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Mnuchin’s travel: Investigators now probing another costly government flight

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

kafl/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin used a costly government jet to make the short journey from New York City to Washington D.C. following a meeting in Trump Tower last month, a flight that is now under review by department investigators, along with at least two other requests for government travel involving the secretary, multiple officials told ABC News.

Mnuchin’s trip on a U.S. Air Force C-37 jet, which took less than an hour and cost American taxpayers at least $25,000, took place on Aug. 15. Mnuchin was in New York to attend the now-infamous press conference in Trump Tower during which President Trump made highly controversial remarks on the violence in Charlottesville. Mnuchin and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who also flew on that government jet, flanked the president during his remarks.

The Treasury’s Department’s review of Mnuchin’s travel habits was triggered after ethical questions were raised about a military jet he and his wife, Louise Linton, used to travel to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky, last month, and whether they may have used that business trip to catch a prime view of the solar eclipse. Investigators are also examining why Mnuchin, an independently wealthy former banker at Goldman Sachs, requested a government jet to take the couple on their European honeymoon in early August, a story first reported by ABC News. Mnuchin has strongly denied he used the Kentucky trip to view the eclipse and a spokesman for the Treasury Department said the honeymoon request was made so he could communicate securely with Washington. They added that the honeymoon request was later withdrawn.

“We welcome the [Office of the Inspector General’s] review and are ensuring the office has everything needed for a full evaluation of our travel procedures,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Chao took the C-37 jet from Joint Base Andrews to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey for the Aug. 15 press conference, and Mnuchin, who flew up commercially, used it to return to D.C., according to their department spokespeople.

When asked for an explanation about who ordered the government jet for travel between New York and Washington, a Department of Transportation spokesman insisted it did not come from his department. A spokesman for the Treasury Department declined to comment.

However, two Defense Department officials told ABC News that U.S. Air Force records show Mnuchin’s office requested the flight and that Chao was later added to it. According to the Defense Department, it costs $25,000 per hour to operate the C-37, the military’s equivalent of a Gulfstream jet.

It is extremely unusual for treasury and transportation secretaries to use this method of transportation for domestic business travel. Aside from the president and vice president, travel on military aircraft is typically reserved for cabinet members who deal directly with national security, such as the secretaries of defense, state and homeland security. Former officials with the treasury and transportation departments told ABC News it is exceedingly rare that their bosses used government travel, and that when it did happen, it was typically on overseas business flights.

A spokesman for the Department of Defense also told ABC News that “generally, when other federal executive agencies request use of military airlift, it is provided on a reimbursable basis.” That reimbursement, however, generally matches an equivalent coach fare, rather than the total cost to operate the aircraft.

Chao’s office said she only takes government travel if there are concerns about security, excessive cost, or if there are no commercial options available. Yet her spokesman could not say which of these criteria she used to justify her government flight on Aug. 15. Multiple carriers shuttle hourly flights between Washington and New York that can be booked on the same day for less than $1,000.

Mnuchin is not the only member of Trump’s cabinet whose travel has come under scrutiny.

ABC News has confirmed that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is now under investigation by his department’s inspector general for chartering dozens of private flights for domestic business trips. Politico reported this week the bills for those flights, footed by American taxpayers, amount to roughly $300,000.

A spokesman for Price told ABC News the private flights were necessary, in part, because of his demanding schedule.

“The Secretary has taken commercial flights for official business after his confirmation. He has used charter aircraft for official business in order to accommodate his demanding schedule. The week of September 13 was one of those times, as the secretary was directing the recovery effort for Irma, which had just devastated Florida, while simultaneously directing the ongoing recovery for Hurricane Harvey,” the spokesman said.

But Price also took a flight in June from Washington to Philadelphia at the same time commercial carriers were flying that route. The price of a 40-minute commercial flight from Washington to Philadelphia typically falls in the hundreds of dollars range. Private charter companies typically charge a two-hour, $10,000 minimum for the day.

Today, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), called on Republicans to hold hearings on the administration’s use of costly travel.

“Too many Trump Administration officials have an entitled, millionaire mindset when it comes to squandering taxpayer money that does not belong to them just to support their lavish lifestyles,” Cummings said in a statement. “This starts at the very top, and the American people are not going to keep footing the bill for the Trump Administration’s champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Public prefers Obamacare to Graham-Cassidy, 56-33% (POLL)

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Jupiterimages/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Americans by more than a 20-point margin prefer the existing federal health care law to the latest, imperiled Republican alternative — another challenge to the GOP’s long-held effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The public supports Obamacare over the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill by 56-33 percent in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Intensity of sentiment also is on the current law’s side: Forty-two percent strongly prefer it, nearly twice as many as strongly prefer the GOP plan.

See PDF with full results here.

The result is similar to public views on the previous GOP repeal-and-replace effort, which failed in July. Americans preferred Obamacare to that plan by 50-24 percent, again with a 20-point advantage for the current law in strong sentiment.

The latest GOP plan suffered a blow on Friday when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he’d oppose it. His decision could be fatal to the measure, as it was in July.

Given that the bill is comparatively little-known, the survey summarized Graham-Cassidy by noting that it would end the national requirement for nearly all Americans to have health insurance, phase out the use of federal funds to help lower- and moderate-income people buy health insurance and let states replace federal rules on health care coverage with their own rules.

Notably, nearly a quarter of Republicans (23 percent) and a third of conservatives (31 percent) say they’d prefer Obamacare to this proposal.

Beyond typical political and ideological divisions, there’s a vast racial gap in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates. Seventy-five percent of nonwhites prefer Obamacare, compared with 45 percent of whites. Age gaps are substantial, with preference for Obamacare ranging from 63 percent of young adults to 47 percent of seniors. Preference for Obamacare ranges from 61 percent among those with household incomes less than $50,000 down to 48 percent of those with $100,000-plus incomes. And there’s a big gender gap: Sixty-two percent of women prefer Obamacare; 50 percent of men agree.

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Sept. 18-21, 2017, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 31-23-36 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Anthony Scaramucci on why he stood by Trump: ‘He was going to win’

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci defended his decision to stand by President Donald Trump after his many controversial statements on the campaign trail.

Scaramucci told the co-hosts of “The View” he stood by Trump during the election because “he was going to win — I saw that.”

Scaramucci was fired 11 days after the announcement of his appointment as communications director, at the advice of the incoming White House chief of staff John Kelly — who joined the administration only days earlier. Former press secretary Sean Spicer announced his resignation on the same day Scaramucci was appointed.

Scaramucci explained he first realized Trump would win when he attended the campaign’s first fundraiser in May 2016.

“I went into the audience and started shaking hands with the people,” Scaramucci said. “People were desperate.”

“I’m going one person to the next, and it’s dawning on me — oh my god. The country is separating like in 1890 and 1912.”

Scaramucci was referring to two presidential election cycles where a powerful third party emerged as a result of polarized differences in political beliefs in America — in 1890, the Populist Party emerged as a result of economic strife, and in 1912, Democrat Woodrow Wilson beat Theodore Roosevelt with the Progressive Party.

“I knew he was going to win!” Scaramucci said. “I said … if I can somehow help incrementally, whatever the flaws are of this man … I wanna be there as an American patriot to try and help him!”

When asked if Scaramucci would consider himself “complicit” in the president’s wrongdoings, he said: “I would say that I’m not. I don’t agree with everything that he says.”

Among his disagreements with Trump, Scaramucci listed his “15 years” working for marriage equality.

Scaramucci concluded his reasoning with a call for unity in America.

“We are polarized and we are killing each other,” Scaramucci said. “Whether you like the president or you don’t … we gotta meet somewhere in the middle to get things done for the American people — we have to do it!”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump administration plans to replace controversial travel ban with new rules

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration is planning to introduce tailored limits on travel to the U.S. from certain countries as a replacement for its controversial travel ban, according to a senior administration source with knowledge of the plans.

The new restrictions, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, could be implemented as early as this weekend.

The administration declined to discuss details about the new travel restrictions, but a White House official provided the following statement to ABC News in response to inquiries: “The Trump administration will ensure we only admit those who can be properly vetted and will not pose a threat to national security or public safety.”

Trump signed the original travel ban one week after his inauguration in January, setting off waves of protests and legal challenges across the country as travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — were suddenly blocked from entering the U.S. and, in some cases, detained by customs officials.

After a federal judge blocked the ban — a move later upheld by an appeals court — Trump signed a new order in March that revoked the first travel ban, removed Iraq from the restricted countries and clarified rules on permanent U.S. residents, among other changes.

But the second order was temporarily put on hold by two district court judges, who noted that members of the administration, including Trump, had indicated that the second travel ban was intended to be a facsimile of the first.

However, in June, upon a challenge by the Department of Justice, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ban could be reinstated, with some exceptions, until the court could take up the case in the fall.

Supreme Court arguments on the matter are currently scheduled for Oct. 10.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

McCain says he cannot vote for Graham-Cassidy bill

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Paul Morigi/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement Friday afternoon that he cannot support the Graham-Cassidy health care bill.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better working together — Republicans and Democrats — and have not yet really tried,” he said in a statement. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

He added, “Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.

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

“I hope that in the months ahead, we can join with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to arrive at a compromise solution that is acceptable to most of us, and serves the interests of Americans as best we can.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

President Trump again calls Russian election interference a ‘hoax’

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump called Russian interference in the 2016 election a “hoax” again Friday morning, a day after Facebook said it would turn over some 3,000 Russia-linked political ads purchased during the 2016 election to congressional investigators.

“The Russia hoax continues,” Trump wrote. “Now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2017

On Thursday, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it would release the ads and announced steps that the company will be taking to prevent interference in elections in the future.

The ads — seen by millions of Americans — ran on the social media site during the election and were previously linked by Facebook to a Russian company in St. Petersburg with ties to the Russian government.

Facebook reported earlier this month that fake accounts created by the Russian company, which Facebook officials referred to as a “troll farm,” purchased at least $100,000 worth of political ads during the 2016 campaign.

Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said most of the ads did not mention a specific presidential candidate or the election, but focused on “amplifying divisive social and political messages” on immigration, gun rights and LGBT issues.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said it’s clear that those divisive messages were “often stories that would help one candidate and potentially hurt another,” part of a broader effort the intelligence community has determined was designed to aid Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.

Friday’s tweet was not the first time Trump has called the issue of Russian election interference a hoax. In August, he slammed Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for “talking about hoax Russian collusion.”

In July, he told The Wall Street Journal that the “whole Russia story” is a “total witch hunt.” Earlier that month, he tweeted that the stock market hit a new high “despite the Russian hoax story.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Former FBI chief James Comey has speech interrupted by protesters

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Former FBI Director James Comey was interrupted by protesters Friday before his convocation address at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Protestors in the upper level of the university’s Cramton Auditorium started chanting slogans as Comey stood at the lectern.

Some of the slogans included “We shall not be moved” and “I love being black.”

Comey told the protesters, “I hope you’ll stay and listen to what I have to say. I’ve listened to you for five minutes.”

The event was live-streamed on the Howard University website, but the feed was interrupted after several minutes of protesting.

News organizations were not permitted to have their own cameras inside the venue.

Comey was fired from his position as the head of the FBI in May by President Donald Trump.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump travels to Alabama to campaign for Luther Strange ahead of Senate runoff

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — President Donald Trump will visit Alabama Friday to campaign ahead of the Senate runoff for the Republican primary to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump, who won the state by a nearly 28 percent margin in the 2016 presidential election, has endorsed Luther Strange, the incumbent temporarily appointed to fill the seat.

Trump tweeted about his favored candidate on Wednesday.

Alabama is sooo lucky to have a candidate like “Big” Luther Strange. Smart, tough on crime, borders & trade, loves Vets & Military. Tuesday!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2017

Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to campaign for Strange on Monday, just a day before the GOP primary that is slated for Sept. 26.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has spent more than $3.5 million to boost Strange.

Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, are backing Judge Roy Moore, who was twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and removed for ignoring court orders.

The winner of the primary will move on to the special election on Dec. 12 and face the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, who is recognized as the lead prosecutor in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case that killed four African-American girls.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Trump travels to Alabama to campaign for Luther Strange ahead of Senate runoff

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — President Donald Trump will visit Alabama Friday to campaign ahead of the Senate runoff for the Republican primary to fill the seat left vacant by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump, who won the state by a nearly 28 percent margin in the 2016 presidential election, has endorsed Luther Strange, the incumbent temporarily appointed to fill the seat.

Trump tweeted about his favored candidate on Wednesday.

Alabama is sooo lucky to have a candidate like “Big” Luther Strange. Smart, tough on crime, borders & trade, loves Vets & Military. Tuesday!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 20, 2017

Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to campaign for Strange on Monday, just a day before the GOP primary that is slated for Sept. 26.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has spent more than $3.5 million to boost Strange.

Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, are backing Judge Roy Moore, who was twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and removed for ignoring court orders.

The winner of the primary will move on to the special election on Dec. 12 and face the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, who is recognized as the lead prosecutor in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case that killed four African-American girls.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Roy Moore supporters embrace Trump at rally without actually mentioning him

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — At his post-debate outdoor rally, Judge Roy Moore’s high-profile supporters sought to cast him simultaneously as an outsider and a candidate who will fulfill President Donald Trump’s agenda — not an easy task considering Trump has endorsed the establishment-backed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange.

But former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gave it a shot all the same.

“A vote for Judge Moore isn’t a vote against the president. It is a vote for the people’s agenda that elected the president,” Palin said to a cheering crowd at the Old Union Station Train Shed in Montgomery, Alabama.

The former vice presidential nominee ticked through the policy priorities on which the “establishment” has yet to deliver, including the “big, beautiful wall” and an Obamacare repeal.

But Palin blamed only Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose name came up three times in her short speech. She didn’t mention Trump by name once.

Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s former national security adviser, blamed McConnell as well. Gorka joined Palin; Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; and Moore himself at the rally.

“You have a man in Judge Moore who has been endorsed by not just myself, but Steve Bannon, [Sean] Hannity, Laura Ingram, Gov. Palin — that should be enough,” Gorka said. “But just think: Who you have on the other hand? A man endorsed by Mitch McConnell — enough said.”

Together, Palin and Gorka mentioned McConnell four times — and Trump not at all.

Gorka also neglected to mention Strange was endorsed by Trump.

When Moore himself got onstage, he wasn’t as hard-hitting as his surrogates, but he did suggest a revision to the president’s signature slogan that put more emphasis on religion. Faith has been the foundation of Moore’s political reputation, beginning with his refusal to remove a Ten Commandments monument outside the courthouse where he once served as chief justice. Moore was removed from the position in November 2003 for that refusal.

“We can be great again, but the one thing politicians don’t talk about is how we’re gonna be good again,” he said. “And we can’t be good until the heart changes, and God is the author of that, so we’re gonna stand for one nation under God.”

His commitment to religion as the foundation of public service is one of the things many of Moore’s supporters mention when they explain why they are going to vote for him.

“I like his stance on critical issues that are going on today — the Ten Commandments, his convictions,” Montgomery native Jim Galluzzi told ABC News, wearing a “MAGA” hat and standing next to his American flag-emblazoned motorcycle with a big “Moore for Senate” sticker on it. “And he’s not politically correct — and I like the fact that he’s not politically correct.”

But some Moore supporters said they make a clear distinction between Trump’s endorsement of Strange and his ideological alignment with Moore.

“I think he probably got some bad information, mostly. I think if he got better information -– it was probably maybe a coin toss? I don’t know,” Galluzzi said of Trump’s decision to endorse Strange.

That doesn’t apply to all Moore supporters. One woman who didn’t want to go on camera said she was so fed up with Trump that she was just about ready to disavow him. Trump’s failures on his key agenda items so far had led her to support Moore.

While Palin elicited loud cheers from the rally crowd, that wasn’t the case for one name she mentioned in her speech — Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the man whom Moore and Strange are fighting to replace.

Sessions, Trump’s first Senate supporter, got virtually no applause.

“Alabama, remember it was here in 2015 that Sen. Sessions defied the political establishment when he put his support behind the long-shot candidate who promised to ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” Palin said. “It was here where Sessions declared, ‘This isn’t a campaign; this is a movement,’ and that movement grew. It grew and it roared and it rumbled — and it shocked the world in November.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Five moments that mattered in the Alabama Senate debate

Posted on: September 22nd, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — Sen. Luther Strange and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore faced off Thursday night in the only debate before the runoff election for the Republican nomination next Tuesday to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate.

The debate — held without a moderator — focused largely on who would best support and advocate for President Trump’s agenda in the U.S. Senate.

Strange made no secret that he is endorsed by President Trump, and talked about his “close personal friendship” to a president who is broadly popular among Alabamans.

Moore, the twice-removed former Alabama Supreme Court Justice, tried to paint Strange — who worked as a lobbyist in the nation’s capital for many years — as a D.C. insider and a creature of the “swamp.”

President Trump is set to visit the state Friday and will hold a rally in support of Strange.

Moore has earned the support of former White House aides Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, as well as Republican luminaries such as Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity and Congressman Steve King, R-Iowa.

Here are five moments that mattered in Thursday’s fiery debate.

Who’s Trump’s man?

“The first question is, who does the president support?” Strange said in his opening remarks. “The president supports me.”

Right off the bat, Strange endeared himself to the man in the Oval Office, heaping praise on him and talking up their shared background, in a moment that set the tone for how Strange approached the debate.

“We’ve developed a close personal friendship. We both come from the same background, the same mission, the same motivation: to make this country great again,” Strange said.

Moore instead chose to frame the race as a battle between the outsiders and the Washington elite.

“Will an elitist Washington establishment with unlimited millions of dollars and special money be able to control the people of Alabama?” Moore said. “Will false, malicious radio, TV and internet advertising take the place of honest and open debate in our political arena? I think not.”

‘Manipulated’ by McConnell

Moore, who expressed support for numerous Trump administration policies such as the border wall and a ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military, said Trump’s support of Strange was a result of influence from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is supporting the incumbent’s campaign.

“The problem is President Trump’s being cut off in his office. He’s being redirected by people like McConnell who do not support his agenda,” Moore said.

Strange shot back, calling Moore’s attack “insulting.”

“You just said that he was being manipulated by Mitch McConnell. I met Mitch McConnell about six or seven months ago,” Strange said. “To suggest that the president of the United States — the head of the free world, a man who is changing the world — is being manipulated by Mitch McConnell is insulting to the president.”

Strange’s controversial appointment

Moore also attacked Strange for what has been a major issue in the race: how Strange became a United States senator.

Strange, who was the Alabama attorney general prior to his appointment, was tapped for the seat by then-Gov. Robert Bentley, who was later forced to resign over a sex scandal involving a member of his staff. Strange was, at the time, the very man leading the investigation into Bentley’s misconduct, raising questions about the appropriateness of Bentley’s appointment of Strange to Sessions’ Senate seat.

“What’s the truth?” Moore asked Strange directly across the stage. “Did you, sir, have Robert Bentley, the former governor who appointed you to the Senate, under investigation while you were applying for that appointment?”

Strange did not directly respond to the question, instead dismissing the charge as a personal attack.

“I didn’t hear anything about the issues or any solutions or anything he’s going to do to help the president,” Strange said.

Moore, who was suspended from the Alabama Supreme Court in 2016 after refusing to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, accused his opponent of not standing up to the high court’s ruling.

“As soon as Obergefell came down, he caved. He did not stand,” Moore said.

Earlier in the debate, Strange pointed to his record of opposing various requirements in the Affordable Care Act that affected religious organizations who objected to portions of the law.

“Our religious liberty was threatened by the Obama administration as part of the Obamacare law,” Strange said. “I was in the courtroom when that law was, I think unjustly, held constitutional.”

Who’s the real swamp dweller?

Both candidates accused each other of being nothing but career insiders, either as lobbyists or elected officials.

Moore invoked President Trump when he called Strange a “professional lobbyist” who only represents “special interests.

“President Trump had it right when he ran. He said he was going to get rid of lobbyists. You don’t get rid of lobbyists in the swamp by sending one to the United States Senate,” Moore said.

Strange again leaned on the president’s endorsement.

“What I’m here to do is talk about the issues. That’s why the president endorsed me,” Strange said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Doctors, insurance companies and patient groups slam Graham-Cassidy

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Purestock/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Insurance companies, doctors, patients, hospitals and other patient-provider groups are rallying together against the Graham-Cassidy plan, saying it could result in millions losing access to affordable health care and coverage.

It’s not often you see these interest groups align, but the latest Republican repeal-and-replace effort has done just that.

The effort led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., works by eliminating the individual and employer mandates, halting Medicaid expansion and redistributing those funds that would have been used for Medicaid to states in the form of block grants. Republicans say this gives states flexibility to design coverage plans that fit their constituent’s needs, but groups opposed are concerned about loss of Medicaid coverage and how the law might affect people with pre-existing conditions. While people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage by law, states could allow insurers to charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions.

Groups like the American Medical Association, which represents the nation’s doctors, and the American Health Insurance Programs, representing big insurers like Anthem and Humana, along with patient advocacy groups, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association have joined a growing list of organizations opposed to the Graham-Cassidy bill.

The AARP is asking members to call their lawmakers, saying it will harm the nation’s elderly. AARP released a study saying that Graham-Cassidy would mean big premium increases for older Americans, and would “decrease coverage and undermine preexisting condition protections.”

The American Medical Association said that the Graham-Cassidy bill violates the Hippocratic Oath taken by all doctors, “first do no harm.”

The National Association of Medicaid Directors released a statement saying that they’re “strong proponents of state innovation,” but they said that reforms need to be done with careful consideration and “not rushed through without proper deliberation.”

On Wednesday, insurance companies — who remained quiet about the bill for weeks — came out in opposition to Graham-Cassidy, saying they’re concerned about consumers losing coverage and paying more.

Some of the groups say they instead support short-term measures that would stabilize insurance marketplaces and make cost-sharing payments. Many say they will continue to support the kind of work that was attempted the bipartisan work of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that failed in committee.

LETTER: AARP voices strong opposition to "irresponsible" #GrahamCassidy; stresses support for bipartisan approach https://t.co/orhYxjoGjy

— AARP Advocates (@AARPadvocates) September 19, 2017

To #Congress: Graham-Cassidy would result in millions losing coverage, destabilize insurance markets, decrease access to affordable care. pic.twitter.com/p0A1lJf4cx

— AMA (@AmerMedicalAssn) September 19, 2017

Read our letter to Senate Leaders on the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal: https://t.co/qBMVAe7kBM

— AHIP (@AHIPCoverage) September 20, 2017

We couldn't agree more @Jimmykimmel! Call your Senators today &ask them to oppose #GrahamCassidy https://t.co/IXlkBWPffT #ProtectPatientsNow https://t.co/ZUMvuecIjj

— AmHeart Advocacy (@AmHeartAdvocacy) September 20, 2017

This past summer, many of the same patient, physician and insurance groups also voiced opposition to Republicans’ “skinny repeal” health care push.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Congressional investigators zoning in on Manafort communication with liaison abroad

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Tom Williams/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Sources with knowledge of the investigation surrounding former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort tell ABC News a key focus for congressional investigators is emails between Manafort and his longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik.

Kilimnik, often referred to in these emails as “KK,” has served as Manafort’s liaison overseas since the mid-2000s. In the past, Kilimnik has been reported as a former Russian army trained linguist.

Kilimnik’s work for Manafort focused mainly on relations with power brokers and government liaisons in both Ukraine and Russia, among other nations.

As reported by The Washington Post, Manafort reached out to Kilimnik to re-establish a relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, dubbed in these emails “OVD.”

Manafort and Deripaska had many financial deals in the past, some of which included disputes over payments.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the exchange, Manafort told Kilimnik to tell Deripaska he could provide briefings on the state of the Trump campaign, in the middle of the presidential race.

The goal of these briefings was for Manafort to fix the damaged relationship with Deripaska and settle past debts. However, a source tells ABC News it does not appear those briefings ever happened.

“It is no secret Mr. Manafort was owed money by past clients after his work ended in 2014. This exchange is innocuous,” a current spokesperson for Manafort told ABC News.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Inspector general reviewing requests to probe HHS Secretary Tom Price’s private jet travel

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

kafl/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The inspector general’s office at the Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing requests to investigate the private jet travel of the agency’s chief, Tom Price, who reportedly chartered five flights last week, drawing widespread criticism from congressional Democrats.

Price’s travel, first reported by Politico Wednesday, comprised trips to Maine, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania aboard private planes estimated to cost tens of thousands of dollars per flight. Politico noted that the chartered jets did not explicitly violate government regulations, but that past HHS secretaries have typically flown commercially, especially when traveling domestically.

In response, the Democratic ranking members of five congressional committees sent a letter to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson Thursday to request a review of Price’s observance of departmental rules.

The letter cites the Code of Federal Regulations which notes, “…because the taxpayers should pay no more than necessary for your transportation, generally you may travel on Government aircraft only when a Government aircraft is the most cost-effective mode of travel.”

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At least two Democratic members of Congress seized on the report to promote rail travel, their preferred method of commuting to Washington, D.C., while criticizing Price.

“Mr. Secretary, I invite you to join me on [Amtrak] when you travel to Philly,” tweeted Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. Wednesday. “I assure you it’s very comfortable with shorter security lines.”

“Dear Tom Price, As someone who travels from DC to Philly every week let me recommend Amtrak,” tweeted Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., whose district encompasses a portion of the Pennsylvania city.

HHS defended Price’s travel choices by noting the secretary’s “demanding schedule” and the size of the “$1.2 trillion agency.”

“The travel department continues to check every possible source for travel needs including commercial, but commercial travel is not always feasible,” read a statement from Charmaine Yoest, the assistant secretary for public affairs at Health and Human Services. “The President has made it clear his Administration will move power out of Washington and return it to the American people. Secretary Price will continue meeting with the American people outside of the Beltway to hear their concerns and ensure HHS makes decisions that best provide for their needs.”

Since his appointment as HHS secretary and during his tenure in the House of Representatives, Price has frequently served as a critic of government waste.

Speaking before Congress in March about his department’s budget, Price said, “One of our priorities is to try to find the waste and abuse that exists,” in regard to government outlays on Medicare.

As chair of the House Budget Committee, Price publicly decried federal spending and attacked “fiscal irresponsibility” in a 2009 CNBC interview amid a ultimately-abandoned proposal to spend $550 million on planes for members of Congress and government officials.

The issue of Price’s travel follows an ABC News report last week that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin faced an inquiry by the Treasury Department’s inspector general over a request to use a government airplane to travel to his European honeymoon this summer. The inquiry is the second travel-related review faced by Mnuchin. His official trip to Kentucky during August’s solar eclipse is also being reviewed.

Mnuchin dropped the honeymoon request but later defended it as in the interest of “national security” so he would have a secure line of communication.

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Blue states will lose the most funding under Republican health plan

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Creatas/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A new analysis finds that blue states could lose a significant amount of federal funding for health care under the Graham-Cassidy bill.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if Graham-Cassidy became law, the federal government would spend $160 billion less from 2020-2026 to expand health insurance coverage. And 35 states, plus the District of Columbia, would face losses in federal funding.

Graham-Cassidy — named for the two Republicans spearheading the bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. — is the latest effort by Senate Republicans to follow through on a campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. The bill works by redistributing federal funds that would have been used for Medicaid expansion or insurance subsidies. The funds would be given to states in the form of block grants, which Republicans say would give states enormous discretion on how to provide coverage.

But the Kaiser report shows that the redistribution is not equal.

New York, for example, stands to lose 35 percent of the money it currently receives from the federal government to subsidize health insurance and pay for Medicaid.

But Mississippi, the report estimates, could see a whopping 148 percent gain in federal funding under Graham-Cassidy. States that could see increases in funding are states that chose not to expand Medicaid coverage under Obamacare.

Non-expansion states, according to Kaiser, could gain $73 billion, while Medicaid expansion states could lose $180 billion.

Next week, the Senate will vote on Graham-Cassidy, and all eyes are on three senators who could decide its fate: Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Alaska and Arizona will face moderate losses in federal funding, while Maine, which did not expand Medicaid, stands to gain 8 percent in federal funding.

The top five losers in federal funding as a percentage compared to current funding include New York (-35 percent), Oregon (-32 percent), Connecticut (-31 percent), Vermont (-31 percent) and Minnesota (-30 percent).

The winners? Mississippi (148 percent), Texas (75 percent), Kansas (61 percent), Georgia (46 percent) and South Dakota (45 percent).

The large unknown that remains is what happens in 2026, when block grants end under Graham-Cassidy. Kaiser notes that if that money isn’t renewed, funding would decrease by $240 billion in 2027 alone.

“Graham-Cassidy would be the biggest evolution of federal money and responsibility to states ever,” Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation said. “So until this passes, there’s just no way to know what kinds of changes people face, because it will be different in every state.”

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Sean Spicer defends brief White House tenure

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer acknowledges that he has “made mistakes,” but says that for those who “want some blanket apology,” “that’s not happening.”

“I made mistakes,” Spicer, who’s been out at the White House for less than a month, told ABC News’ Paula Faris. “There’s no question. I think we all do.”

Spicer added that he “tried to own” some of his mistakes, but said that “the personal attacks, questioning my integrity” were “really over the top.”

When asked if he had ever lied to the American people, Spicer responded, “I don’t think so.”

“I have not knowingly done anything to do that, no,” he added when pressed harder.

Spicer touched on some of the most notable moments during his short tenure as President Donald Trump’s spokesman, including his first appearance in the White House briefing room, when he read a statement to the press about the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

His comments sparked widespread criticism after photos later emerged online that contradicted him.

“I think it might’ve been better to be a lot more specific with what we were talking about in terms of the universe, not focus so much on photographic evidence, et cetera,” Spicer said.

Spicer added that many people viewed the inauguration online versus in person, saying, “There are more social platforms, more online platforms to view things “than existed eight years ago.

Spicer also acknowledged the controversy that ensued after Trump fired then-FBI director James Comey.

When asked repeatedly if it was his obligation as press secretary to set the record straight regarding contradictory information that emerged following Comey’s firing, Spicer said President Trump accomplished that himself.

“He set it straight,” Spicer said of Trump.

Spicer opened up about when Trump contradicted his statements by tweeting about a “ban” shortly before Spicer told reporters, “It’s not a travel ban.”

“I would definitely say that I wish we had been more consistent from the beginning in terms of the terms that we would use and the goals that we were trying to achieve,” Spicer said.

When asked about the ongoing investigation into whether there was Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Spicer said he was “not going to discuss” the issue, even as Faris pressed him on it.

Spicer most recently made headlines during a surprise appearance at the 2017 Emmy Awards on Sunday, entering the stage on a mock White House press secretary podium, and poking fun of his infamous presser following Trump’s inauguration, saying, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys — period.”

Spicer said the president was “very supportive” of his Emmys cameo when they spoke on the phone.

“He thought I did a great job,” Spicer added.

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‘Indivisible’ activist group takes aim at Obamacare repeal bill

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The liberal activist group “Indivisible,” a primary force behind the big anti-Donald Trump protest marches this spring and those raucous summer town halls, is now running full steam to stop the latest GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Operating out a start-up space in Washington, D.C., the Indivisible leadership team is calling for a national day of action for Sept. 25, just as the Republican Congress returns for the make-or-break last effort to deliver on the campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“We’re activating out entire network right now to push back against the Graham-Cassidy bill,” said Leah Greenberg, the former Congressional staffer who launched Indivisible last November as a center of resistance against the Trump agenda. “That means everything from in-person events all around the country, showing up at Senate offices, showing up at rallies, showing up in person and meeting with as many senators as possible to let them know the depths of the opposition to this bill.”

Both sides are running against the clock. Republicans need to get the bill passed before the Sept. 30 deadline when the rules that allow a bill to proceed on a simple majority expire. Indivisible and the Democrats are trying to build a wall of public outrage and opposition before wavering Republicans are persuaded to get behind the bill.

Indivisible got a boost Wednesday morning when former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton retweeted to her 18 million followers the group’s online campaign, called “Kill the Bill.”

Our friends at @IndivisibleTeam explain what's happening and what you can do (need to do!) to stop it. https://t.co/p0lfJQAro9

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 20, 2017

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<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Our friends at <a href=”https://twitter.com/IndivisibleTeam”>@IndivisibleTeam</a> explain what's happening and what you can do (need to do!) to stop it. <a href=”https://t.co/p0lfJQAro9″>https://t.co/p0lfJQAro9</a></p>&mdash; Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) <a href=”https://twitter.com/HillaryClinton/status/910488656737177602″>September 20, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Roy Moore’s defiant road to become US senator

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — In his nearly three decades in the public eye, Roy Moore has never been one to shy away from controversy or confrontation.

Whether it’s the public display of the Ten Commandments or his refusal to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage, Moore has gained national attention for his dogged and bombastic defense of his brand of Christianity’s role in the American political system.

The twice-removed former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice is now vying to become Alabama’s next U.S. senator, taking on sitting U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who is backed by both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump.

The race has become a proxy war between the populist and establishment wings of the Republican Party, and has even pitted the president against his former top aides Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who are backing Moore.

Next Tuesday, voters will choose Moore or Strange to take on former U.S. Attorney and Democratic nominee Doug Jones in the general election in December.

Here’s a look back at some of Moore’s most controversial moments since his first appointment to public office.

1992-2000

Moore’s first appointment as a judge came in 1992, when then-Gov. H. Guy Hunt appointed him to the 16th Circuit Court of Alabama.

Moore quickly generated controversy by hanging a wooden plaque inscribed with the Ten Commandments on the wall of his courtroom, and started the practice of beginning his court proceedings with a prayer.

In 1995, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Moore, claiming his display of the Ten Commandments and courtroom prayers were unconstitutional.

The suit was eventually dismissed after it was ruled the ACLU lacked standing in the case, and Moore was allowed to keep his plaque up and continue his prayer tradition.

In 1999, Moore announced his campaign for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, largely focusing on his defense of the Ten Commandments and status as a defender of religion in the public sphere.

Surprising many, Moore won the seat, defeating sitting Alabama Associate Supreme Court Justice Harold See in the Republican primary. Moore went on to win the seat easily in the general election.

2000-2003

After his election, Moore began designing a monument that he said was meant to depict “the moral foundation of law.”

What was eventually unveiled in the summer of 2001 was a 5,280-pound, granite monument affixed with the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama state judicial building in Montgomery.

That fall, the ACLU, along with the Southern Poverty Law Center, sued Moore for violating “the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.”

In November 2002, U.S. District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson ordered Moore to remove the Ten Commandments monument within 30 days, ruling that its placement violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Judge Thompson’s ruling was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in July of 2003, and in August, Moore was again ordered to remove the monument. Again, he refused, appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

In November 2003, Moore was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for “willfully and publicly” defying the orders of a United States District Court.

2012-2016

Nearly a decade after his removal, Moore was again elected as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2012.

Moore’s next battle came in June of 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

In defiance of the ruling, Moore — who had already been battling a U.S. District Court that ruled the state’s marriage laws unconstitutional — ordered Alabama’s probate judges to continue enforcing the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In September 2016, after numerous ethics complaints, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission found Moore guilty of six ethics charges in connection with his refusal to comply with “binding federal law”, and he was suspended for the remainder of his term on the Alabama Supreme Court.

2017

Moore announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April 2017, and his candidacy thus far indicates he has no desire to temper his controversial rhetoric or beliefs.

In speeches and radio appearances discovered by CNN, Moore has speculated as early as December 2016 that there was a “big question” about whether Barack Obama was a U.S. citizen.

In a speech at an Alabama church this past February, Moore suggested that the 9/11 terrorist attacks may have been the result of the U.S. turning away from God.

Just this week, Moore against caused controversy after he appeared to refer to Native Americans and Asians as “reds” and “yellows” in a campaign speech.

But despite his rhetoric, Moore has remained popular among many in Alabama, winning almost 40 percent of the vote in the first round of the Republican primary last month.

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Sen. Van Hollen confident Democrats will invest in Alabama’s heated Senate race

Posted on: September 21st, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., expressed confidence in the Democratic Party’s position in the upcoming Alabama Senate race, where he said there is a “full-blown Republican civil, political war.”

“We all know it’s Alabama. That’s been tough territory for Democrats, and no one is kidding themselves how tough politically Alabama has been,” the Democratic senator from Maryland told ABC News’ Powerhouse Politics podcast Wednesday, adding, “On the other hand, we have a terrific candidate.”

The runoff for the Republican primary to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general is Sept. 26. President Donald Trump has endorsed incumbent appointed Sen. Luther Strange and plans to visit on Friday. Vice President Mike Pence will also campaign for Strange in Alabama on Monday.

Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, are backing Judge Roy Moore, who was twice elected to the Alabama Supreme Court and removed for defying court orders.

Van Hollen, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) for the 2018 cycle and tasked with fighting to hold Senate seats, said he does not plan to reassess the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, based on who wins the Alabama GOP primary.

“I think Doug Jones is going to energize a lot of voters to come out, and I’m not sure, after a bitter Republican primary, that’s going to be the case on the Republican side,” Van Hollen told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl and Rick Klein, adding, “Republicans have just gone through months of beating the hell out of each other.”

Jones was appointed U.S. attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, by former President Bill Clinton in 1997. He was the lead prosecutor in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case that killed four African-American girls. U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, and former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Jones in August. Biden is expected to hold a rally for Jones on Oct. 3.

There has not been a Democratic senator in Alabama since 1997, when Sessions succeeded Howell T. Heflin.

When asked to predict the Senate election map, Van Hollen said, “It’s a very tough map. Here’s what we’re gonna do: We’re gonna fight like hell to hold the blue wall in the United States Senate.”

Democrats will be defending 25 of 33 seats. Ten of those seats are from states Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.

Van Hollen also discussed the GOP’s latest efforts to ditch former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act as the crucial deadline nears.

“I think it’s the wrong thing to do for the country. It’s going to totally screw up our health care system,” the senator said of the Graham-Cassidy bill. “I think they will not only hurt lots of Americans, but I think, politically, they’re going to have to be held accountable.”

He said he welcomes lots of ideas, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ latest bill for a government-run, single-payer health care system — dubbed “Medicare for All” — but insisted that the focus right now is to prevent the GOP from “blowing up” the Affordable Care Act.

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Mueller inquired about Comey and Flynn firings, Russia meeting: Sources

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — Special counsel Robert Mueller sent a letter to the White House inquiring about a number of topics, including the firings of former FBI Director James Comey and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and an Oval Office meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian diplomats, sources familiar with Mueller’s investigation confirmed to ABC News.

The letter, first reported by the New York Times and Washington Post, asked questions covering 13 specific categories, among them the Flynn and Comey dismissals and Russia meeting. In May, the Washington Post reported that Trump shared classified information in the Oval Office with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.

White House attorney Ty Cobb would not confirm the report when reached by ABC News, saying, “The White House has repeatedly confirmed that out of respect for the special counsel and his processes the White House will not comment on any exchanges we have with his office. The White House remains committed to fully cooperating with the special counsel.”

The special counsel’s office also declined to comment.

As Mueller’s investigation continues, congressional probes are inching forward as well.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr told reporters Wednesday that his panel will hold a hearing next month on Facebook and other social media companies’ role in the election as potential platforms for Russian efforts to influence the presidential race.

And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is preparing to potentially subpoena two former aides to former FBI Director James Comey, James Rybicki and Carl Ghattas.

The Justice Department has prevented Grassley’s investigators from interviewing both men regarding their conversations with Comey – a potential sign of Mueller’s interest in the officials and their conversations with Comey about his multiple interactions with Trump.

The special counsel is investigating the circumstances around Trump’s firing of Comey to determine whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice and interfere with the Russian election interference probe.

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Senate could vote on Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill next week

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping to hold a vote on the Graham-Cassidy health care proposal next week, he said in a statement Wednesday.

According to a statement released by McConnell’s office, “it is the Leader’s intention to consider Graham-Cassidy on the floor next week.” That does not mean a vote will definitely happen on the controversial bill. A number of Republican senators have been non-committal on the proposal.

Republicans have until September 30 to vote on a health care bill under budget reconciliation, which would allow them to pass a bill with a simple majority, or 50 votes, instead of the normally required 60.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said Wednesday that if the Senate can pass the measure, his caucus would also act next week. “If the Senate acts, we will act as well,” he told reporters at a Coast Guard news conference in Miami.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tried to rally Democrats to block the bill at her Wednesday news conference. “This is really an emergency,” she said. “We’ve got to stop this bill.”

Graham-Cassidy would remove the individual and employer mandates to sign up for health insurance, a pair of tax penalties tied to the Affordable Care Act that remain unpopular with voters. It would also roll back the medical device tax and repeal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year.

Experts believe that health insurance premiums for older and disabled Americans would go up under the Graham-Cassidy proposal, in part because of cuts to Medicaid expansion.

A powerful trade organization for health insurance companies came out against the plan on Wednesday as well. American Health Insurance Plans — which represents Anthem, Cigna, Humana and Harvard Pilgrim — says it will not support the bill, because it does not meet six criteria:

1. “Reforms must stabilize the individual insurance market”
2. “Medicaid reforms must ensure the program is efficient, effective, and has adequate funding to meet the health care needs of beneficiaries”
3. “Reforms must guarantee access to coverage for ALL Americans, including those with pre-existing conditions”
4. “Reforms must provide sufficient time for everyone to prepare – from doctors, hospitals, and health plans to consumers, patients, and policymakers.”
5. “Reforms should improve affordability by eliminating taxes and fees that only serve to raise health care costs or reduce benefits for everyone.”
6. “Reforms should rely on the strengths of the private market, not build a bridge to single payer systems.”

“The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal fails to meet these guiding principles,” Marilyn Tavenner, President and CEO of AHIP said Wednesday. She added that the bill would “have real consequences on consumers and patients by further destabilizing the individual market; cutting Medicaid; pulling back on protections for pre-existing conditions; not ending taxes on health insurance premiums and benefits; and potentially allowing government-controlled, single-player health care to grow.”

Insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield also expressed “significant concerns” with the bill on Wednesday.

Still, President Donald Trump remains optimistic about the bill, saying “I think it has a very good chance.”

“I believe that Graham-Cassidy will do it the right way,” he added, saying that the proposal has “tremendous support from Republicans.”

“Whether it happens or not something’s going to happen and it’s going to be positive,” the president said. “[The Affordable Care Act] can not make it. At some point the Senate is going to be forced to make a deal.”

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Trump congratulates African leaders: ‘I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich’

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — President Donald Trump congratulated the leaders of African nations Wednesday on the “business potential” of their countries, telling them that he has “so many friends” going to the continent “trying to get rich.”

The comment came in a speech during a working lunch with the leaders amid the United Nations General Assembly. The bulk of Trump’s remarks struck a positive tone on continental efforts to promote “prosperity and peace on a range of economic, humanitarian and security issues.”

“We hope to extend our economic partnerships with countries who are committed to self-reliance and to fostering opportunities for job creation in both Africa and the United States,” said the president.

“I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you,” continued Trump, adding that Africa represented “huge amounts of different markets and for American firms.”

“It’s really become a place that they have to go, that they want to go,” he said.

Trump went on to acknowledge allies on the continent who partnered to fight the spread of terrorism in Africa and pledged the U.S. would continue to monitor violence in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He noted that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley would travel to Africa to assist in resolving conflicts.

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Obama on Republican health care repeal-and-replace efforts: ‘It is aggravating’

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

The White House(NEW YORK) — Former President Barack Obama offered an optimistic vision for the future, but condemned the latest attempt by Republicans to repeal his signature legislation, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, calling the efforts “aggravating” on Wednesday.

“When I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress for the 50th or 60th time with bills that would raise costs or reduce coverage, or roll back protections for older Americans or people with pre-existing conditions — the cancer survivor, the expecting mom or the child with autism, or asthma, for whom coverage once again would be almost unattainable — it is aggravating,” Obama said at the Gates Foundation’s “Goalkeepers” event in New York.

“And all of this being done without any demonstrable economic or actuarial or plain common sense rationale, it frustrates,” he added. “And it is certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents.”

Obama also joked that he’s not quite sure why some Americans don’t support the single-payer system — a tenet of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign platform in 2016 — that has since gained steam in the Democratic Party.

“Those of you who live in countries that already have universal health care are trying to figure out what’s the controversy here,” Obama said to laughter. “I am, too.”

In keeping with the unwritten tradition that former presidents don’t outright disparage a sitting president, Obama did not criticize President Donald Trump by name. But he expressed his frustration with the current administration on another achievement during his presidency, addressing climate change through the Paris climate agreement. But he said progress can still be made by people outside the White House.

“Even if at the current moment the federal government is not as engaged in these efforts as I would like, nevertheless, progress continues because of the efforts of people like Bill [Gates] and a whole host of entrepreneurs and universities and cities and states,” Obama said.

“They are making change around energy policy in America separate and apart from what government is doing. And that gives me confidence that we can continue to make progress.”

Despite his overall optimism, Obama also warned about the rise of nationalist impulses in politics.

“The rise of nationalism and xenophobia in politics that says it’s not ‘we’ but ‘us and them’ — a politics that threatens to turn good people away from the kind of collective action that has always driven human progress. … These are real challenges. And we can’t sugar coat them.”

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How the Graham-Cassidy bill compares to past Republican health care repeal efforts

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

BananaStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The clock is ticking for Senate Republicans to be able to repeal and replace Obamacare, following through on their almost seven-year campaign promise, through a special process that requires fewer votes. The deadline to pass the bill with a simple majority of 51 votes is Sept. 30.

For Republicans who worked around the clock in July to try to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called Obamacare, it’s déjà vu. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are on the fence once more about supporting the GOP’s latest health care proposal.

This time, those Republicans are considering a very different option with the Graham-Cassidy bill, a repeal effort led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

What’s new, old and controversial about the Graham-Cassidy bill?

Similar to previous Republican repeal efforts, Graham-Cassidy immediately removes the individual and employer mandates to sign up for health insurance, two tax penalties tied to the ACA that continue to be unpopular with the public.

Graham-Cassidy also repeals the medical device tax, which some said was prohibitive to medical innovations. The plan repeals Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood for one year — just as the ‘skinny repeal’ was designed to do and would increase the amount of money that people can put into health savings accounts, or HSAs, that are popular with Republicans, and consumers could also use that savings money to pay health insurance premiums.

Like past repeal efforts, health insurance premiums for older and disabled Americans would go up with cuts to Medicaid expansion; Medicare would not be changed; and the bill would repeal cost-sharing subsidies in 2020, which give discounts for deductibles and copayments.

What’s different?

The Graham-Cassidy bill would give states more discretion with health care funds. The tax credits, Obamacare-era subsidies and Medicaid expansion dollars would be eliminated. Instead, states would receive block grants of money to allocate as they determine. How much money each state would receive depends on a complicated formula that factors in population size and resident wages, and states would not have to spend money to increase health insurance coverage. Graham-Cassidy block grants would expire in 2026.

“It takes money that previously would have gone to premium tax credits and the Medicaid expansion and divides that up to states in a block grant, but the total amount of funding in those block grants is significantly below what would have gone through Medicaid expansion and tax credits under current law,” said Matthew Fiedler, a fellow with the Center for Health Policy in Brookings’ Economic Studies Program.

“I think, with these block grants, there is going to be such intense uncertainty about what different states are going to do that insurers are going to get nervous and may hedge their bets even before 2020, maybe deciding the market is not worth it,” he said.

The bill also caps Medicaid enrollment and funding, which could affect more than 60 million people. The plan would also allow people over the age of 30 to sign up for catastrophic coverage plans that are high-deductible, low-premium plans in hopes that more healthy, young people will be covered.

Private market rules will remain the same, but states would be allowed to waive rating rules based on health status ratings and age. States would also be allowed to require working as a condition for Medicaid eligibility.

What parts of the Republicans’ bill are controversial?

Because Graham-Cassidy’s block grant plan redistributes Medicaid funding, some states that applied for Medicaid expansion under Obamacare — including some red states — are concerned their residents will lose out those funds and be saddled with very steep bills.

“If Graham Cassidy passes, states will have less than two years to come up with a whole new health insurance program from scratch. And that will be a challenge even for the largest and best-resourced states,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

While insurers are still required by law to provide health insurance coverage to everyone, Graham-Cassidy would allow states to use waivers to get rid of protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and states can also obtain waivers under Graham-Cassidy to get rid of required coverage for essential health benefits such as maternity care, which could mean higher premiums for sick people.

But a major sticking point for lawmakers has been the rushed process to vote on the bill. Without a full report from the Congressional Budget Office, lawmakers won’t know how much the bill will cost the government or how many people could potentially lose their coverage.

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Trump says he has reached decision on Iran deal: ‘I’ll let you know’

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — President Donald Trump indicated Wednesday that he has made a decision on the future of the Iran nuclear deal, but refused to offer additional information.

“I have decided,” Trump told reporters three times Wednesday morning as he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “I’ll let you know what the decision is.”

During his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump hinted he would withdraw from the deal, which he called “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into” and an “embarrassment” to the country. The agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, limits Iran’s nuclear development capabilities in exchange for the easing of related sanctions. It was negotiated by the Obama administration.

Though highly critical of the deal, the Trump administration has largely abided by it. Last Thursday, Trump signed a waiver on sanctions against Iran, and the administration has confirmed that Iran has been compliant with the deal’s terms.

If the U.S. were to pull out of the deal, Trump would cease to sign future sanctions waivers or de-certify the accord ahead of an Oct. 14 deadline. By that date, the administration must again notify Congress of Iran’s observance of the deal’s conditions. In the latter scenario, Congress could choose to reinstate the agreement over a 60-day period by a majority vote.

Trump gave an equally coy response Monday when asked about the future of the deal, telling reporters then, “You will see very soon.”

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RNC spent over $230K last month covering Trump’s legal fees in Russia investigation

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Republican National Committee (RNC) spent over $230,000 last month to cover President Donald Trump’s legal fees related to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, an RNC official confirmed to ABC News.

The money went to two members of Trump’s personal legal team: $131,250 to Jay Sekulow and $100,000 to John Dowd through their law firms. Fees to Sekulow’s firm covered work by other attorneys at his firm, the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group.

These payments will be disclosed in the RNC’s spending report for August, which is out Thursday.

The RNC has also paid nearly $200,000 of Donald Trump Jr.’s legal bills.

Of that money, $166,527.50 was given to Alan Futerfas, who is representing Trump Jr., and $30,102.90 to the law firm Williams & Jensen this month. These payments will appear on RNC’s September disclosure.

All legal fees were covered by the RNC’s legal defense fund, which is funded separately from the political operation and mostly from wealthy donors.

The RNC has not committed that it will continue footing the legal bills for the president and his son as the probe goes forward.

A political party’s legal defense funds are typically used to pay for legal action related to elections, including ballot access or recounts.

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Nikki Haley defends Trump’s ‘Rocket Man’ speech to United Nations

Posted on: September 20th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(NEW YORK) — U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday defended President Donald Trump’s first speech to the U.N. General Assembly, in which he dubbed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man.”

“This is a way of getting people to talk about [Kim],” Haley said in an interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America.

“It worked,” Haley said. “Every other international community is now referring to him as ‘Rocket Man.’ “

The Kim regime has been making the world uneasy of late with its many missile launches this year.

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. is “forced to defend itself or its allies,” prompting gasps from the audience.

Haley said the president was “being honest” and that his bluntness was in fact “very much appreciated.”

“I know that people and countries don’t want to hear it,” she said on Good Morning America. “If you want to talk about who’s been giving the threats, it’s certainly been the Kim regime.”

The former South Carolina governor said the U.S. has “exhausted every diplomatic means” in trying to deal with North Korea, including dialogue and sanctions.

“And we are going to continue to do that. While he is being irresponsible, we’re going to be responsible,” Haley said. “The international community actually very much appreciated the blunt, honest approach that the president took on North Korea.”

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Robert Mueller’s investigators interviewed Rod Rosenstein as part of Russia probe

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

United States Department of Justice(NEW YORK) — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s staff has interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as part of the Justice Department’s Russia probe, ABC News has confirmed.

The interview took place in either June or July, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that Rosenstein had been interviewed.

Mueller’s investigators report to Rosenstein, who oversaw the Justice Department’s Russia investigation following the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Asked whether Rosenstein might have to recuse himself from the matter, a Department of Justice spokesman said in a statement Tuesday, “As the Deputy Attorney General has said numerous times, if there comes a time when he needs to recuse, he will. However, nothing has changed.”

Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel one week after former FBI Director James Comey’s firing, and one day after it was revealed that Comey had alleged in an internal memo that President Donald Trump had asked him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The White House initially said Trump had acted on the recommendation of Rosenstein, who wrote a scathing memo about Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

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Uncertain future for the EPA Houston lab assisting with Hurricane Harvey response

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — It’s been nearly three weeks since Hurricane Harvey slammed into south Texas, and serious environmental and public health concerns remain for the region: Chemical plants have reported leaks and damage, toxic Superfund sites — areas with hazardous substances and pollutants that the EPA determines require cleanup — and city and state officials have warned that destructive flood waters could contain harmful bacteria and other contaminants.

The cleanup will take years, according to experts.

Enter the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 6 laboratory in Houston that’s been assisting with the Harvey response — and who’s future is up in the air, after employees were told four months ago that the government will not renew the 41,000-square-foot space’s lease when it expires in 2020.

The EPA last April publicly announced that as a part of an agency-wide effort to consolidate work space and limit rent costs, it would not renew the laboratory’s building lease.

An EPA spokesperson insisted to ABC News that the agency is searching for a new space to move the roughly 50-person team, and that it does not plan to halt the work or function of the facility.

However, multiple sources from the local EPA office in Dallas, as well as the Houston laboratory told ABC News that during meetings with staff in April and June, agency officials did little to reassure the scientists in that the laboratory — which serves five states — would even remain in the state.

“It has been very demoralizing,” Mark Ford, an attorney at the EPA’s office in Dallas and vice president of the American Federation of Government Employee (AFGE) Local 1003, the union representing federal employees, told ABC News. He recounted the anxiety employees from Houston had expressed to his team. “‘What should I do? Should I sell my house? Should I put in for a transfer? What about my children in terms of their education here in Houston?'” said Ford, rattling off the questions staff asked.

Clovis Steib, the president of AEFG Local 1003, echoed Ford’s sentiments, telling ABC News, “People don’t feel valued, the morale has suffered. These people were living under this shadow knowing that they basically got a diagnosis that they have two years on their professional career. There are obligations wherein [the agency] has to offer you a job, but they don’t have to offer it in your area.”

According to Ford, Steib and a scientist from the Houston lab who spoke on the condition of anonymity, agency representatives conveyed to Houston staff that so far all attempts to find a new, alternative space in the city, had come up empty. During two meetings, first with top personnel from the local Region 6 headquarters and then with representatives from the EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., employees asked whether the Houston laboratory would be consolidated with another laboratory in region, one focused on research, located in Ada, Oklahoma. The representatives said it was too early to tell.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the plan to consolidate regional laboratories was introduced under President Obama.

“The Obama Administration started this plan to consolidate regional laboratories, which we are revisiting because Administrator Pruitt strongly believes in supporting states by providing laboratory and scientific expertise to better protect the environment,” Wilcox said in a statement to ABC when asked about whether the Houston facility may be moved out of the area.” To be clear, we do not plan to eliminate any laboratory jobs and there are no present plans to move the lab out of Houston.”

The Houston EPA scientist who requested anonymity said, “If they move the lab to Ada, it is pretty much certain that 90 percent of our people won’t go. That means they are going to take all of that institutional knowledge, like 500 years of experience and it is all going to be gone.”

The scientist and union leaders also worry that the mission of the laboratory would fundamentally change if it were moved out the Houston area. The facility is responsible for analyzing air, water, soil and biological samples from Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, but since it is located in the heart of oil and gas country, its scientists are focused specifically on the Texas Gulf Coast, where the highest concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants in the U.S. are located.

In 2016, after an incident at a property owned by the Valero Energy Corporation put drinking water for over 30,000 residents in Corpus Christi, Texas, at risk, it was the Houston lab that was in charge of detecting toxins and determining when the water was safe to drink.

“You could not have a quick response to anything on the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast,” Steib said. “Lives would be put in jeopardy. The farther you have to drive, the longest it takes to get a sample back to see what you are dealing is time that is going to be protecting public health and safety. Turnaround time is critical.”

The EPA scientist echoed Steib’s concern. “We think the importance of the proximity to the petrochemical industry is very apparent,” he said. “It is our mission to be here in this area and to respond … It will change the mission of the lab, if you’re in a different area,” the scientist went on.

The Houston site is not the only EPA laboratory in flux. In April, union leaders representing EPA employees in northern California received a memo about consolidating work space at the San Francisco laboratory too. The memo, obtain by ABC News, specifically talks about “budgetary reasons” for moving scientists and renting part of their building. “Region 9, along with all other regional and headquarter offices, has been asked to reduce the amount of leases space by the end of FY17,” the memo reads.

Steib said the memos to other regional offices, plus the headlines about the new administration and direction of the agency, has had the Houston employees especially on edge.

“You hear that and you hear the administration wants to reduce the workforce … it doesn’t bode well,” he said.

The Trump administration initially recommended a 30 percent cut to the EPA budget, but congressional Republicans largely ignored that proposition. The current Republican in the House of the Representatives includes about a 5 percent cut to the agency’s operational funds.

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Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore tweets affirmation of his ‘reds, yellows’ remarks

Posted on: September 19th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(GALLENT, Ala.) — Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore tweeted Monday evening an apparent affirmation of remarks he made Sunday during a campaign speech, in which he seemed to characterize Native Americans and Asians as “reds” and “yellows.”

In his speech, Moore referenced the U.S. Civil War while lamenting the current divisions within the country.

“We were torn apart in the Civil War — brother against brother, North against South, party against party. What changed?” Moore said. “Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting.”

“What’s going to unite us? What’s going to bring us back together? A president? A Congress?” Roy asked, and then answered, “No. It’s going to be God.”

Red, yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. This is the Gospel. (1/2)

— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) September 18, 2017

If we take it seriously, America can once again be united as one nation under God. (2/2)

— Judge Roy Moore (@MooreSenate) September 18, 2017

Moore’s tweets Monday seem to indicate he was quoting the children’s Bible song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” by C. Herbert Woolston and George F. Root. Lyrics to that song include the verses: “Jesus loves the little children/all the children of the world/red, brown, yellow, black and white/they are precious in his sight.”

Moore, a former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice who was twice removed for defying court orders, is competing in a primary runoff next week for the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He will face incumbent Sen. Luther Strange, who was endorsed by President Trump and has the backing of a super PAC linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,

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