his confirmation hearing. Committee aides did not immediately return requests for comment on plans for a hearing. Ultimately, Marino could be confirmed by the Senate with a simple majority vote.

In a separate letter to Trump, Manchin said that more than 700 West Virginians died of opioid overdoses last year. “No state in the nation has been harder hit than mine,“ he wrote.

Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., also said Monday that she would introduce legislation that would repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016. The law, she said, “has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities.“

McCaskill, as the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has used her perch to probe opioid manufacturers, and is pushing them for sales and marketing materials, studies of potential addictions and whether the firms are donating to third-party advocacy groups that champion their work. It was unclear Monday afternoon how much support McCaskill’s bill would receive and whether it would ever be taken up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

As of Monday afternoon, no Republican lawmaker had announced their opposition to Marino’s legislation or plans to either sponsor McCaskill’s bill or introduce something similar.

Manchin and McCaskill face reelection next year in rural states that Trump won last year. Despite their concerns, neither opposed the legislation when it passed in the Senate last year by unanimous consent. McCaskill was away from Congress for three months last year being treated for breast cancer when the bill was approved.

Manchin said in the interview that his aides responsible for tracking drug policy had raised concerns about Marino’s legislation as it worked its way through Congress last year.

“They had questions and they had concerns from the beginning but they were laid to rest by the DEA. We’re going to find out how that could happen and why,“ Manchin said.

As an alternative to Marino, Manchin suggested that Trump consider nominating Joseph T. Rannazzisi to serve as drug czar. Rannazzisi ran the DEA’s division responsible for regulating the drug industry and led a decade-long campaign of aggressive enforcement until he was forced out of the agency in 2015.

If Trump prefers to nominate a partisan figure, “we can find a Republican who has a passion because of the devastation to their own family. That won’t be hard to find in America, I can assure you that,“ Manchin said.

Fallout from the investigation also has spread to electoral politics. Representative Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who is running for Senate in a state that has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, is also fielding attacks for being a lead sponsor of Marino’s bill.

James Mackler, the Senate race’s Democratic front-runner, criticized Blackburn over her involvement, saying in a statement late Sunday, “I’m running for U.S. Senate because Tennesseans need a senator that will stand up for them rather than catering to special interests and corporate lobbyists.“

“That Congresswoman Blackburn would champion legislation like this while Tennesseans face an opioid epidemic is all one needs to know about her priorities,“ he said.

In April 2016, a handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to the more industry-friendly legislation, undermining efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills, according to the Post/“60 Minutes” investigation. The DEA had opposed the effort for years.

The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than $1 million into their election campaigns.

The chief advocate of the law that hobbled the DEA was Marino, who spent years trying to move it through Congress. It passed after Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, negotiated a final version with the DEA.

Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. The White House was equally unaware of the bill’s import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials.

Top officials at the White House and the Justice Department have declined to discuss how the bill came to pass.

Michael Botticelli, who led the ONDCP at the time, said neither Justice nor the DEA objected to the legislation, removing a major obstacle to the president’s approval.

“We deferred to DEA, as is common practice,“ he said.

The bill also was reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“Neither the DEA nor the Justice Department informed OMB about the policy change in the bill,“ a former senior OMB official with knowledge of the issue said recently. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of internal White House deliberations.

The DEA and the Justice Department have denied or delayed more than a dozen requests filed by The Post and “60 Minutes” under the Freedom of Information Act for public records that might shed additional light on the matter. Some of those requests have been pending for nearly 18 months. The Post is now suing the Justice Department in federal court for some of those records.


►  Obama hosted Kelly at breakfast after son died

The Latest on Donald Trump’s suggestion that his predecessors fell short in honoring the nation’s fallen (all times local):

1:15 p.m.

White House visitor records from former President Barack Obama’s term show that he hosted current White House chief of staff John Kelly at a breakfast for Gold Star families after his son died in Afghanistan.

In a Fox News Radio interview, Donald Trump defended his claim that his predecessors fell short in honoring those killed in action by saying: “You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?”

Former aides to Obama say it’s difficult this many years later to determine whether Obama called Kelly and when.

The breakfast for relatives of U.S. troops killed in action occurred in May 2011, six months after Kelly’s son died. An individual familiar with the breakfast for families of says that Kelly and his wife sat at former first lady Michelle Obama’s table. The individual demanded anonymity because the event was private.

— By Josh Lederman

___

3:20 a.m.

Donald Trump’s suggestion that his predecessors fell short in sufficiently in honoring the nation’s fallen has brought a visceral reaction from those who witnessed those grieving encounters.

Trump said in a news conference Monday that he’d written letters to the families of four soldiers killed in an October 4 ambush in Niger and planned to call them, crediting himself with taking extra steps in honoring the dead properly. “Most of them didn’t make calls,” he said of his predecessors.

The record is plain that presidents have long reached out to families of the dead and to the wounded in defense of America, often with their presence as well as by letter and phone. This is true of former presidents such as Barack Obama, George W. Bush and others.


►  Trump warns ‘I fight back’ after McCain hits foreign policy

Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Senator John McCain that “I fight back” after McCain questioned “half-baked, spurious nationalism” in America’s foreign policy.

McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent 5½ years in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp and is battling brain cancer, offered a simple response to Trump: “I have faced tougher adversaries.”

Trump said in a radio interview with WMAL in Washington, “I’m being very, very nice but at some point I fight back and it won’t be pretty.” He bemoaned McCain’s decisive vote this past summer in opposition to a GOP bill to dismantle Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a move that caused the failure of GOP efforts to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

In Philadelphia on Monday night, the six-term Republican senator from Arizona received an award for a lifetime of service and sacrifice to the country. In addition to recalling his more than two decades of military service and his imprisonment during the war, McCain took a moment to go a step further than the night’s other speakers, who lamented what many described as a fractured political climate.

“To abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,” he said, “is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

He continued: “We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden presented McCain with the Liberty Medal. Though members of opposing parties, the two men worked together during their time in the Senate. Former President Barack Obama, who defeated McCain in his bid for the presidency in 2008, congratulated the senator on the award in a tweet Monday night.

“I’m grateful to @SenJohnMcCain for his lifetime of service to our country. Congratulations, John, on receiving this year’s Liberty Medal,” Obama wrote.

Another political foe, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said on Twitter: “Ran against him, sometimes disagree, but proud to be a friend of @SenJohnMcCain: hero, champion of character and last night, Lincolnesque.”

Pressed on Trump’s threat Tuesday morning, McCain told reporters he has had tougher fights, and then smiled.

Trump said in the radio interview that McCain’s vote against Republican efforts to dismantle the 2010 health care law was a “shocker.”

McCain and Trump have long been at odds. During the campaign, Trump suggested McCain was not a war hero because he was captured in Vietnam.

Political News

The Free Press WV

►  Trump voters in storm-ravaged county confront climate change

The church was empty, except for the piano too heavy for one man to move. It had been 21 days since the greatest storm Wayne Christopher had ever seen dumped a year’s worth of rain on his town, drowning this church where he was baptized, met his high school sweetheart and later married her.

He had piled the ruined pews out on the curb, next to water-logged hymnals and molding Sunday school lesson plans and chunks of drywall that used to be a mural of Noah’s Ark. Now he tilted his head up to take in the mountain of rubble, and Christopher, an evangelical Christian and a conservative Republican, considered what caused this destruction: that the violent act of nature had been made worse by acts of man.

“I think the Lord put us over the care of his creation, and when we pollute like we do, destroy the land, there’s consequences to that,” he said. “It might not catch up with us just right now, but it’s gonna catch up. Like a wound that needs to be healed.”

Jefferson County, Texas, is among the low-lying coastal areas of America that could lose the most as the ice caps melt and the seas warm and rise. At the same time, it is more economically dependent on the petroleum industry and its emissions-spewing refineries than any other place in the U.S. Residents seemed to choose between the two last November, abandoning a four-decade-old pattern of voting Democratic in presidential elections to support Donald Trump.

Then came Hurricane Harvey. Now some conservatives here are newly confronting some of the most polarizing questions in American political discourse: What role do humans play in global warming and the worsening of storms like Harvey? And what should they expect their leaders — including the climate-skeptic president they helped elect — to do about the problem now?

Answers are hard to come by in a place where refineries stand like cityscapes. Nearly 5,000 people work in the petroleum industry. Some have described the chemical stink in the air as “the smell of money” — it means paychecks, paid mortgages and meals.

Christopher, like most people in Jefferson County, believed that global warming was real before the storm hit. Post-Harvey, surrounded by debris stretching for block after block, he thinks the president’s outright rejection of the scientific consensus is no longer good enough.

But how do you help the climate without hurting those who depend on climate-polluting industries?

“It’s a Catch-22 kind of thing,” he said. “Do you want to build your economy, or do you want to save the world?”

___

“Steroids for storms” is how Andrew Dessler explains the role global warming plays in extreme weather. Climate change didn’t create Hurricane Harvey or Irma or Maria. But Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, and most scientists agree that warming and rising seas likely amplify storms that form naturally, feeding more water and more intensity as they plow toward land.

“It will be 60 inches of rain this time, maybe 80 inches next time,” Dessler said of Harvey’s record-setting rainfall for any single storm in U.S. history.

As a private citizen and candidate, Trump often referred to climate change as a hoax, and since taking office he and his administration have worked aggressively to undo policies designed to mitigate the damage. He announced his intention to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, a global accord of 195 nations to reduce carbon emissions, and his administration has dismantled environmental regulations and erased climate change data from government websites. This month, his Environmental Protection Agency administrator promised to kill an effort to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.

Anthony Leiserowitz, a Yale University researcher, traces the politicization of the climate to 1997, when then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore brokered a commitment on the world stage to reduce greenhouse gases. The political parties have cleaved further apart ever since, and climate change denial reached a fever pitch as the Tea Party remade the GOP during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Americans tend to view the issue through their already established red-versus-blue lens, Leiserowitz said, but while there are fractions on each extreme, the majority still fall somewhere along a scale in the middle.

A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds that 63 percent of Americans think climate change is happening and that the government should address it, and that two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling the issue. Most Americans also think weather disasters are getting more severe, and believe global warming is a factor.

As the downpour from Hurricane Harvey stretched into its second day, with no end in sight, Joe Evans watched from the window of his home in the Jefferson County seat of Beaumont, and an unexpected sense of guilt overcame him: “What have we been doing to the planet for all of these years?”

Evans, a Republican, once ran unsuccessfully for local office. He ignored climate change, as he thought Republicans were supposed to do. But Harvey’s deluge left him wondering why. When he was young, discussions of the ozone layer were uncontroversial; now they’re likely to end in pitched political debate.

“I think it’s one of those games that politicians play with us,” he said, “to once again make us choose a side.”

Evans voted for Trump, but he’s frustrated with what he describes as the “conservative echo chamber” that dismisses climate change instead of trying to find a way to apply conservative principles to simultaneously saving the Earth and the economy. Even today, some Republicans in the county complain about Gore and the hypocrisy they see in elite liberals who jet around the world, carbon emissions trailing behind them, to push climate policies on blue-collar workers trying to keep refinery jobs so they can feed their families.

Evans isn’t sure if the disastrous run of weather will cause climate change to become a bigger priority for residents here, or if as memories fade talk of this issue will, too.

“I haven’t put so much thought into it that I want to go mobilize a bunch of people and march on Washington,” he said. “But it made me think enough about it that I won’t actively take part in denying it. We can’t do that anymore.”

___

Most in Texas didn’t believe climate change existed when Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, began evangelizing about the issue years ago. Now studies estimate that 69 percent of Texans believe that the climate is changing, and 52 percent believe that has been caused by human activity. Most resistance she hears now is not with the science itself but over proposed solutions that mean government intrusion and regulation.

Jefferson County’s refineries produce 10 percent of the gasoline in the United States, 20 percent of diesel and half of the fuel used to fly commercial planes, said County Judge Jeff Branick, a Democrat who voted for Trump and then switched his party affiliation to Republican, in part because of his disagreement with the Democratic Party’s climate policies.

Branick doesn’t deny that climate change exists, but he calls himself a cheerleader for the petroleum industry and believes environmental policies are “job killers.”

John Sterman, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, said addressing climate change will invariably lead to gradual job losses in the fossil fuels industry. But communities have lost a dominant industry before, and those able to diversify can prosper. Jefferson County could look to the renewable energy industry, with jobs that require many of the skills refinery workers have, he said. Texas already produces more wind power than any other state.

Angela Lopez’s husband works in a refinery, so she understands the worry of the economic cost of addressing global warming. But her county is nicknamed “cancer alley” for its high levels of disease that residents have long attributed to living in the shadow of one of the largest concentrations of refineries in the world.

“It’s our livelihood, but it’s killing us,” Lopez said, standing in what used to be her dining room. Now her house in Beaumont is down to the studs. As Harvey’s floodwaters rose, she tried to save what she could. She piled the dresser drawers on the bed and perched the leather couch up on the coffee table. It did no good. The water didn’t stop until it reached the eaves, and the Lopezes lost everything they own.

Just about all of her relatives are conservatives, and indeed the political divides in the county run deep: Even as most of the communities along the Gulf Coast turned red years ago, Jefferson County clung to its Democratic roots. The county is ethnically diverse —41 percent white, 34 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic — with a historically strong union workforce. Trump won Jefferson by just 419 votes.

“To come up with real solutions, you have to be honest with yourself about what causes something to happen,” Lopez said. “It’s not just because some storm came, it was bad and unprecedented. It was unprecedented for a reason, so we have to acknowledge that and start working toward being better. And part of that conversation should be climate change.”

On a porch outside another ruined house nearby, two neighbors who both lost everything to Harvey started having that conversation.

Gene Jones, a truck driver who didn’t vote, asked Wilton Johnson, a Trump supporter, if he thought climate change intensified the storm.

“I don’t think so, no,” Johnson said.

“You don’t? You don’t think about the chemical plants and the hot weather? You don’t think that has anything to do with it?”

“I can understand people believing that,” Johnson replied. But he blames natural weather cycles for upending their lives so completely.

Jones now lives in a camper in his driveway; Johnson’s father has been sleeping in a recliner in his yard to ward off looters.

Johnson feels like he’s gone through the stages of grief. At first, as he fled his home, he denied how devastating the storm might be. Then he got angry, when he realized nothing could be saved — not the family photos or the 100-year-old Bible that fell apart in his hands. He grew depressed and now, finally, he thinks he’s come to accept this new reality as something that just happened because nature is not always kind, and never has been.

And he remains unshaken in his support for Trump’s environmental agenda.

“We need to be responsible human beings to the Earth, but at the same time we shouldn’t sacrifice the financial freedoms,” he said. “What good is a great environment if we’re poor and living like cavemen? And vice versa, I understand the other side of that: What’s great about living in luxury when you can’t go outside?

“I just don’t think we should look at two storms and say, ‘We’re ruining the Earth! Shut the plants down!’”

___

When Wayne Christopher was a boy in Jefferson County, it got so hot he remembers frying eggs on the sidewalk. It has always been hot here, and there have always been hurricanes.

But it seems to him that something is different now. There is a palpable intensity in the air, in the haze that hangs over the interstate. The region has warmed about two degrees in his lifetime, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and annual rainfall has increased by about 7 inches on average. Christopher counts the number of times a beach road he’s driven on all his life has had to be rebuilt because the ocean overtook it.

“The sea keeps moving in — water rising, land disappearing or eroding or whatever you want to call it — it’s happening,” said Christopher, who is 66 now and retired after toiling more than 40 years for the railroad. “I think Mother Nature can come back, but there’s a point to where, if we just keep on and keep on, I don’t know if she can come back.”

He thinks the president he helped put in office should do something: take the threat seriously, research before he talks or tweets, not dismiss established science as a hoax because acknowledging it’s real would mean acknowledging that something must be done.

But like many others here, Christopher is not pushing to stick with the Paris climate agreement or other global coalitions because he’s not sure it’s fair that the United States should invest in clean energy when other countries that pollute might not. He worries that could cause more job losses to overseas factories, put a squeeze on the middle class and forfeit a slice of American sovereignty.

His wife, who also supported Trump, cocked her head as she thought about that sentiment.

“I can see the pros, I can see the cons,” Polly Christopher said. “But if you were to simplify it to your children, and they say, ‘Well, everybody else is doing it, if I do it what difference is it going to make?’ you would just get on them and say, ‘You’ve got to do the right thing. Right is right, and wrong’s wrong.’”

For weeks, the couple have been gutting Memorial Baptist Church, a place they consider their home. The congregation dwindled over time to about 45, mostly older people, and it was so hard to make ends meet the church canceled a $19,000-a-year flood insurance policy just two months before Harvey hit. Now it could cost some $1 million to rebuild, meaning the church may never be rebuilt at all.

So when Christopher’s granddaughter came by to help, found the piano in the otherwise empty sanctuary, sat down and started to play, he was overcome with a sense of grief.

“In my head I was thinking the whole time, this could be the last time that piano is played inside the auditorium,” he said. Then she started to sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound ...”

“It did something to me,” he said.

Both he and his wife believe Trump has a responsibility to look at the destruction Harvey left them with and act accordingly.

“He’s got a business mind. Whatever it takes to make money, that’s what he’s going to do to make America great again,” Christopher said, and that’s why he voted for Trump. “But it does make me wonder if he looks at global warming as a real harm. Because you can make all the money in the world here. But if you don’t have a world, what good is it going to do you?”


►  Trump in Asia will call for increased pressure on NKorea

Donald Trump will ask U.S. allies to pressure North Korea on its nuclear program in an upcoming trip to the Asia-Pacific region. He’ll also meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Trump has praised Duterte for his deadly war on drugs that has left thousands dead, according to a leaked transcript of an April phone call.

The White House says Trump will travel in November to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines from November 3 to November 14. Trump will also stop in Hawaii.

In South Korea, Trump will meet with President Moon Jae-in (jah-yihn) and “call on the international community to join together in maximizing pressure on North Korea.”

In Japan, Trump will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (shin-zoh AH’-bay) and participate in a meeting with families of “Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime.”

Trump will also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Vietnam President Tran Dai Quang and attend two trade summits.

The White House says the travel will “underscore his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”


►  Manchin to White House: Withdraw nominee for drug czar

A Democratic senator is demanding that the White House withdraw the nomination of Pennsylvania Republican Representative Tom Marino to be the nation’s drug czar.

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia says Marino played a key role in passing a bill weakening the Drug Enforcement Administration’s authority to stop companies from distributing opioids. The Washington Post and CBS’s “60 Minutes” reported Sunday on the 2016 law.

Manchin said he was horrified at the Post story and scolded the Obama administration for failing to “sound the alarm on how harmful that bill would be for our efforts to effectively fight the opioid epidemic” that killed more than 52,000 Americans in 2015.

Manchin said the drug chief must be someone “who believes we must protect our people, not the pharmaceutical industry.”

WV Legislative Update: Delegate Brent Boggs - Minority House Finance Chairman

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I just arrived in Charleston late Sunday evening for interim meetings in conjunction with a brief special session, but we’ve been in the Kanawha Valley most of last week due to family illness.  Jean’s dad was hospitalized last week after a fall in his home.  A week of ICU due to other health issues, Jean has been at the hospital with him daily.  I’m pleased to report that, at this writing, he is much improved.

When the interim schedule was a portion of my column last week, legislators had no confirmation of a rumored special session in conjunction with interim meetings.  Early last week, the Governor did, indeed, decide to call for a special session in conjunction with interim meetings.  By doing so, the cost of convening the Legislature is basically the same as the monthly interims, since nearly all members are already at the Capitol.

Here is the Governor’s call, in part:

I, JIM JUSTICE, by virtue of the authority vested in the Governor by Section 7, Article VII, of the Constitution of West Virginia, do hereby call the West Virginia Legislature to convene in Extraordinary Session at Noon on the sixteenth day of October, Two Thousand Seventeen, in its chambers in the State Capitol, City of Charleston, for the limited purpose of considering and acting upon the following matters:

  • A bill exempting military retirement from state personal income tax after specified date.
  • A bill increasing amount of credit allowed against personal and corporation net income taxes for qualified historic rehabilitation expenditures.
  • A bill allowing certain tax information to be shared with designated employees of Commissioner of Highways.
  • A bill implementing special hiring procedures for personnel positions in the Division of Highways and the Tax Commissioner.
  • A bill amending the West Virginia Jobs Act.

Late Sunday evening I received a draft of the legislation he is proposing.  Due to the lateness of the hour and deadlines, I will not have time to read and digest the text of the actual bills before submitting this update.  However, I can give an overview of the call.

First, the exempting of military retirement from State income tax was proposed during the regular and extended budget session.  Unfortunately, it was lumped in with other, more controversial items that prevented its passage.  Now that it appears to be a stand-alone bill, the chances are improved greatly.  As I recall, the fiscal note during the session was approximately $3 million annually.

The historic tax credit bill enjoyed wide popularity during the session, as this is a way to help fund rehab of historic structures.  Inexplicably, the House Finance leadership opposed the bill with the higher limits, thereby limiting the pool of funds.  From all indications, this is another try by the Governor to obtain the higher threshold.

The other items deal with the Division of Highways and correspond with the passage of the Governor’s “Roads to Prosperity Amendment” on the ballot a couple weeks ago.  The heart of two of the bills aims to maximize the number of West Virginia workers that will be hired as bonds are sold and major road projects begin for the next several years.  One bill also is designed to provide increased oversight and scrutiny on out-of-state contractors to make certain they are withholding the appropriate West Virginia income taxes on any non-resident workers.  This has been a problem for years with Interstate highway bridge painting contracts, dominated by a Florida firm operating under multiple business names.  I personally have worked with in-state, highly skilled and safety trained worker representatives to get DOH to provide some long overdue scrutiny on this practice.  Hopefully Transportation Secretary Smith and the Governor will heed the calls to act and move decisively to protect our qualified West Virginia workforce.

One other bill proposed will help expedite the hiring of DOH personnel and inspectors to provide qualified workers and fill vacant inspector positions to assure proper oversight of contractors that will be benefiting from the influx of taxpayer funds from the upcoming road bond issuances.

The Legislature can only address the bills proposed by the Governor in a special session.  He also can add additional items to the call at any time we are in session.  And as always, bills that sound good on the surface by being given catchy titles (not always representative of the contents of a bill) can be amended to change its intent and make it unsupportable.  I look forward to getting started on Monday and provide you an update next week.

Please send your inquiries to the Capitol office:  Building 1, Room 258-M, Charleston, WV 25305.  My home number is 304.364.8411; the Capitol office number is 304.340.3142.  If you have an interest in any particular bill or issue, please let me know.  For those with Internet access, my legislative e-mail address is:

You may also obtain additional legislative information, including the copies of bills, conference reports, daily summaries, interim highlights, and leave me a message on the Legislature’s web site at www.legis.state.wv.us/.  When leaving a message, please remember to include your phone number with your inquiry and any details you can provide. Additional information, including agency links and the state government phone directory, may be found at www.wv.gov. Also, you may follow me on Facebook at “Brent Boggs”, Twitter at “@DelBrentBoggs” , as well as the WV Legislature’s Facebook page at “West Virginia Legislature” or on Twitter at twitter.com/wvlegislature.

Continue to remember our troops - at home and abroad - and keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.  Until next week – take care.

The McKinley Capitol Report

The Gilmer Free Press

DOE Secretary Rick Perry Testifies Before House Subcommittee on Energy

On Thursday, Department of Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy regarding the proposed rule to protect the reliability and resiliency of America’s electrical grid. The proposed rule is a clear recognition that reliability, resiliency, and fuel diversity are vital to our economic and national security. Coal and other baseload energy sources have attributes that are essential to the reliable delivery of electricity, and we must ensure that they remain part of our energy mix. Regulatory overreach and market challenges have led to hundreds of coal plants shutting down in the past few years. During the hearing, Congressman McKinley applauded the proposal as an important move to protect existing plants and acknowledge the valuable role they play for our economy and our national security.

McKinley Joins President Trump at the White House to Welcome the Reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins

On Tuesday Congressman McKinley joined President Trump at the White House for a ceremony welcoming the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. It is a long-standing and non-political tradition for the President to host reigning sports champions for a reception in their honor.


Congressional Coal Caucus Hosts Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

On Wednesday, the Congressional Coal Caucus hosted Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for an in-depth discussion on ways to strengthen and revitalize the coal sector. We discussed the EPA’s decision to reverse Obama’s harmful power plant regulations, the Department of Energy’s proposed rule on the sustainability and reliability of the electric grid, and the American Miners Pension Act, which will secure the pensions that our retirees depend on.


Trump Administration Reverses Obama’s Harmful Power Plant Regulations

On Tuesday the Trump Administration kept their promise by repealing Obama’s dangerous and harmful power plant regulations. These regulations were a key plank in the war on coal. With far too many coal-fired power plants having already closed, it would have put our country’s electric grid in a dangerous position if these regulations had remained in place. I now expect the Trump Administration to follow this repeal with a bipartisan plan that, coupled with research, will allow us to utilize coal cleanly and more efficiently than ever before.


McKinley Leads Research Consortium Meeting to Discuss Grant Strategy

On Monday, Congressman McKinley convened a meeting of the Ohio Valley Higher Education Consortium (OVHEC) to file a modified request for an opioid research grant with National Science Foundation. OVHEC is a group of eight higher education institutions in the Northern Panhandle, which are partnering to pursue research funding for the critical issues affecting the valley. Congressman McKinley was the driving force behind its formation.

Have a great week,

David McKinley
The Gilmer Free Press

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