In an historic defeat for President Trump and the Republican Party, the Senate voted 49-51 early this morning on a bill that would have repealed key parts of the Affordable Care Act. Three Republicans broke ranks to join Democrats and independents opposing the legislation: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and John McCain of Arizona. This is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, conceding defeat around 2 a.m.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I also want to thank the president and the vice president, who couldn’t have been more involved and more helpful. So, yes, this is a disappointment. A disappointment indeed. Our friends over in the House, we thank them, as well. I regret that our efforts were simply not enough this time.”
The so-called skinny repeal of Obamacare would have eliminated the individual mandate and employer mandate, that requires certain businesses provide health insurance to employees. The Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would add another 16 million people to the ranks of the uninsured, while increasing the average health insurance premium by more than $1,200 next year. As the bill went down to defeat, protesters outside the Capitol cheered wildly, chanting, “Yes, we did!” The Senate adjourned with no further votes planned this week. We’ll have more on the Senate healthcare debate after headlines.
President Trump lashed out at Republican dissenters overnight, tweeting, “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!” Meanwhile, both of Alaska’s Republican senators—Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski—received calls from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Wednesday, who was reportedly ordered by President Trump to threaten projects important to Alaska, after Sen. Murkowski broke ranks to oppose the Republican healthcare effort. Sen. Murkowski appeared to retaliate by postponing a vote on six of Trump’s nominees for posts at the Energy and Interior departments.
Meanwhile, the Senate voted 98-2 Thursday to bring new sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. This is Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Sen. John McCain: “My friends, the United States of America needs to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin and any other aggressor that we will not tolerate attacks on our democracy. That’s what this bill is all about. We must take our own side in this fight, not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans.”
In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused U.S. lawmakers of “insolence” and ordered the U.S. to cut its diplomatic staff by more than 450, while barring State Department members from several properties in Russia. Thursday’s vote sends the sanctions bill to President Trump, who’s under intense pressure to sign it amid allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia to sway last November’s election.
Meanwhile, some Republicans are warning President Trump against firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a potential bid to find a replacement who would in turn fire special counsel Robert Mueller and end the investigation into Trump-Russia ties. Senator Chuck Grassley, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter he would refuse to hold hearings on any new attorney general this year. Meanwhile, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned the president he’d pay dearly for firing Sessions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham: “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong. Right now I have no reason to believe that Mueller is compromised.”
Senator Graham also said he’s crafting a bill that would require “judicial review” of any move by President Trump to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, Attorney General Sessions broke his silence Thursday, calling President Trump’s mounting attacks on him “kind of hurtful” while defending his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. But Sessions told Fox News Trump still has the power to fire him.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so, and I would be glad to yield in that circumstance, no doubt about it. But I do believe that we are making tremendous progress.”
Attorney General Sessions made the comments from San Salvador, where he met El Salvador’s president to discuss the transnational gang known as MS-13. Sessions’s trip came as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ICE, said it’s carrying out raids targeting undocumented teenagers it accuses of being members of MS-13 and other gangs. The criteria ICE is using to assess gang affiliation reportedly includes whether teenagers have tattoos, wear clothing typical to a gang or even spend time in an area that’s known to have gangs. During a news conference at the White House Thursday, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan spoke in front of a series of images of young brown men with tattoos, saying his agency was now deporting undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for a crime—even if they haven’t been found guilty.
Thomas Homan: “For those that—criminal aliens that get booked in a county jail, on the prior administration they needed a conviction before we can put a detainer on them and put them in our custody. That’s not necessary anymore. If you’ve been arrested for a serious crime and you’re in a county jail, we’re going to drop a detainer, we’re going to take the person into custody.”
The ICE campaign against MS-13 came as new details emerged about the 10 migrants found dead from heat exposure and asphyxiation in the back of a tractor-trailer in a Wal-Mart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas, last weekend. One of the migrants, 19-year-old Frank Fuentes, was brought to the U.S. as a toddler from Guatemala and raised in northern Virginia before he was deported last March. At the time of Fuentes’s deportation, ICE said the teenager was suspected of having ties to MS-13. His friends dispute the accusation. Fuentes’s former classmate Juan Benítez told The Washington Post, “Growing up where we grew up, it was just easier for the government to label him as a statistic and say that he was affiliated with a gang. Growing up in a rough neighborhood we stayed away from people like that. It was the only way to be safe.” Before his deportation, Fuentes was a recipient of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which grants legal protection for some young immigrants to live and work in the United States. We’ll have more on the fight of undocumented immigrants to protect DACA later in the broadcast.
In Connecticut, an undocumented mother who took sanctuary in a New Haven church to avoid deportation to Guatemala has won an emergency stay that will keep her in the U.S.—at least for now. The order by a federal judge will see Immigrations and Customs Enforcement take another look at the case of Nury Chavarria, the mother of four children who has been living in the United States for 24 years.
The Department of Justice said in court papers Wednesday that federal civil rights law does not protect workers from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The assertion came in a legal brief filed by DOJ lawyers in a federal case involving a skydiving instructor who said he was fired after a customer objected to his status as a gay man. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Gregory Antollino, says the Trump administration is on the wrong side of history in arguing that LGBTQ people should be excluded under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
Gregory Antollino: “I think this is about the human condition and the right to be free from employment discrimination and to protect your family, especially if you can get married as a gay person.”
Top U.S. military leaders pushed back Thursday against President Trump’s order—made in a series of three tweets—banning transgender people from serving in the Armed Forces. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the announcement caught him by surprise and that the military would continue to allow transgender soldiers and officers to serve until Defense Secretary James Mattis received specific instructions from the president. This is Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, speaking Thursday.
Gen. Mark Milley: “To date, walking in here, I have yet to receive implementation guidance, implementation directives, from the Department of Defense, General Mattis. And we grow up and learn to obey the chain of command. And my chain of command is secretary of the Army and the secretary of defense—right?—and the president. So, we will work through the implementation guidance when we get it.”
Trump’s ban on transgender troops could impact as many as 15,000 people. It’s unclear whether they would face honorable or dishonorable discharges.
At the White House, divisions among senior staff were on full display Thursday, after newly appointed communications director Anthony Scaramucci railed against leaks in a series of expletive-laden interviews. On Wednesday, Scaramucci phoned New Yorker correspondent Ryan Lizza and demanded to know who leaked details about a White House dinner, and threatened to fire the entire White House communications team. Scaramucci then accused Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, of being the leaker, predicting Priebus would soon be asked to resign and calling him a “f****g paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” Scaramucci also took a swipe at Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, with a crude reference to a sexual act and added, “What I want to do is I want to f****g kill all the leakers and I want to get the President’s agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people.” On Thursday morning, Scaramucci phoned into CNN’s “New Day” program, where he compared his relationship with Reince Priebus to the biblical brothers Cain and Abel and said leakers should be met with harsh punishment.
Anthony Scaramucci: “The White House leaks are small potatoes relative to things that are going on with leaking things about Syria or North Korea or leaking things about Iraq. Those are the types of leaks that are so treasonous that 150 years ago people would have actually been hung for those types of leaks.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say whether President Trump still has confidence in his chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
In Jerusalem, over 100 Palestinians were injured Thursday after Israeli security forces fired rubber-coated bullets and lobbed stun grenades at worshipers near the al-Aqsa Mosque. Some of those hurt suffered broken bones. The crackdown came after Israeli authorities unexpectedly removed cameras and other security measures around the site—which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews—following weeks of intense protests by Palestinians demanding unfettered access to the site.
Back in the U.S., in Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump are backing a plan that would see the high-tech manufacturer Foxconn build a $10 billion factory in the state—in exchange for $3 billion in tax credits. Gov. Walker says the factory, which would produce flat-panel display screens, would add 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin’s economy. In fact, Foxconn has said the factory would only provide an initial 3,000 jobs, with the potential to add more in the future. Critics say that’s unlikely to happen, as the plant will probably be highly automated, and that taxpayers may end up paying $1 million per job created. The jobs will carry an average salary of $54,000.
In Garfield County, Oklahoma, Sheriff Jerry Niles and five of his subordinates were indicted on manslaughter charges this week, after a prisoner died in June when he was held in a restraint chair more than 48 hours without adequate food, water or medical care. Oklahoma’s attorney general says 58-year-old Anthony Huff was placed in a restraint chair on June 6 and found unresponsive on June 8—still bound to the chair. He’d been arrested on a public intoxication charge. Prosecutors say the jail staff failed to provide Huff his medication for heart disease, hypertension and other disorders, and failed to provide him with water every two hours as required by law.
And in sports news, Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel said Thursday he will retire from the NFL after a recent study found virtually all pro football players show signs of a degenerative brain disease known as CTE. The 26-year-old player called the decision difficult, but said he would move on to pursue a doctorate in mathematics at MIT. Two years ago, Urschel suffered a concussion in a helmet-to-helmet collision, which he says affected his ability to think well mathematically. A study published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that of 111 NFL players whose brains were studied, 110 of them had signs of CTE, which can lead to memory loss, depression and dementia—often years or even decades after players retire.