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Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said Thursday night that President Donald Trump told him he would extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program past March if Congress does not pass legislation restoring the protections by then, according to the Washington Post.

“The president’s comment to me was that, ‘We put a six-month deadline out there. Let’s work it out. If we can’t get it worked out in six months, we’ll give it some more time, but we’ve got to get this worked out legislatively,’” Lankford said at a town hall in Tulsa Thursday night, per the Washington Post.

Trump did not specify how long he would extend the DACA deadline, Lankford said. The President made the comments to Lankford over the phone in September, a spokesman for Lankford told the Washington Post.

When the end to DACA was announced, Trump suggested in a tweet that he could extend the program if Congress fails to act.

The Trump administration announced in September that it would end the DACA program in March and called on Congress to restore the protections through legislation. At first, Trump seemed very willing to work with Democrats on a bill to restore DACA. Following a mid-September meeting with Democratic leaders, Trump said they were “close” to a deal and suggested the bill would not need to include funding for a border wall.

However, chances that Congress would quickly pass a bill to restore DACA dropped this week when the Trump administration issued hard-line demands for any bill protecting young undocumented immigrants. The White House said that any deal should include funding for the border wall and curb legal immigration, demands that Democrats and likely some Republicans will oppose.

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The Trump administration announced late Thursday night that the federal government will cut off key payments to insurers in a move that will undermine the Affordable Care Act and likely cause premiums on the Obamacare exchanges to increase.

The decision to end the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, which subsidize insurers that help low-income Americans with significant health care needs afford coverage, is the latest move by President Donald Trump and his administration to undermine Obamacare. It came the same day that Trump announced an executive order that will make it easier for young, healthy Americans to buy cheap plans that don’t comply with Obamacare requirements, causing premiums for less healthy Americans on the ACA exchanges to rise.

The decision to end the payments comes after the administration threatened to cut off the subsidies for months. The constant threat has caused instability in the health care marketplaces as insurers raised their rates or left areas altogether out of fear that Trump would cut off the crucial subsidies.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in an August report that ending the CSR payments would cause premiums for those who benefit from the payments to rise by 20 percent by 2018 and 25 percent by 2020. The CBO also found that ending the payments would add $194 billion dollars to the federal deficit by 2026.

In a statement issued after 11 p.m. Thursday night, the Department of Health and Human Services bashed Obamacare and argued that the administration cannot legally make the CSR payments without approval from Congress.

“It has been clear for many years that Obamacare is bad policy.  It is also bad law,” Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Eric Hargan and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma began in a statement about the decision.

In the statement, Hargan and Verma argued that the Obama administration never received the proper authority from Congress to set aside funds for the CSR payments. House Republicans sued the Obama administration over the payments, and a federal court ruled that the payments were illegal. The federal government appealed the decision to an appeals court.

“The Obama Administration unfortunately went ahead and made CSR payments to insurance companies after requesting – but never ultimately receiving – an appropriation from Congress as required by law,” Hargan and Verma said in the statement. “After a thorough legal review by HHS, Treasury, OMB, and an opinion from the Attorney General, we believe that the last Administration overstepped the legal boundaries drawn by our Constitution. Congress has not appropriated money for CSRs, and we will discontinue these payments immediately.”

In a statement on the end to CSR payments, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the Trump administration would drop the federal government’s appeal of the court ruling, but HHS did not mention the appeal in its statement.

Trump touted the administration’s decision in a tweet early Friday morning and called on Democrats to work with him to “fix” the law.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday night blasted the administration’s decision to end the key payments, describing the move as “sabotage.”

“Sadly, instead of working to lower health costs for Americans, it seems President Trump will singlehandedly hike Americans’ health premiums. It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America. Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it,” they said in a joint statement.

 “President Trump has apparently decided to punish the American people for his inability to improve our health care system. Trumpcare collapsed because Americans overwhelmingly recognized the cruelty and higher costs it meant for them and their loved ones.  Now, millions of hard-working American families will suffer just because President Trump wants them to,” they added.

Schumer and Pelosi said that the administration has signaled it will not back bipartisan negotiations led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on legislation to continue the CSR payments and give states more flexibility under Obamacare.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman pledged Thursday night to sue the administration over the decision to end the payments. Schneiderman and several other attorneys general intervened in the court case over the payments over the summer, and were granted the ability to defend the payments.

 

 

 

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A congressional ethics watchdog released a report Thursday that found Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) may have broken ethics rules and federal law with actions he took as a board member of the biotech firm Innate Immunotherapeutics.

The independent Office for Congressional Ethics (OCE), which may investigate allegations against lawmakers and refer its findings to the House Ethics Committee, found there is “substantial reason to believe” Collins shared nonpublic information about the purchase of Innate stock with investors and that he took official actions to help Innate: two National Institutes of Health employees told OCE that Collins asked an NIH employee to help Innate with a clinical trial.

It asked that the House Ethics Committee further review those two actions. The watchdog said it did not find substantial reason to believe that Collins purchased discounted stock, however.

The House Ethics panel said Thursday that it was again extending a review of the allegations against Collins.

The committee first extended its review following a report that Collins purchased Innate stock while the Food and Drug Administration was considering whether to approve a drug made by the company. Collins also introduced an amendment to a House bill related to FDA drug approval that would impact Innate, according to the Daily Beast’s reporting.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price did not cooperate with the OCE investigation, according to the watchdog’s report. The watchdog recommended the House Ethics Committee subpoena Price, who said in his confirmation hearing that he purchased Innate stock after hearing about it from Collins.

Correction: The initial version of this post incorrectly referred to the Food and Drug Administration as the Federal Drug Administration.

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While boasting about the U.S. economy during an interview on Wednesday, President Donald Trump made the bizarre suggestion that gains in the stock market actually reduce federal debt.

“The country — we took it over and owed over $20 trillion,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “As you know, the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet, we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months, in terms of value.”

“So you could say, in one sense, we’re really increasing values,” he continued. “And maybe in a sense we’re reducing debt. But we’re very honored by it. And we’re very, very happy.”

While it’s true that the federal debt increased under President Barack Obama, and it’s true that the stock market has continued to see steady gains since Trump took office, there’s no clear correlation between the two. Gains in the stock market are not automatically transferred to the federal government.

In fact, the national debt has actually continued to increase under Trump, and hit $20 trillion for the first time in September.

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Despite prematurely declaring victory in his war of words with NFL players Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump was not done harping on the issue.

During an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday, Trump criticized Colin Kaepernick, the player who protested police treatment of minorities in 2016 by kneeling during the national anthem.

“I watched Colin Kaepernick and I thought it was terrible. And then it got bigger and bigger and started mushrooming,” Trump told Hannity.

“And frankly the NFL should have suspended him for one game and he would have never done it again,” he continued. “They could have then suspended him for two games and they could have suspended him again if he did it a third time for the season, and you would never have had a problem.  But I will tell you — you cannot disrespect our country, our flag, our anthem, you cannot do that.”

Trump later told Hannity that minorities “want” and “need” police protection more than others and lamented that police would be able to do stop crime in cities if “if they were allowed to do their job.” Trump claimed that police are unable to do their jobs because “they have to be politically correct.”

The President has been attacking NFL players for weeks as more and more players kneel during the national anthem before games. The league said Tuesday that it will discuss next week whether to change the rules and require players to stand during the national anthem.

Though no decision has been made, Trump praised the NFL on Twitter Wednesday morning for “finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem.”

Trump also brought up the topic during a speech on Republicans’ tax proposal in Pennsylvania.

“Do we love our American flag?” Trump asked during the speech. “I think people forgot how patriotic we are. I think people forgot how much we love our country.”

He then appeared to reference NFL players’ protests and the league’s decision to discuss a new rule.

“They’ve learned over the last week, haven’t they?” he asked.

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After suggesting Wednesday morning that television networks’ broadcasting licenses should be challenged, President Donald Trump ramped up his threat to news outlets, arguing that their broadcasting licenses “must be challenged” or even “revoked.”

Trump has long bashed the media and and targeted specific outlets after they publish unfavorable reports. However, Trump escalated his tiff with NBC News Wednesday morning. He had already bashed the outlet following a report that Secretary of State Tillerson called him a “moron.” Trump’s frustration with NBC then grew when the outlet then reported that he told officials over the summer that he wanted to significantly increase the United States’ nuclear capabilities.

He asked on Twitter Wednesday morning, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License?” Trump followed up later in the day to say that “it’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want.”

Despite the threats Trump has issued on Twitter, there’s not much he can do to challenge networks’ broadcasting licenses.

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In a blistering letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday, several prominent conservative groups called on the Senate majority leader to step down from his role, calling him and his leadership team “abject failures.”

“2017 has been a disappointing year for millions of Americans who fully expected, and had every right to expect real change in Washington, Republicans were given full control of the federal government. They — you — have done nothing,” the groups began in their letter.

After listing grievances with McConnell and his leadership team, the six conservative group leaders called on the majority leader to step down.

“It is time for you and your leadership team to step aside, for new leadership that is committed to the promises made to the American people. America is too good for you lead it,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which backed McConnell’s primary challenger a few years ago; Brent Bozell, a tea party activist and conservative columnist; Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots; David Bozell, president of the conservative group For America; Adam Brandon, president of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks; and Richard Viguerie, an established GOP political consultant who has backed President Donald Trump and his allies.

Missing from the letter were representatives from other prominent conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth.

In the letter, the group leaders outlined issues that Republicans in the Senate have yet to move forward with, such as curbing illegal immigration, reducing the size of government and spending, and enacting tax reform. They also placed a lot of emphasis on the Senate’s failure to pass a bill repealing Obamacare.

“Perhaps the the greatest betrayal —and that is what it is — is your failure to repeal Obamacare, the single most devastating piece of legislation against freedom ever crafted,” they wrote, adding that the House and Trump did their part.

They said that the legislative failures “come on top of your vicious, continuous, merciless attacks on grassroots Republicans, but most especially conservatives.” The conservative leaders also accused McConnell of blackballing certain GOP candidates.

“You and your leadership team — Senators John Cornyn, Roy Blunt, John Thune and John Barrasso — have made war with your own grassroots while cynically refusing to honor one solemn pledge to the American people,” they wrote.

Read the letter below:

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During official trips throughout the U.S. on taxpayer-funded flights, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also attended fundraisers for Republican lawmakers in Montana and Alaska, Politico reported Tuesday evening.

The report raises additional questions about Zinke’s travel habits as the Office of Government Ethics scolds Cabinet officials for their recent actions.

Zinke is one of several agency chiefs who’ve come under scrutiny in recent weeks for taking trips on non-commercial planes. Zinke has used both charter planes and government planes for official travel.

The Interior Department’s inspector general is reviewing one trip to Nevada and Las Vegas in particular. Zinke attended a meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, which is owned by a major donor to his congressional campaign, before taking a late-night flight to Montana. Democrats argue that Zinke could have flown commercial to his official events in Montana had he not attended the hockey meeting.

It’s also been previously reported that Zinke attended a Republican fundraiser in the U.S. Virgin Islands — an official trip for which he used a non-commercial plane.

In March, Zinke attended a fundraiser in Big Sky, Montana for a committee affiliated with Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), according to Politico’s new report. Records show the Interior secretary was reimbursed for 75 percent of his per diem the day before, when he toured Yellowstone National Park, and he did not seek reimbursement for his lodging for the trip.

The Hatch Act bars government officials from participating in political events while acting in their official role, but it’s not clear that Zinke violated any rules on that March trip.

In May, Zinke attended a fundraiser for Rep. Don Young (R-AK) while he was in the state for the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, per Politico. Zinke was not listed on the official invitation for the fundraiser but did give brief remarks. For that trip, Zinke took a military plane from Europe to Alaska.

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Office of Government Ethics acting Director David Apol, who oversees ethics in the executive branch, sent a memo to the heads of federal agencies last week admonishing some Cabinet officials for their actions and encouraging a greater focus on ethics.

The memo came as several Cabinet chiefs have come under scrutiny for their taxpayer-funded travel habits, although Apol did not explicitly mention officials’ use of non-commercial flights in his memo.

“I am deeply concerned that the actions of some in Government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics and what conduct is, and is not, permissible,” he wrote.

Apol encouraged agency heads to “re-double” their commitment to ethics, telling Cabinet officials that it is “essential to the success of our republic that citizens can trust that your decisions and decisions made by your agency are motivated by the public good and not by personal interests.”

He then listed ways in which Cabinet officials could go about strengthening their focus on ethics. He told leaders to act with a “‘Should I do it?’ mentality,” as opposed to a “‘Can I do it?’ mentality.” He also encouraged agency chiefs to talk more about ethics at their departments, learn more about ethics policies and include ethics officials in more meetings.

Several Cabinet officials are under investigation by their departments’ inspectors general due to their use of non-commercial planes for official travel, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Tom Price recently resigned as health and human services secretary due to his use of private planes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was also under review. The Treasury Department inspector general’s office found that his non-commercial air travel was legal, but warned Mnuchin to provide a more robust justification for those flights in the future.

Read Apol’s memo below:

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President Donald Trump continued his Twitter tear on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, directing most of his fire at the media.

Trump has been up early several mornings in a row, venting to his supporters on Twitter. He has lashed out at Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), escalated his feud with NFL players and defended his administration’s immigration proposals.

He continued his tirade Tuesday night with tweets that appear to be a response to reports on tension with Chief of Staff John Kelly. Vanity Fair reported Tuesday that Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Kelly recently. The Washington Post reported that investor Thomas Barrack, a longtime friend of Trump who often counsels the President, has been floated by Trump allies as a potential replacement to Kelly in the event that Trump’s anger with Kelly increases.

Wednesday morning, Trump continued his attacks on the media, complaining about coverage of the economy and Republicans’ plan to change the tax code.

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