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After weeks of secret negotiations, Republican senators on Thursday released a healthcare bill that would reduce key benefits for millions of Americans. The Better Care Reconciliation Act would fund a large capital gains tax cut for the rich by removing millions of low-income and disabled people from Medicaid. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, $33 billion of the tax cuts would benefit the 400 wealthiest U.S. households. The Senate bill would also reduce subsidies to individuals to purchase health insurance, and would allow states to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The measure would defund Planned Parenthood for a year, making breast cancer screenings and basic reproductive services more difficult for women to secure. The bill was negotiated behind closed doors between 13 Republican male senators. This is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Sen. Mitch McConnell: “We agreed on the need to free Americans from Obamacare’s mandates. And policies contained in the discussion draft will repeal the individual mandate, so Americans are no longer forced to buy insurance they don’t need or can’t afford; will repeal the employer mandate, so Americans no longer see their hours and take-home pay cut by employers because of it.”
Sen. McConnell claimed the bill would “strengthen” Medicaid. In fact, it would cut the federal health program by more than $800 billion over a decade. This is New York Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “This is a bill designed to strip away healthcare benefits and protections from Americans who need it most, in order to give a tax break to the folks who need it least. This is a bill that would end Medicaid as we know it, rolling back Medicaid expansion, cutting federal support for the program even more than the House bill, which cut Medicaid by $800 billion.”
Sen. McConnell says he wants to vote on the healthcare bill next week, before Congress leaves for the Fourth of July recess. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes for the measure to pass with 50 votes. Four Republican senators—Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Mike Lee—said Thursday they’ll oppose the bill in its current form, arguing it fails to cut Medicaid benefits enough. The bill is similar to a House measure that would leave more than 20 million additional Americans without health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office has yet to score the Senate bill. We’ll have more on the Senate healthcare plan after headlines.
Outside Senator Mitch McConnell’s office on Capitol Hill Thursday, scores of disabled protesters held a sit-in protest against the Republican healthcare bill. Many of them chanted “No cuts to Medicaid!” as Capitol Police dragged them away one by one. One woman was lifted from her wheelchair by four officers after she went limp in a nonviolent protest. Protesters also rallied at Washington, D.C.’s National Airport Thursday, targeting Republican lawmakers as they left town for the weekend. This is protester Barbara Bearden.
Barbara Bearden: “Well, we’re hoping to catch all of these senators on their way home. Before they get home, we’d like to remind them of what’s waiting for them: more protests, more requests for town halls and more calls.”
In more news from Washington, D.C., President Trump said Thursday he does not have tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired amid an FBI probe into alleged Russian meddling in November’s election. In a Twitter rant last month, Trump threatened Comey over the possibility of taped conversations, tweeting, “James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” In a pair of tweets Thursday, Trump wrote, “With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”
The tweets came as NBC News reported Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA chief Admiral Mike Rogers to state publicly that the president had not colluded with Russian officials to interfere in November’s election. Coats reportedly told House investigators that Trump was “obsessed” with the Russia investigation.
The White House on Thursday held the latest in a series of “not for broadcast” press briefings in which it attempted to ban reporters from recording video or audio—and, in a new twist, tried to bar them from even reporting on the restriction. A press schedule emailed to White House correspondents Wednesday included the tag line, ”FOR PLANNING PURPOSES ONLY // NOT REPORTABLE.”
Meanwhile, a pair of government accountability groups has sued the Trump administration over its use of encrypted messaging apps, saying their use circumvents the Presidential Records Act. Top White House officials reportedly use the “Confide” app, which automatically deletes messages after a set period of time. In a statement, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said, “The American people not only deserve to know how their government is making important decisions, it’s the law.”
A new lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charges police in Washington, D.C., used sexual abuse as a form of punishment, after hundreds were arrested during protests against Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20. A complaint by four plaintiffs charges officers stripped them, grabbed their genitalia and inserted fingers into their anuses while other officers laughed. One of the plaintiffs, photojournalist Shay Horse, said, “I felt like they were using molestation and rape as punishment. They used those tactics to inflict pain and misery on people who are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.” In a statement, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department promised an investigation but defended its officers' actions, saying all arrests on January 20 were proper.
In Yemen, the United Nations warned Thursday an epidemic of cholera could reach 300,000 cases by the end of August. U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said the spread of the often-deadly disease was entirely preventable.
Stephen O’Brien: “This is because of conflict. It’s man-made. It’s very severe. The numbers are absolutely staggering. It’s getting worse. And the cholera element, in addition to all the lack of food, the lack of medical supplies for people, is of course—primarily, one has to put that at the door of all the parties to the conflict.”
The warnings over cholera came as the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator called on a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led military coalition to halt airstrikes in Yemen, citing mounting civilian deaths and the June 19 targeting of the main water supply system in Dhamar City, which affected 1 million people.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi predicted Thursday that U.S.-backed Iraqi forces were nearing a victory in their battle to reclaim the city of Mosul from ISIS. The remarks came a day after the historic al-Nuri Grand Mosque was reduced to rubble. ISIS claims the mosque was destroyed by a U.S. airstrike, though U.S. and Iraqi officials said surveillance video proved it was packed with explosives by ISIS and deliberately blown up. This is Prime Minister al-Abadi.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi: “We will soon announce the final victory over the enemy ISIS in Nineveh province, and in Mosul city, in particular, God willing. Very little resistance remains, and ISIS will announce its full defeat. And they blew up the mosque, which was the starting place of their movement.”
The U.N. estimates as many as 150,000 people remain trapped in Mosul’s Old City amid heavy airstrikes and house-to-house fighting. The journalistic monitoring group Airwars reported four brothers—Othman, Bakr, Omar and Ali—were killed along with their entire family by Iraqi government shelling in Mosul’s Old City.
Meanwhile, Airwars reports six civilians were killed and several others injured in alleged coalition airstrikes in Raqqa, Syria. Airwars also reported that strikes in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zor killed up to 16 civilians Tuesday, with different sources blaming Russia, Syria and the U.S.-led coalition for the deaths. Meanwhile, the Syrian city of Daraa came under heavy bombardment Thursday from forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, who reportedly dropped barrel bombs from helicopters.
In the United Kingdom, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered inspections of 600 high-rise buildings across Britain, after a massive fire in Grenfell Tower last week left at least 79 people dead and injured dozens more. Workers were seen removing highly flammable cladding from a tower in North London Thursday. The materials are similar to those used in the Grenfell high-rise, despite the fact the cladding is banned in the U.S. and Europe.
Back in the U.S., the Trump administration on Thursday said it will remove grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s order will impact Yellowstone’s estimated 700 bears, whose population has grown from 136 when the bears were first listed as endangered in 1975. In response, the Center for Biological Diversity said, “It’s tragic that the Trump administration is stripping protections from these magnificent animals just to appease a tiny group of trophy hunters who want to stick grizzly bear heads on their walls.” President Trump’s two adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., are longtime trophy hunters who have been repeatedly photographed alongside dead animals, including a leopard and an elephant.
President Trump has renewed his push for an expanded wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, telling a crowd in Iowa he wanted to add solar panels to the length of the structure to help pay for it. Trump made the remarks Wednesday in a campaign-style event in Cedar Rapids.
President Donald Trump: “We’re talking about the southern border—lots of sun, lots of heat. We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy and pays for itself. And this way, Mexico will have to pay much less money. And that’s good, right?”
As president, Donald Trump has proposed massive cuts to research on renewable energy, has greenlighted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and has moved to open up vast areas of federal land to coal, oil and gas development.
In climate news, the World Meteorological Organization warns planet Earth is in the midst of “another exceptionally warm year” with heat waves arriving far earlier than normal in a pattern that’s consistent with climate change. Parts of North Africa and the Middle East saw temperatures top 122 degrees Fahrenheit this week. Palm Springs, California, tied that mark, setting an all-time high. Meanwhile in Paris, France, highs reached 100 degrees Thursday.
And in Bolivia, scientists said this week they’re in a race against time to sample ice from melting glaciers before global warming erases thousands of years’ worth of records of Earth’s climate. Glaciologists with the Ice Memory Project took ice cores from the Illimani Mountain in Bolivia’s Andes, noting the glacier was almost a full degree warmer than a previous sample. This is scientist Patrick Ginot.
Patrick Ginot: “We can prove that the temperature of the glacier has risen 0.7 degrees centigrade in 18 years. This glacier, at 6,500 meters above sea level, will heat up bit by bit, and with global warming, it will lose all the information that we are going to take from these ice samples. That is why we cannot wait 10 more years.”
Worldwide, at least 200 million people depend on glaciers for drinking water and are at risk of being left without water due to melting ice.