By Roberta Rampton and David Morgan BOSTON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that "bad apple" insurance companies, not his signature healthcare law, are to blame for hundreds of thousands of people losing their coverage in the past few weeks. As administration officials scrambled to fix technical problems on an online insurance marketplace that is central to the success of the Affordable Care Act, Obama blamed private insurers for a separate problem that has critics questioning his honesty. The president has repeatedly promised that people who are happy with their health plans would not have to change coverage because of the law, known as Obamacare. But the termination of individual policies has given his Republican opponents additional ammunition to criticize the program they have tried to stop since its inception in Obama's first term. Republicans' assertion that Obama had broken a major promise to the electorate is potentially more damaging than the glitch-ridden website rollout on October 1. Obama's approval rating hit a new low in a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll issued on Wednesday, a result the pollsters attributed to multiple setbacks including the Obamacare problems. The law requires insurers to offer a higher level of minimum coverage that includes maternity care and mental health treatment, among other benefits. Individuals who do not have policies that meet the new standards may see their coverage canceled at the end of the year, or may find that the monthly payments are beyond what they can afford. Speaking in Boston, Obama said those who are getting dropped will be able to find new options through the online insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, established under the 2010 law. "Just shop around in the new marketplace," he said. "You're going to get a better deal." He also stressed that the law allows Americans to keep bare-bones plans created before the law was signed, as long as insurers did not change or cancel them. "Remember, before the Affordable Care Act, these bad-apple insurers had free rein every single year to limit the care that you received, or used minor pre-existing conditions to jack up your premiums, or bill you into bankruptcy," Obama said. America's Health Insurance Plans, the national trade group for insurers, when asked for comment, pointed to its prior fact sheets about which plans are protected. "Most policies in the individual market are not 'grandfathered' and therefore have to come into compliance with the ACA requirements starting on January 1, 2014 or when those policies renew throughout the year," one document said. 'A BROKEN HEALTHCARE SYSTEM' The law is the most sweeping new social program since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. It is intended to move the United States closer to the goal of universal care by using market-based mechanisms to deliver affordable insurance to less affluent families that have been priced out by decades of rising healthcare costs. Obama said he would not allow the country to return to the previous system, which gave insurers wide latitude to refuse coverage to consumers that they did not deem profitable. "I don't think we should go back to the daily cruelties and indignities and constant insecurity of a broken healthcare system," he said. Technical woes, however, have prevented millions of Americans from exploring those options through the government's HealthCare.gov portal since it was unveiled. On Capitol Hill, Obama's top health official called the debut a "debacle" as she sought to assure skeptical lawmakers at a congressional hearing that the administration would eventually get the portal to work smoothly. HealthCare.gov was down over the course of the four-hour hearing. "Hold me accountable for the debacle," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee. "I told the president that we were ready to go. Clearly I was wrong," she said. The security of the site was at "high risk" because of a lack of testing before it opened for enrollment, according to a government memorandum reviewed by Reuters. Sebelius said HHS is conducting weekly security tests to ensure visitors are protected. She has drawn intense criticism from Republicans, who have called for her or other senior officials to resign. She seemed to survive the high-profile hearing without further damage. A White House spokesman said after the hearing that Obama has "complete confidence" in Sebelius. Republicans have sought to derail the healthcare overhaul since Obama took office in 2009, culminating in a 16-day government shutdown this month that has cost the U.S. economy an estimated $24 billion, according to Standard & Poor's ratings agency. Republicans say the program is an unwarranted expansion of the federal government. The website's woes and insurance plan terminations have given Republicans more ammunition. "For those who lose the coverage they like, they may also be losing faith in their government," said Michigan Representative Fred Upton, the Republican who oversaw the hearing. Several Republican senators introduced legislation that would allow insurers to sell more plans that are not compliant with Obamacare. "One of two things is true here - either President Obama was being dishonest or he was disengaged once again," Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said at a news conference. Despite the drama, the public's assessment of Obamacare has shifted little over the past months. Gallup reported that 36 percent of Americans believe it will make healthcare in the United States better, while 44 percent think it will make things worse - essentially the same as surveys found in August and June. But the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Obama's rating fell to just 42 percent of Americans approving of his job performance, down 5 percentage points from earlier this month. The pollsters attributed the decline to an accumulation of setbacks including allegations of spying by the National Security Agency, the recent government shutdown and the healthcare problems. GROWING CONCERNS The growing crisis surrounding Obama's signature legislative achievement could diminish his influence in Congress and threaten his other priorities like immigration reform signed into law in his remaining three years in office. U.S. presidents have a limited time to enact their agenda in the second term before they start losing influence as lawmakers start worrying about re-election. Obama spoke at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, where in 2006 then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, signed a state law that served as a model for Obama's health reforms. Like Obamacare, that law had a rocky start - state officials delayed some aspects for several months, and the White House says only 123 people signed up in the first month it was available. By the end of the year-long enrollment period, 36,000 had signed up. The Obama administration likewise expects "a very small number" of people to sign up initially for coverage, Sebelius said. Overall, U.S. officials hope 7 million people sign up in the first year. The White House has declined to say how many Americans have enrolled so far. It also has asked states that run their own online healthcare exchanges to stop releasing their own data, according to Kevin Counihan, who runs Connecticut's health site. "The White House is coordinating this stuff and trying to get states to report when they report — once a month," Counihan told reporters. "We'll do it every two weeks." (Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Anna Yukhananov, Steve Holland, Thomas Ferraro, Jim Finkle, Lewis Krauskopf, Caren Bohan, Karey Van Hall and Sharon Begley; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Ross Colvin, Grant McCool and Tim Dobbyn)
- NBC News
"The situation at the border isn't going to be transformed overnight," a senior Biden transition official told NBC News in an exclusive interview.
- National Review
Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) warned Friday that one-third of Republican voters could leave the party if GOP senators vote in impeachment proceedings to convict President Trump. Paul made the comments in an interview on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle. The senator’s remarks come amid an increasing divide between congressional Republicans who oppose impeaching the president and a smaller number who support the measure following the riots at the Capitol on January 6. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is reportedly hopeful that Republicans can use impeachment to purge Trump from the GOP, although he would need the support of at least 16 additional Republican senators to vote to convict. “Look, I didn’t agree with the [Capitol] fight that happened last week, and I voted against overturning the election, but at the same time, the impeachment is a wrongheaded, partisan notion, [and] if Republicans go along with it, it’ll destroy the party,” Paul said during the interview. “A third of the Republicans will leave the party,” Paul continued. “This isn’t about, anymore, the Electoral College, this is about the future of the party, and whether you’re going to ostracize and excommunicate President Trump from the party. Well, guess what? Millions of his fans will leave as well.” While a majority of Americans believe Trump should be removed from office immediately, just 17 percent of Republicans support expelling Trump from the presidency, according to an Axios–Ipsos poll released on Thursday. Support for Trump among Republicans has fallen since the Capitol riots; however, 60 percent believe the party should continue to follow Trump once he leaves office, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday that a convoy of trucks carrying emergency oxygen supplies for Brazil's northern Amazonas state, where a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic has hit hard, has departed and is set to arrive at the border by Monday morning. Reading from a message sent by Justo Noguera, governor of Venezuela's southern Bolivar state, Maduro said during a state television appearance that the six trucks would arrive at the Santa Elena de Uairen border crossing by morning, where they would be handed over to Brazilian health authorities. From there, the trucks - carrying some 136,000 liters of oxygen, enough to fill 14,000 individual canisters - would take 14 hours to arrive in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas, whose hospital system is collapsing due to the pandemic.
- The Independent
Man arrested at inauguration checkpoint with gun and ammo says he was lost and did not mean to bring weapon to DC
The man said he got lost driving around Washington DC
Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence
Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence. Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.That's what happened to Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chairperson, after she said she would support impeaching President Trump. * She and several other members had to increase their security and take extra precautions because of death threats and other alarming warnings after their colleagues singled them out in their complaints.What McCarthy said: The House minority leader issued his warning during a conference call last Monday. He said his concern was driven by the FBI briefings he receives. * "It doesn’t matter which side of the position you were: I respect it, I respect why you did what you did. But what we are saying on television, when we say a member’s name. ... This is not the moment in time to do it." * "You can incite something else. The country is very divided and we know this. Let’s not put any member, I don’t care who they are Republican, Democrat or any person not even in Congress. Watch our words closely. I get these reports on a weekly basis. I’ve seen something I haven’t seen before.”Several minutes later, McCarthy repeated the message: “Emotions are high. What you say matters. Let’s not put other people in danger. Let’s watch what words we’re using and definitely not be using other members' names in any media.”Days later, some GOP members ignored him and openly criticized their colleagues * Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the name of his Republican colleague, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, "will be one forgotten by next January." * Rep. Lauren Boebart (R-Colo.) mocked Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the House's new mask fines.One of the most blatant attacks, leading to a media firestorm, was when several members of the House Freedom Caucus went after Cheney for voting to impeach Trump. * On the day of the vote, the members circulated a petition to remove her from her leadership role. * Cheney is now fielding a series of threats against her, many from fiery Trump supporters angered by her vote, a source with direct knowledge of the threat said. * “We don’t comment on security matters,” Cheney’s communications director, Jeremy Adler, told Axios.What we’re hearing: McCarthy's team told Axios he isn't looking for repercussions. Spokesman Matt Sparks said the leader wants to lower the temperature and is encouraging members to be mindful of the current environment.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Week
Israel has vaccinated at least 25 percent of its population against the coronavirus so far, which leads the world and makes it "the country to watch for herd effects from" the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, says infectious disease expert David Fishman. Recently, the case rate in Israel appears to have declined sharply, and while there could be a few reasons for that, it's possible the vaccination effort is beginning to play a role.> Israel's reproduction number appears to have declined rather sharply in recent days, with around 25% of the country vaccinated, and some additional percentage having at least partial immunity via prior infection. pic.twitter.com/sVyCYYd9dj> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021One study from Clalit that was published last week reports that 14 days after receiving the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot, infection rates among 200,000 Israelis older than 60 fell 33 percent among those vaccinated compared to 200,000 from the same demographic who hadn't received a jab.At first glance, Fishman writes, that might seem disappointing since clinical trials suggested the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. But he actually believes the 33 percent figure is "auspicious." Because vaccinated and non-vaccinated people are mingling, there could be "herd effects of immunization." In other words, when inoculated people interact with people who haven't had their shot, the latter individual may still be protected because the other person is. On a larger scale, that would drive down the number of infections among non-vaccinated people, thus shrinking the gap between the two groups' infection rates.> Estimated vaccine efficacy is a function of relative risk of infection in the vaccinated...when there is indirect protection via herd effects, we expect efficacy estimates to decrease because the risk among unvaccinated individuals declines.> > — David Fisman (@DFisman) January 17, 2021More data needs to come in, and Fishman thinks "we'll know more" this week, but he's cautiously optimistic about how things are going.More stories from theweek.com 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's vaccine delay is getting suspicious The pandemic windfall
- National Review
Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on Sunday advised the president not to grant presidential pardons to the rioters who stormed the Capitol this month, warning that doing so would “destroy” Trump. “Mr. President, your policies will stand the test of time. You’re the most important figure in the Republican party. You can shape the direction of the party. Keep your movement alive,” Graham said on Fox News. “There are a lot of people urging the president to pardon folks who participated in defiling the Capitol, the rioters,” Graham continued. “I don’t care if you went there and spread flowers on the floor, you breached the security of the Capitol, you interrupted a joint session of Congress, you tried to intimidate us all, you should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and to seek a pardon of these people would be wrong. I think it would destroy President Trump and I hope we don’t go down that road.” On Wednesday, a large group of Trump supporters overpowered Capitol Police and forced their way into the halls of Congress. Pence and the assembled lawmakers evacuated the Senate floor, where a joint session of Congress was being held to certify the presidential election results. The violence followed a rally outside the White House earlier in the day where President Trump addressed the “Save America March” and repeated his claims that November’s election was rife with voter fraud that threatened to deprive him of his rightful second term. The violence on January 6 resulted in five dead, including a Capitol Police officer. Since then, dozens of criminal cases have been brought in connection with the riot. Graham defended Trump’s rhetoric at the rally, which received bipartisan condemnation and sparked a second impeachment against the president by House Democrats. “President Trump never said, ‘Go into the capitol and try to interrupt a joint session of Congress.’ That was the choice they made and they need to live with that choice,” Graham said. Graham added that there were “irregularities in mail-in voting,” but said “the election is over,” noting that the electoral votes have been certified.” “It is now time to move on,” the South Carolina Republican said. Graham also had a message for incoming president Joe Biden, calling on him to stand up against the second impeachment of Trump, which the Senate is expected to take up after he leaves office.
- Yahoo News Video
The spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has quit less than two weeks after she was sworn into office, saying he felt like he need to due to the insurrection at the nation's Capitol.
The U.S. Army has identified a 1st Armored Division staff sergeant from Fort Bliss, Texas found dead at his home Thursday.
- The Independent
‘It was my pleasure to crush a white nationalist insurrection’: DC officer injured in Capitol riot speaks out
Daniel Hodges recounted pro-Trump mob’s attempt to crush him inside a doorway during siege on 6 January
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called on his Republican Party to rebuild itself and "repudiate the nonsense that has set our party on fire" in an in an op-ed for The Atlantic Saturday on the QAnon conspiracy theory.Why it matters: Many of the mob involved in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots wore items signaling their support for the far-right QAnon and a prominent member of the cult was among those arrested following the siege.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * Several Republicans who ran for Congress last year publicly supported or defended the QAnon movement or some of its tenets — something Sasee noted in his op-ed, headlined "QAnon is Destroying the GOP From Within." * Sasse blames the violence on "the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice."Driving the news: Sasse wrote in his op-ed that "until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon." * "They can't," he added. "The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about." * Sasse criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for not denouncing QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) when she was running for Congress in 2020. * "She's already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president," Sasse wrote. "She'll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party."Worth noting: Sasse said before the House impeached President Trump for a second time he'd consider "definitely consider" any articles of impeachment against him over his conduct and comments at a rally before the riots. * The Nebraska senator criticized Trump's embrace of QAnon supporters last August, warning that Democrats could "take the Senate" this "will be a big part of why they won." * Months later, the Democrats went on to win control of the Senate.The bottom line: Sasse wrote that his party faces a choice when Trump leaves office: "We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories."Go deeper: * The Capitol siege's QAnon roots * House freshmen at war after Capitol siegeSupport safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
Fanny Mergui has no doubt: Moroccan Jews "are already packing their suitcases" to board direct flights to Israel after the kingdom normalised ties with the Jewish state.
- The Week
Luke Mogelson, a veteran war correspondent and contributing writer for The New Yorker, captured what appears to be the "clearest" footage yet of the deadly riot at the United States Capitol earlier this month.Mogelson attended (in a journalistic capacity) President Trump's rally on Jan. 6, which preceded the pro-Trump mob's march to and breach of the Capitol. He followed the rioters into the building and filmed a group that entered the empty Senate chamber. They began taking photos of documents in the room as part of a self-declared "information operation." One man said he was attempting to find something that he could "use against these scumbags," while another said he thought Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) "would want us to do this."> This video from @NewYorker is incredible. > > A man rifles through confidential Senate documents and says, “I think @tedcruz would want us to do this.” pic.twitter.com/GowauKXpaq> > — Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) January 17, 2021In a later scene, Mogelson witnessed Jake Angeli, otherwise known as Q Shaman, sitting in Vice President Mike Pence's chair, as a lone Capitol Police officer tried unsuccessfully to get him to move. He also gathered footage from outside the Capitol, including a large crowd aggressively forcing its way into the building, as well as a man telling people around him to "start making a list, put all those names down" and "start hunting them down one by one."The New Yorker notes that although the footage was "not originally intended for publication, it documents a historic event and serves as a visceral complement to Mogelson's probing, illuminating" written feature. Read the full report here and watch the complete footage here.More stories from theweek.com 5 more scathing cartoons about Trump's 2nd impeachment Trump's vaccine delay is getting suspicious The pandemic windfall
- NBC News
The imprisonment of a fourth American could derail a bid by the Biden administration to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran.
- Miami Herald
A man who did prison time for aggravated stalking and has convictions for domestic violence and violating a restraining order has an 18-year-old girl he has kidnapped at gunpoint, Pembroke Pines police said.
Unidentified gunmen killed two female judges from Afghanistan's Supreme Court on Sunday morning, police said, adding to a wave of assassinations in Kabul and other cities while government and Taliban representatives have been holding peace talks in Qatar. A spokesman for the Taliban said its fighters were not involved. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement condemning attacks on civilians by the Taliban and other militant groups.
- The Telegraph
Scientists say Colombia must cull its so-called “cocaine hippos” that roam the Magdalena river basin as they are breeding voraciously and are an increasing menace. The marshlands of Colombia have been home to these giant mammals since they were illegally imported in the late 1980s by the notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar. When he was shot dead in 1993, the Colombian government took control of his extravagant estate, including his personal zoo. Most of the animals were shipped away, but four hippos were left to fend for themselves in a pond, and now there are dozens of them living in the wild. Although nobody knows exactly how many there are, estimates put the total number between 80 and 100, making them the largest invasive species on the planet. Scientists forecast that the number of hippos will swell to almost 1,500 by 2040. They conclude, that at that point, environmental impacts will be irreversible and numbers impossible to control. “Nobody likes the idea of shooting a hippo, but we have to accept that no other strategy is going to work,” ecologist Nataly Castelblanco-Martínez told The Telegraph.
- LA Times
Security remained tight around state houses throughout the country as fears of major protests by armed, far-right supporters of President Trump outside the Capitol and at state capitols Sunday proved unfounded, with only small groups, some carrying weapons, gathering in a handful of cities.
- The Independent
Police announce second arrest at security perimeter set-up to protect Joe Biden’s inauguration
Chinese conservationists have slated a plan to dam a key flood outlet for the Yangtze river, the Poyang lake, fearing a hammer blow for an already fragile ecosystem, a rest area for migratory birds and home of the endangered Yangtze river porpoise. The outcry comes after the Jiangxi provincial government earlier this month revived a project aimed at regulating water flows on the Poyang lake, China's largest freshwater lake, which is increasingly prone to drought in winter. A Shanghai-based non-government environmental group called Free Birds said in an open letter to the Jiangxi government last week that the project's approval would be "extremely irresponsible".