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Despite Trump push, health care vote going to the wire

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-03-23

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump faces a reckoning Thursday as US lawmakers vote on his presidency’s biggest legislative test, the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, as conservatives vowed to kill it unless important last-minute changes are made.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives votes on the controversial measure despite challenges over whether Trump and ally House Speaker Paul Ryan have enough backing to get the measure over the finish line.
With Democrats opposed to Trump’s effort to rip out his predecessor’s crowning domestic policy achievement, and his own party’s right flank in revolt, Trump brought in wavering lawmakers Wednesday to try to tip the scales in his favor.
“Big day for health care. Working hard!” Trump tweeted.
Insiders say Trump’s meetings have been focused less on specifics than on the politics of “Trumpcare” failing — an outcome that would be a humiliating defeat for the billionaire leader at the start of his term.
But some lawmakers have emerged defiant, including Mark Meadows, chairman of the grassroots conservative Freedom Caucus.
“We need changes to the underlying bill before we vote on it in the House,” Meadows told reporters.
“There’s not enough votes to pass it tomorrow.”
Speaking on Fox News later Wednesday Meadows said that “to say that we’ve got a deal — that wouldn’t be accurate,” but did say that he and Trump had come to “an agreement in principle.”
“There’s still work to be done but I can tell you that the president is engaged.”
For years, Republicans have promised to overturn Obama’s reform, describing it as government overreach. But some lawmakers have balked at their own party’s plan, saying it is still too costly for the government.
Others worry that their constituents will no longer be able to afford health insurance. A nonpartisan congressional budget estimate says 14 million Americans would lose their coverage from next year under the Republican plan.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said Wednesday during a meeting on health care and women.

The House vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) looks tight.
The Democratic minority is prepared to vote against it as a bloc, so Republican leaders need to limit defections to about 22 out of their party’s 237 representatives — depending on how many members end up casting a vote.
Those who are the most unhappy with “Trumpcare” are members of the Freedom Caucus — heirs apparent to the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement.
They call the new bill — championed by Ryan — “Obamacare Light,” as it will only reduce, not eliminate, health coverage subsidies by replacing them with refundable tax credits.
Party leaders made tweaks to the bill late Monday, which they hope will allay concerns enough for the bill to squeak by in Thursday’s vote.
The White House was all in.
“There is no plan B,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday.

As the vote neared, the arm-twisting on Capitol Hill and at the White House continued. Ryan could decide to postpone the vote if it becomes clear the measure will fail.
Several conservatives want to see the bill lift burdensome regulations on insurance companies — including requirements for preventive care — that they blame for the rise in insurance premiums.
As Meadows stood firm, Ryan countered: “We’re not losing votes, we’re adding votes, and we feel like we’re getting really, really close,” the speaker said.
On Tuesday, House Republican and Trump loyalist Chris Collins said some of the 20 to 30 lawmakers still in the “no” camp could vote “yes” at the last minute to spare the party a major setback.
New York Republicans like Collins have won a concession on taxes for their constituents, and have since shifted to “yes.”
Trump has put his own credibility and deal-making skills on the line for the measure.
On Tuesday he took his case directly to Capitol Hill, where he warned that congressional Republicans risk a major defeat at the 2018 mid-term polls if they do not deliver for him.
Trump also singled out specific lawmakers who oppose him — including one-time supporter Meadows — suggesting he could make their lives difficult if they defy him.
Conservative House Republican Thomas Massie was unmoved.
“We’re afraid he’s a one-term president if this passes,” Massie warned on CNN. “We’re trying to save him.”
After defeats in the federal courts for both of his executive orders on immigration, the president needs to show he can get results on the Hill.
So far, he has only succeeded in rolling back some Obama-era regulations and signed into law a bill on NASA funding.
Should the House pass the bill Thursday, the Senate is expected to take up the measure next week.
Trump will need all of his negotiating talent once again, as opposition there is likely to be equally stiff.

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Koch network spending millions to stop GOP health care bill

Thu, 2017-03-23

WASHINGTON: The conservative Koch network is promising to spend millions of dollars to defeat the health care overhaul backed by President Donald Trump and top House Republicans.
The network’s leading organizations, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners, announced late Wednesday the creation of a special fund to support House members who vote against the health care bill.
The announcement, which comes on the eve of the House vote, marks the influential conservative network’s most aggressive move against the health care proposal, which is under attack from the right and the left.
“The bill as it stands today is Obamacare 2.0,” said James Davis, executive vice president of Freedom Partners, in a statement announcing the new fund. He added, “We will stand with lawmakers who keep their promise and oppose this legislation — and work toward a solution that reduces costs and provides Americans with the relief they need and deserve.”
The organizations backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch declared their formal opposition to the GOP health care proposal Monday.
Like other conservatives, they decried the legislation as a new entitlement program that doesn’t go far enough in repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law. Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, are concerned by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people.
The Koch-backed fund is being described only as “seven figures” and will go toward political ads, direct mail and other grassroots activity.
“We have a history of following up and holding politicians accountable, but we will also be there to support and thank the champions who stand strong and keep their promise,” Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips said.

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Tillerson alias e-mails from his ExxonMobil era prove elusive

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-03-23

NEW YORK: Emails sent under a pseudonym by current US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he was still CEO of ExxonMobil, and which are sought by a court, cannot be produced, lawyers for the oil giant said.
According to a letter dated March 21 and sent Wednesday by ExxonMobil to AFP, these e-mails, sent under the name Wayne Tracker, cannot be recovered for the period from September 5, 2014 to November 28, 2014.
The letter is addressed to the Supreme Court of the State of New York as part of an investigation opened in November 2015 by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
It is investigating whether ExxonMobil had adequately informed investors and the general public of potential financial risks posed by the need to limit the use of fossil fuels to fight global warming.
The probe established that Tillerson had used a personal account under the pseudonym Wayne Tracker for a number of years, in addition to his official corporate e-mail account. Wayne is his middle name.
As the Wayne Tracker account was classified as non-personal, it was “exempted from the suspension of the ordinary course ‘file sweep,’” the letter said.
Attorneys for ExxonMobil said that after several search series on this account, it was not possible to produce e-mails between September 5, 2014 and November 28, 2014.
The issue was limited to the Wayne Tracker account, according to the letter.
Schneiderman said in mid-March that Tillerson used this e-mail address between 2008 and 2015 to communicate with other group leaders on a number of issues including those linked to climate change.
A spokesman for ExxonMobil told AFP on Wednesday that “many of the e-mails from the secondary account (Wayne Tracker) were also available from Tillerson’s primary account or from e-mail accounts of employees he communicated with, which were on litigation hold.”
He added that at a Wednesday hearing the New York State Supreme Court found that the oil group had responded adequately to Schneiderman’s demands.
Tillerson, who celebrates his 65th birthday on Thursday, took the helm of ExxonMobil in 2006 and adopted sharply contrasting views with those of his predecessor Lee Raymond on global warming.
He notably spoke up in favor of a carbon tax in 2009.
But as head of the State Department Tillerson now works under the administration of President Donald Trump, which has voiced skepticism of climate-change science.

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Some of the youngest opioid victims in the US are curious toddlers

Thu, 2017-03-23

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Some of the youngest victims of the US’s opioid epidemic are children under age 5 who die after swallowing adult pills.
The number of children’s deaths is still small relative to the overall toll from opioids, but toddler fatalities have climbed steadily over the last 10 years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 14 children in the U.S. under age 5 died after ingesting opioids in 2000. By 2015, that number climbed to 51.
Curious toddlers find the drugs in a mother’s purse or accidentally dropped on the floor. Sometimes a parent fails to secure the child-resistant cap on a bottle of painkillers.
Chewing just one pill can release a fatal concentration of a time-released drug into their small bodies.

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Two Malaysian hostages found safe in Philippines

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-03-23

MANILA: Two ailing Malaysian seamen held hostage by Filipino Muslim militants for eight months were found Thursday aboard a boat adrift off the southern Philippines, the local military said.
Tayudin Anjut, 45, and Abdurahim bin Sumas, 62, were abandoned by the Abu Sayyaf gunmen before dawn near their coastal forest hideout on the remote island of Pata, a military statement said.
“The… kidnap victims are weak and in a sickly state,” regional military commander Maj. Gen. Carlito Galvez said in the statement.
They were receiving treatment at a military hospital in the area for ailments that Galvez did not specify.
He said a Philippine Navy patrol boat found the pair, eight months after they were abducted along with three other crewmen of a tugboat that was boarded by gunmen near the sea border between the two countries.
Their recovery followed a Philippine military operation against the kidnappers on a nearby island early last month that left eight gunmen dead, Galvez said.
The Abu Sayyaf, blamed for the worst terror attacks in Philippine history, have been kidnapping people for ransom for decades.
In recent months they have taken to seizing sailors from vessels plying the waters between the southern Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Maritime security officials have warned that the region is in danger of a “Somalia-type” situation unless action is taken.
The International Maritime Bureau said in January the number of maritime kidnappings hit a 10-year high in 2016, with waters off the southern Philippines becoming increasingly dangerous.
The Abu Sayyaf, established with seed money from Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network in the 1990s, are believed to still be holding 23 foreigners and six Filipinos, military spokesman Brig.-General Restituto Padilla told AFP.
They include Malaysian, Indonesian and Vietnamese captives as well as a Dutch bird watcher abducted in 2012, he added.
Last month the group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State movement, beheaded an elderly German yachtsman abducted last year after failing to extort ransom for him.

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Second scare for Australian airline in a week

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-03-23

A regional Australian airline plane made an emergency landing Thursday after the pilot was forced to shut down an engine, barely a week after a propeller fell off another aircraft mid-flight.
The Regional Express (Rex) plane carrying 23 passengers was heading to Sydney when a warning light came on in the cockpit, with the pilot managing to safely return to the town of Dubbo, the carrier said.
“We were about 10 minutes out of Dubbo and all of a sudden there was this big loud noise and a shaking of the aeroplane,” passenger Tim Evans told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I happened to be in a seat just next to the engine and I saw these flames came out of the engine.
“Then it did another big bang and a shake of the plane and all of these embers came out of the engine and I looked at the propeller and it was clear the engine had stopped.”
It was the same Saab 340 model plane as involved in a near-disaster last Friday when a pilot shut down one of two engines after “abnormal indications” before the propeller sheared off.
Despite this, the flight landed safely in Sydney.
“It is not possible to tell at this stage whether the cause is from foreign object ingestion (such as a bird) or from engine failure,” Rex said in a statement about the latest incident.
“It is also clear that this matter is unrelated to the incident regarding the propeller of flight ZL768 on March 17.”
Following Friday’s scare, which is being investigated by transport authorities, Rex removed from service all planes using similar propeller gearboxes and shafts, accounting for six jets from its fleet of 55.
Regional Express is Australia’s largest independent regional airline, operating some 1,500 weekly flights to 58 destinations throughout the country.

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Pakistani president at military parade offers talks to India

Associated Press
Thu, 2017-03-23

ISLAMABAD: President Mamnoon Hussain says Pakistan is ready to hold talks with India on all issues, including Kashmir, as he opened an annual military parade to mark the country’s Republic Day.
Chinese army also participated in Thursday’s parade as a show of Beijing’s strong friendship with Pakistan. Pakistan displayed nuclear-capable weapons, tanks, jets and other weapons at the parade.
Hussain said the audience at a stadium in Islamabad that the Chinese army has never participated in such an event in any other country.
In a televised speech, Hussain accused India of endangering peace by violating a cease-fire in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is split between Pakistan and India and has been the cause of two of their wars.

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Police raid in Birmingham following London attack: reports

Agence France Presse
Thu, 2017-03-23

LONDON: British police arrested a number of people in a raid on a property in Birmingham just hours after the deadly attacks in London, news reports said Thursday.
The raid was linked to the assailant in Wednesday’s attacks, in which four people were killed and 40 wounded, the Press Association news agency and Sky News reported.
Police refused to confirm a link between the raid in the central English city and the attack in the capital, which they have attributed to “Islamist-related terrorism.”
The attack unfolded on Wednesday across Westminster Bridge in the shadow of Big Ben, a towering landmark that draws tourists by the millions and stands over Britain’s Houses of Parliament — the very image of London.
The attacker’s car struck pedestrians on the bridge before crashing into the railings surrounding the heavily guarded Houses of Parliament, sowing first shock then panic in the seat of British power.
The assailant then ran through the gates brandishing a knife and stabbed a 48-year-old policeman to death before being shot dead by another officer.

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World leaders react to London ‘terror’ attack

Arab News
Thu, 2017-03-23

DUBAI: World leaders have reacted to Wednesday’s attack in London, which left five dead, including the attacker, and saw at least 40 injured in the political heart of the city.
“We’ve declared this as a terrorist incident and the counter-terrorism command are carrying out a full-scale investigation into the events today,” Mark Rowley, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, told reporters mere hours after the event.
Messages of support have poured in from around the globe, with many leaders taking to Twitter in the aftermath of the attack.
German Prime Minister Angela Merkel promised support to the UK.
“Although the background to these incidents still needs to be exactly clarified, I confirm on behalf of Germany and its citizens that we stand firmly and resolutely by Britain’s side when it comes to fighting any kind of terrorism,” Merkel said in an e-mailed statement.
France’s President Francois Hollande expressed “solidarity” with the British people, saying “terrorism concerns us all and France knows how the British people are suffering today.”
The mayor of Paris also decided to turn the lights of at the iconic Eiffel Tower in a show of support for Britain.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo said: “Paris and London have close links of friendship, which have never ceased to grow over the last few decades.”
The United States
For his part, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May to offer his condolences and added, in a separate tweet, that she was “strong and doing very well.”


Spoke to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May today to offer condolences on the terrorist attack in London. She is strong and doing very well.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2017

The European Council
Meanwhile, President of the European Council Donald Tusk said: “My thoughts are with the victims of the Westminster attack. Europe stands firm with the UK against terror and ready to help.”

My thoughts are with the victims of the Westminster attack. Europe stands firm with the UK against terror and ready to help.

— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 22, 2017

Russia’s foreign ministry expressed condolences.
“Our hearts are with the British, we share their pain,” Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, said in an interview with Russian state TV.
“We are calling on Russian citizens who are currently in Britain and on the grounds of our embassy in London to show vigilance and follow the official reports that will be published,” she said.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “Australia stands in resolute solidarity with the people of Britain in war against terrorism. Our heartfelt sympathies are with the victims.”

Australia stands in resolute solidarity with the people of Britain in war against terrorism. Our heartfelt sympathies are with the victims.

— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) March 22, 2017

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang made a statement during a meeting in Canberra, Australia.
“Together, we send our condolences to the prime minister of the UK and together we condemn terrorism and we stand against all forms of terrorism.”


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Attacker among 5 dead in UK parliament ‘terrorist’ attack
Two Arab News columnists recall Parliament building lockdown

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Two Arab News columnists recall Parliament building lockdown

Arab News
Thu, 2017-03-23

Arab News columnists Chris Doyle and Muddassar Ahmed were among hundreds trapped inside the Parliament building in London during the suspected terror attack.
Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), was inside the building’s central lobby Wednesday afternoon when the attack took place. He said the building was on lockdown and there were “several hundred” people inside.
Officials annou-nced that there was a suspect vehicle outside Parliament that was being dealt with by bomb-squad units, Doyle said.
“It’s calm now but there was panic earlier,” he told Arab News at 4 p.m. local time, adding that a mass of people were trapped inside the building. “Armed police are everywhere milling among politicians, the public and schoolchildren.”
He tweeted from his handle @Doylech: “Bottles of water passed around by Parliamentary staff. People seated on the floor. Indescribable feeling of shock. People still scared. But seems police in control.”
In other tweets, he wrote: “Those in the dining room in Commons with us hid under tables. Terrified people as police were shouting to get out and go to Central Lobby. Coincidental or deliberate but the attack took place at around time of Division in Parliament. First vote of the week.”
Ahmed, managing partner at Unitas Communications Ltd., said he too was on lockdown inside the Parliament building on Wednesday afternoon.
He was visiting an MP’s office in the building. After the alert was raised they were asked to evacuate the office, but then told to return. Police were carrying out “a door-to-door search” of the building, Ahmed told Arab News.
He said he was feeling “shaken” after about an hour on lockdown, with armed police still moving through the building. “Missed the Westminster attack by minutes,” he wrote on his Twitter handle @unitascomms.

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Arab News turns 40
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