The Daily 202: Throwing a bomb into the insurance markets, Trump now owns the broken health-care system

With Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump took two giant steps Thursday to disembowel the Affordable Care Act.

The administration announced late last night that he will immediately halt cost-sharing reductions. These $7 billion in annual subsidies to health insurers allow around 7 million low-income Americans to afford coverage.

Earlier in the day, the president signed a far-reaching executive order that makes it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy alternative types of health insurance with lower prices, fewer benefits and weaker government protections.

This is not “letting” Obamacare fail. Many nonpartisan experts believe that these active measures are likely to undermine the pillars of the 2010 law and hasten the collapse of the marketplaces.

The Pottery Barn rule comes to mind: You break it, you own it. Yes, the plate you just shattered had some cracks in it. But if you dropped it on the ground, the store is going to blame you.

As Barack Obama learned after the Great Recession, with heavy Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms, it’s hard to blame your predecessor for problems two years after you take office. Especially when your party has unified control of the federal government. No matter how much it might be the previous guy’s fault, many voters won’t buy it. People have very short attention spans.

— The uncertainty about what Trump would do has already driven premium prices higher for 2018. Now it’s going to get worse. Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin explain why: “Trump has threatened for months to stop the payments, which go to insurers that are required by the laws to help eligible consumers afford their deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. But he held off while other administration officials warned him such a move would cause an implosion of the ACA marketplaces that could be blamed on Republicans … The fifth year’s open-enrollment season for consumers to buy coverage through ACA exchanges will start in less than three weeks, and insurers have said that stopping the cost-sharing payments would be the single greatest step the Trump administration could take to damage the marketplaces … Ending the payments is grounds for any insurer to back out of its federal contract to sell health plans for 2018.

The White House says the executive order will give people more choices, but: “Critics, who include state insurance commissioners, most of the health-insurance industry and mainstream policy specialists, predict that a proliferation of these other kinds of coverage will have damaging ripple effects, driving up costs for consumers with serious medical conditions and prompting more insurers to flee the law’s marketplaces.”

“The most far-reaching element of the order instructs a trio of Cabinet departments to rewrite federal rules for ‘association health plans’ — a form of insurance in which small businesses of a similar type band together through an association to negotiate health benefits. These plans have had to meet coverage requirements and consumer protections under the 2010 health-care law, but the administration is likely to exempt them from those rules and let such plans be sold from state to state without insurance licenses in each one. Among policy experts, critics warned that young and healthy people who use relatively little insurance will gravitate to association health plans because of their lower price tags. That would concentrate older and sicker customers in ACA marketplaces with spiking rates.”

— Beyond yesterday’s directives, Trump has been personally involved in undercutting the system. Juliet discovered a remarkable example last week about just how hands-on the president has been: “For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application. Trump’s message in late August was clear … Tell Iowa no.”

“HHS has slashed grants to groups that help consumers get insurance coverage,” Juliet adds. “It also has cut the enrollment period in half, reduced the advertising budget by 90 percent and announced an outage schedule that would make the HealthCare.gov website less available than last year. … HHS has told its regional administrators not to even meet with on-the-ground organizations about enrollment.”

— Trump thinks his latest gambit will bring Democrats and Republicans to the table: The president suggested on Twitter this morning that he wants to negotiate now: 

“We are going to pressure Congress very strongly to finish the repeal and replace of Obamacare,” he said yesterday at the signing ceremony for his executive order.

“Trump has privately told at least one lawmaker that the payments may continue if a bipartisan deal is reached on health care,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

— In this way, cutting off cost-sharing payments is reminiscent of Trump’s decision to end DACA last month. He has just created an artificial political crisis by ending another Obama-era program. He believes that Congress will swing into action so that millions of vulnerable people are not harmed by his decision. Instead of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children, this time it’s the poor and chronically ill who are pawns.

It is a risky way to govern. Consider the DACA fix: Trump gave Congress a six-month deadline to figure out a way to protect millions of Latino kids from deportation. Then on Sunday night he unveiled a list of hardline immigration demands that has made it much harder to get a deal. Now the March 5 deadline is getting squishy. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said last night, for example, that Trump told him he was willing to “give it some more time” to allow lawmakers to find a solution for the “dreamers” if Congress does not pass legislation. (Our Elise Viebeck has more from Lankford’s town hall in Tulsa.)

— Bipartisanship is possible on health care, but don’t count on it: Negotiations to prop up the marketplaces have proceeded in fits and starts for the past few months. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the chairman and ranking member on the health committee, have publicly said the payments should not end immediately. They’ve been trying to come up with a solution that could get support from both parties.

Propping up the system would be widely portrayed in the conservative media as nothing more than a bailout for big insurance companies. Mitch McConnell has been reluctant to make any “fixes” to the system so long as the chance of repealing the ACA was still on the table. He’s been especially reluctant to let his members vote to fund cost-sharing payments.

Even if a deal was reached in the Senate, conservatives in the House won’t want to vote for anything that their grass-roots supporters will see as protecting the status quo. Connect the dots, and the result is that there will be immense turmoil without a solution. At least for a while.

Meanwhile, Democrats believe they are the ones with leverage. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer called the end of the cost-sharing payments “a spiteful act” of “sabotage.” They expressed confidence in a joint statement that the politics will play in their favor: “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.

— Coming attractions: Litigation is likely to continue. House Republicans sued HHS over the cost-sharing reduction payments during Obama’s second term. “A federal court agreed that they were illegal, and the case has been pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit,” per Amy and Juliet. “House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that the administration was dropping its appeal of the lawsuit.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) called the president’s action “sabotage” and predicted last night that he could get a judge to side with him. “We are prepared to sue,” he said in a statement, adding that other Democrats are ready to join him.

— Regardless of the outcome, last night’s news also guarantees that health care will be a top issue in the 2018 midterms and 2020 presidential election. All the turmoil will create continuing headaches for lawmakers. This is something that they are going to hear about every time they return to their districts or states – not just from constituents but donors, hospitals and business owners.

— The overnight reaction online was largely critical of the president:

From a retiring Republican congresswoman in Florida:

Democrats predictably expressed outrage:

Commentators are blaming the president. From the founder of Vox:

The editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News:

— Good morning from NEW YORK CITY, where I’m covering a Koch network donor seminar today. Vice President Pence will address the group in the afternoon.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:

— Trump is expected to take a tough stance against Iran in a speech today – but not scrap the nuclear deal that he seems to hate. From the New York Times: “Trump will make good on Friday on a long-running threat to disavow the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by his predecessor … But he will stop short, for now, of unraveling the accord or even rewriting it …  Instead, it is asking Congress to establish ‘trigger points,’ which could prompt the United States to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it crosses thresholds set by Congress.”

The AP adds that Trump will ask Congress to amend or replace outright the legislation that currently requires him to certify Iranian compliance every 90 days: “Officials have said that Trump hates the requirement more than the nuclear deal itself because it forces him to take a position every three months on what he has denounced as the worst deal in American history. That frequency has also irritated aides who have complained that they are spending inordinate amounts of time on certification at the expense of other issues.”

NBC reports that the president may designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group.

CIA Director Michael Pompeo lashed out Thursday at Iran during a speech at The University of Texas, calling it “a thuggish police state” and a “despotic theocracy.” He also compared its ambitions to the Islamic State.

— The Nationals’ season is over after the team lost to the Cubs 9-8 in Game Five.

Washington is for chokers: This is the fourth time in six years that the Nats went down in the first round of the playoffs. “This Thursday evening started in the mist and ended in a mess, and the educated Washington fan could have told you that when he or she woke up,” Barry Svrluga writes. “By the standards of a normal town, the fashion in which all this happened at Nationals Park was bizarre — funhouse mirror weird, baseball as a Dali painting. Here, in strait-laced Washington, it fits into the athletic fabric perfectly. The pattern, by now, is well established. Washington might be able to muster optimism on a morning such as Thursday. It might, over lunch, convince itself of this advantage or that. But get through the gate at the ballpark, and dread is so readily available. … The things that happened Thursday night, they haven’t happened in the history of baseball. Yet they happened to the Nationals in what was to be their biggest, best night.”

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“Over 4 hours and 37 minutes Thursday night, the Cubs and Nationals bludgeoned one another through the longest nine-inning game in playoff history,” Chelsea Janes writes in her recap. “Over and over, disaster struck the Nationals — the disaster that always strikes the Nationals this time of year. Over and over, they climbed back in. Hope and history wrestled for the Nationals’ fate all night, as their traditional postseason debacle and a newfound October grit beat their guts back and forth. Neither debacle nor grit won out. Wade Davis struck out Bryce Harper, and that was it, an anticlimactic ending to a season that seemed likely to hold so much more — and nearly did.

— Five more smart takes from our sports staff:

  • “All defeats are not created equal. For Nats, this one is a special kind of painful,” by Thomas Boswell
  • “They did it again: A Nationals heartbreak poem from the D.C. Sports Bog,” by Dan Steinberg
  • “Best and worst moments from the Nationals’ Game 5 loss: This old feeling again,” by Scott Allen
  • “Nationals believe umpires missed call that would have stopped the bleeding in fifth inning,” by Adam Kilgore
  •  “For vanquished Nationals, an inning that will live in infamy,” by Jorge Castillo

— The death toll rose to 31 Thursday as California authorities began assessing the damage from the deadliest spate of wildfires to strike the state in more than 80 years, even while the blazes continued to consume swaths of land and drive people from their homes. Seven reporters fed The Post’s main story: “California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said some 190,000 acres had been scorched across the state by Thursday afternoon as high winds and dry conditions spread the fires with frightening speed. Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, sustained the most damage, with 17 people confirmed dead and 400 reported missing; in the city of Santa Rosa, officials reported nearly 3,000 homes destroyed.”

Horrifying: “Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said deputies had begun the task of searching for the missing and the dead, with bodies showing up in a variety of conditions. ‘We have recovered people where their bodies are intact,’ he said, ‘and we have recovered people where there’s just ash and bone.’ Ten of the 17 county’s fatalities have been identified, with two confirmed through medical devices or implants, two through dental records, another by a distinctive tattoo, while others were matched with fingerprints or visuals and other investigative means. Many were in their 70s and 80s.”

Still uncontrolled: “The National Weather Service provided a morsel of good news Thursday, reporting that the gusts that fueled the blazes and made them harder to fight had died down and were projected to stay light through Friday. The respite was expected to be brief, however, as high north winds were expected to kick up over the weekend.”

— The residents who have been able to return describe an apocalyptic scene — with many discovering only charred heaps of rubble and debris where their homes used to be:  

— Satellite images captured yesterday show plumes of smoke moving into the Bay Area from the fires:

GET SMART FAST:

  1. An American woman and her Canadian husband who were held underground as Taliban hostages for five years have finally been freed — along with the three children they gave birth to while in captivity. Pakistani authorities gave few details of the rescue operation or how the family was located. (Shaiq Hussain and Brian Murphy)
  2. California Senate leader Kevin de León (D), an ambitious liberal who is term-limited out of his current job, plans to launch a long-shot challenge against Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in 2018. (CNN)
  3. New York and London police are reviewing sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. NYPD is looking to interview actress Lucia Evans, whose claim of sexual assault (as shared in the New Yorker) would not be subject to a statute of limitations. (New York Times)
  4. MGM Resorts, which owns the Mandalay Bay, disputed authorities’ timeline of the Las Vegas shooting. The police had originally said that Stephen Paddock shot a hotel security guard several minutes before firing on the Strip. (Mark Berman)
  5. An FDA advisory committee unanimously approved an experimental gene therapy for patients with a rare kind of hereditary blindness. If approved, the treatment — which has been found to produce “substantial improvements” in vision — would be the first gene therapy cleared for an inherited disorder in the United States. (Laurie McGinley)
  6. Scientists studying Yellowstone National Park say the supervolcano sitting under it could erupt sooner than expected. Researchers say fossilized volcanic ash around the site suggests conditions for an explosion may take just “decades,” rather than centuries, to form. (USA Today)
  7. A Catholic school in Indiana denied participation in a class First Communion ceremony to a 9-year-old girl after she requested to wear a suit to the event. Officials said the school’s dress code requires girls to wear skirts or dresses. The school instead offered a private ceremony for the girl. (Julie Zauzmer)
  8. A doctor in northern Florida is under criminal investigation for shouting at a patient to leave an urgent-care center. The doctor is seen on video yelling at a woman to “get the hell out” before trying to take her daughter’s cellphone, which was filming the encounter. (Lindsey Bever)

ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:

— The weirdest story you’ll read all day: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has his staffers wave a special secretarial flag over his agency’s headquarters whenever he is in the building — reviving a Buckingham Palace-esque tradition that no one can remember ever happening in the federal government. Lisa Rein reports: “A security staffer takes the elevator to the seventh floor, climbs the stairs to the roof and hoists a special secretarial flag whenever Zinke enters the building. When the secretary goes home for the day or travels, the flag — a blue banner emblazoned with the agency’s bison seal flanked by seven white stars representing the Interior bureaus — comes down.  Responding [to questions], a spokeswoman for Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, defended the Navy flag-flying tradition as ‘a major sign of transparency.’ ‘We’re talking about Cabinet members and federal buildings, not the Queen of England …’ said Chris Lu, deputy Labor secretary in the [Obama administration].” Zinke, who rode to work on horseback on his first day in office, has also commissioned commemorative coins with his name on them to give to staff and visitors.

— John Kelly said that he is not planning to step down from his position as Trump’s chief of staff. Seeking to dispel recent reports suggesting that he is frustrated, he appeared in the White House briefing room. “Although I read it all the time pretty consistently, I’m not quitting today,” Kelly said. “I don’t believe — and I just talked to the president — I don’t think I’m being fired today.” (Philip Rucker)

— The director of the National Background Investigations Bureau told Congress this week, when asked about Jared Kushner’s security clearance application, that he had “never seen that level of mistakes.” (CNN’s Kara Scannell)

— Trump tapped Kathleen Hartnett-White, a former chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and a known climate change skeptic, to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney report: “Like other members of the Trump administration, she has long questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-fueled climate change and has criticized the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a volunteer group of climate scientists whose findings are considered the gold standard of climate science. And she has described efforts to combat global warming as little more than an attack on the fossil fuel industry.” In her new role, Hartnett-White will coordinate environmental and energy policy across the federal government.

— Trump’s nomination of AccuWeather chief executive Barry Myers to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is raising eyebrows. Justin Samenow reports: “The appointment of Myers, a businessman and lawyer, breaks from the recent precedent of scientists leading the agency tasked with a large, complex and technically demanding portfolio. … AccuWeather has, in the past, supported measures to limit the extent to which the Weather Service can release information to the public, so that private companies could generate their own value-added products using this same information. In 2005, for example, Myers and his brother Joel gave money to then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who introduced legislation aimed at curtailing government competition with private weather services.”

— Trump is nearing a final decision on a new Federal Reserve chair. He interviewed Stanford economist John Taylor on Wednesday, and current chairwoman Janet Yellen remains a final contender to stay on in the job. (Wall Street Journal)

— Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has no current plans to find a deputy secretary after Brian Brooks withdrew from consideration. (Politico)

— Expense reports have revealed that the Secret Service paid Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort $63,700 in hotel costs between February and April. CNN’s Cristina Alesci and Curt Devine report: “Although the Secret Service routinely pays private businesses for costs that arise while protecting the president, government ethics hawks argue Trump may personally profit from his visits. Or worse, they allege, he’s violated the Constitution.”

CONGRESSIONAL DRAMA:

— The Office of Congressional Ethics reported that it has “substantial reason to believe” that Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) violated congressional rules by advocating for a company in which he invested. Mike DeBonis reports: “The New York Republican was an early backer of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian firm that was developing a new therapy for multiple sclerosis, and recruited investors that included family, his congressional staff and House colleagues — including Tom Price … The report’s findings could leave Collins, an early supporter of President Trump’s presidential campaign, vulnerable to ethics sanctions or even potential criminal prosecution based on allegations of insider trading.”

— The judge in Sen. Bob Menendez’s federal corruption case indicated that he may dismiss most of the charges against the New Jersey Democrat. But that could put Menendez’s party in an awkward position if he decides to run for reelection. Politico’s Matt Friedman reports: “Prosecutors were unable to produce a smoking gun demonstrating that New Jersey’s senior senator explicitly promised to do something for his co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, in exchange for a gift or campaign contribution. … If Menendez prevails in court, Democrats would face the real possibility that the powerful senator will be hell-bent on running for re-election next year, despite having gone through an embarrassing and politically damaging trial. Democrats already face a difficult Senate map in 2018, and Menendez seeking re-election could put what should be an ultra-safe seat in play.”

— Concerns are mounting about the health of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), 79, who has been absent from Capitol Hill for several weeks. Politico’s Anna Palmer and Burgess Everett report: “Multiple sources close to the senator said his staff and allies have received limited information from his family about his health status, further fueling questions about his future. Cochran’s office maintains that the Mississippi Republican will return next week as planned, and Senate Republican aides said they expect him back as well. But several K Street sources and Cochran allies said he’s unlikely to be back next week. Multiple sources said there’s increasing worry his absence could stretch through the end of the year.” Remember this is the senator who Trump said helped prevent passage of an Obamacare rollback because he was in the hospital (he wasn’t — and wasn’t a key vote on health care anyways).

Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson calls on Republicans in his latest column to make their criticisms of Trump public: “It was once urged, ‘Let Reagan be Reagan.’ Who, besides the oleaginous Sean Hannity, would say, ‘Let Trump be Trump’? The security of our country — and potentially the lives of millions of people abroad — depends on Trump being someone else entirely. It depends on the president being some wise, strategic, restrained leader he has never been. The time for whispered criticisms and quiet snickering is over. The time for panic and decision is upon us. … Any elected Republican who shares Corker’s concerns has a political and moral duty to state them in public.”

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— Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore stands to gain $540,000 if a charity he once ran can successfully sell the historic building that serves as its headquarters. Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg report: “The 1850s-era building was put on the market in April for nearly $1.9 million by Moore’s wife, Kayla, now president of the charity[.] … The circumstances of the listing add to questions swirling around the charity and more than $1 million in compensation for Roy Moore while he was working part time from 2007 to 2012. … Moore was given a promissory note for back pay in 2011, tax filings and mortgage documents show, the first public indication that his annual compensation surpassed what had been reported. The note, backed by a second mortgage on the building that serves as the charity’s headquarters, was eventually worth $540,000, mortgage records show.”

— Moore signed onto a resolution supporting the right of states to nullify or void federal law in 2010. “Moore’s willingness to defy federal authority has twice caused his removal from the Alabama Supreme Court,” CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Chris Massie note.

TAX OVERHAUL FOR CHRISTMAS?

— Paul Ryan said yesterday that he’s willing to keep lawmakers in D.C. through December to pass a tax bill. (Of course, we’ve heard those threats many times before and the smell of jet fumes always seems stronger).

— There could be a compromise to preserve part of the tax deduction for state and local taxes as a rebellion from blue-state Republicans percolates. The Wall Street Journal’s Richard Rubin and Siobhan Hughes report: “The aim, lawmakers say, is to keep the break for middle-income households while repealing it for higher-income households. One idea is to cut off the deduction for households whose incomes exceed a certain level. The challenge will be finding agreement on where that dividing line should be. If it’s too low, the change won’t win support from lawmakers representing states like New York and New Jersey with high taxes and living costs. If the dividing line is too high, changing the deduction won’t generate revenue Republicans are counting on to fund lower tax rates and an expanded child tax credit.”

— Damian Paletta profiles new Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett, who is trying to convince the public that workers will benefit most from the proposal to slash the corporate tax rate: “Just one month into his new job, Hassett has rushed into the debate about the economic impact of tax cuts with assertions borne from decades of research in tax policy. He says the White House’s tax cut plan would grow the economy and wages much more than other economists believe, and he’s ready to push back on what he thinks are erroneous forecasts. … His performance in the past two weeks suggests he could become a central figure in the tax cut push, as he’s working to — perhaps single-handedly — parry other economists who argue that Trump’s tax cut plan will primarily benefit the wealthy and do little for the middle class.”

THE REST OF THE AGENDA:

— Attorney General Jeff Sessions called on Congress to tighten rules for asylum seekers, describing the system as one filled with “rampant abuse and fraud.” Sari Horwitz reports: “Sessions said the nation’s policies allow too many asylum seekers to exploit loopholes in a ‘broken’ and extremely backlogged process. ‘The system is being gamed,’ Sessions said. ‘Over the years, smart attorneys have exploited loopholes in the law, court rulings and lack of resources to substantially undermine the intent of Congress.There is no cost or risk for those who make a baseless asylum claim.’ Sessions said that many of the asylum cases ‘lacked merit’ and are ‘simply a ruse to enter the country illegally.’ … Civil liberties advocates said Sessions’s comments were inaccurate and unfair to the thousands of people fleeing dangerous, life-threatening situations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Venezuela.”

— DOJ wants to impose “numeric performance standards” on federal immigration judges who determine the fates of those facing deportation. Maria Sacchetti reports: “The White House says it aims to reduce an ‘enormous’ backlog of 600,000 cases, triple the number in 2009, that cripples its ability to deport immigrants as President Trump mandated in January. The National Association of Immigration Judges called the move unprecedented and says it will be the ‘death knell for judicial independence’ in courts where immigrants such as political dissidents, women fleeing violence and children plead their cases … The White House tucked its proposal — a six-word statement saying it wants to ‘establish performance metrics for immigration judges’ — into a broader package of immigration reforms it rolled out Sunday night.”

— House Democrats moved yesterday to protect whistleblowers who disclose information on “improper use of air transportation” by their superiors. The proposal was rejected, but it did put GOP lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of having to vote on an issue that has been a recurring source of controversy in the Trump administration. (Politico)

THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:

— Cover up? Facebook scrubbed thousands of Russian-linked posts and related data from its site after a Columbia University researcher said he found evidence that Moscow’s disinformation campaign reached a far broader audience than Facebook originally disclosed. Craig Timberg and Elizabeth Dwoskin report: “[Jonathan Albright] got a call from Facebook the day after he published research last week … [and] welcomed the chat with three company officials. But he was not pleased to discover that they had done more than talk about their concerns regarding his research. They also had scrubbed from the Internet nearly everything … that had made the work possible. Never again would he or any other researcher be able to run the kind of analysis he had done just days earlier. ‘This is public interest data,’ Albright said Wednesday … ‘This data allowed us to at least reconstruct some of the pieces of the puzzle. Not everything, but it allowed us to make sense of some of this thing.’” Facebook confirmed the posts were removed but maintains it was merely correcting for a “glitch” in its social media analytics tool. 

— Russia’s online influence campaign extended far beyond traditional social media sites, targeting users on a variety of platforms including YouTube, Tumblr and even Pokémon Go. CNNMoney’s Donie O’Sullivan and Dylan Byers report: “[One] campaign, titled ‘Don’t Shoot Us,’ … shows how one YouTube video or Twitter post could lead users down a rabbit hole of activist messaging and ultimately encourage them to take action. … Specifically, the Don’t Shoot Us contest directed readers to go to find and train Pokémon near locations where alleged incidents of police brutality had taken place. Users were instructed to give their Pokémon names corresponding with those of the victims. … A source familiar with the matter [confirmed] that the Don’t Shoot Us Facebook page was one of the 470 accounts taken down after the company determined they were linked” to a Kremlin-based troll farm. 

— House Intelligence Committee leaders warned Roger Stone that they will subpoena him Friday if he fails to reveal his contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian AssangeCNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report: “We’ll give it until tomorrow,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who is running the panel’s Russia investigation, told reporters on Thursday. “We have agreed to subpoena him if he doesn’t provide the information.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

— The administration announced it will withdraw from UNESCO, the U.N.’s cultural organization, citing an “anti-Israel” bias and “the need for fundamental reform.” Eli Rosenberg reports: “UNESCO was notified Thursday morning of the U.S. intention to withdraw at the end of 2018. The State Department said the United States would like to remain involved as a nonmember observer state. The withdrawal means the U.S. will halt the arrears it has run-up since it stopped funding the organization in 2011 to protest the admission of the Palestinian Authority as a full member. By the end of this calendar year, the unpaid U.S. bill will amount to $550 million. With no sign that U.S. concerns would be addressed, [Rex Tillerson] decided to pull out. State Department officials said they hope the withdrawal will help push UNESCO to make changes that would satisfy Washington so the U.S. can resume full membership.”

— The AP obtained a recording of the sound that U.S. embassy workers heard in Havana as part of a deliberate attack: “The recording … is the first disseminated publicly of the many taken in Cuba of mysterious sounds that led investigators initially to suspect a sonic weapon. … What device produced the original sound remains unknown. Americans affected in Havana reported the sounds hit them at extreme volumes. Whether there’s a direct relationship between the sound and the physical damage suffered by the victims is also unclear. … The recordings from Havana have been sent for analysis to the U.S. Navy, which has advanced capabilities for analyzing acoustic signals, and to the intelligence services[.]”

PUERTO RICO FALLOUT:

— Trump warned Thursday that federal relief workers couldn’t stay in Puerto Rico forever, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory that remains deep in the throes of a staggering humanitarian crisis. Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe report: “Declaring the U.S. territory’s electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a ‘disaster before hurricanes,’ Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that relief workers will not stay ‘forever.’” 

— Trump’s remarks were assailed by a chorus of top Democrats on Thursday, and others noted the break from a Sept. 29 speech, in which he pledged the U.S. “will not rest” until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.

  • Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the president’s Thursday tweets “heartbreaking,” adding: “We are all Americans, and we owe them what they need.”
  • “There is still devastation, Americans are still dying,” Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “FEMA needs to stay until the job is done.”
  • Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat born in Puerto Rico, said the president’s “most solemn duty is to protect the safety and the security of the American people. By suggesting he might abdicate this responsibility for our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, Mr. Trump has called into question his ability to lead. We will not allow the federal government to abandon Puerto Rico in its time of need.”

— In response, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said that Puerto Ricans were simply seeking the support “any of our fellow citizens would receive across our Nation,” our colleagues report.

— The battle between vocal San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Trump escalated following Trump’s tweets, with the mayor releasing a harsh statement following the president’s tweets dubbing him the “Hater in Chief:” [T]he president is “is simply incapable of understanding the contributions, the sacrifices and the commitment to democratic values that Puerto Ricans have shown over decades.” She then pleaded with “every American that has love, and not hate in their hearts, to stand with Puerto Rico and let this President know we WILL NOT BE LEFT TO DIE.”

From the PRI via USA Today, the mayor responded this way: ‘I don’t give a sh*t . . . In reference to his tweets calling her ‘nasty,” she went on to say, ‘This isn’t about me or politics. I’m not going to be the face you see out there just giving you a box of food for the photo op. I’m the face of the person who is going to make sure somebody gets that to you . . . so like the last scene of Gone With the Wind — ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.’”

The mayor tweeted this:

From PRI’s Instagram account:

Yulín Cruz also went on CNN’s Don Lemon show last night to respond:

— Meanwhile, regular Puerto Rican residents responded to Trump’s tweets with “outrage and disbelief,” Philip Rucker, Arelis R. Hernández and Manuel Roig-Franzia report. “Radio disc jockeys gasped as they read aloud the presidential statements[.] … To many Puerto Ricans, Trump’s Thursday comments stung and helped underscore their feeling that the president does not view them as deserving the same level of assistance as mainland U.S. citizens.” Isabel Cruz and Ramon Nieves — a married couple who retired to Puerto Rico, the island of their births — had harsh words for Trump’s statements: “‘He doesn’t think of us as Americans,’ said Nieves, 71. ‘It’s not just that,’ Cruz, 78, said. ‘He’s racist.’ That last word, ‘racist,’ she said slowly and emphatically. Then she repeated it for emphasis.

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— Some movement: The House overwhelmingly approved its $36.5 billion disaster aid package for Maria and wildfire recovery yesterday, by a vote of 353 to 69. All 69 lawmakers who opposed the measure were Republicans who complained that the funding was not offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. (Mike DeBonis)

“It is time to stop treating the people of Puerto Rico like second-class citizens,” The Post’s Editorial Board writes. “Congress should give Puerto Rico the resources it needs. If the Americans enduring these conditions lived in Connecticut or Montana or Arkansas, would we be counseling patience? Would we be blithely accepting predictions of another month — or more — to get power restored? No. There would be unending media coverage, people would be furious — and the [president] certainly wouldn’t be threatening to abandon federal relief efforts. The state of affairs would simply be seen as unacceptable, which it is. The 3.4 million American citizens who live in Puerto Rico are owed a far better response from their government than they have gotten these past three weeks.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

For the second day in a row, Trump went after “fake news” yesterday afternoon:

The White House switchboard seems to have taken up the mantra:

Former vice presidential candidate and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was outraged:

A congressional NPR reporter noted this:

Trump also seemed to take a different approach to Hurricane Harvey, per Morning Joe’s senior producer:

The Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent posed this question:

Trump’s outburst forced FEMA’s deputy public affairs director to issue this clarification:

This is where Puerto Rico’s recovery currently stands:

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway expanded on John Kelly’s comment that one of Trump’s frustrations is the press:

CNN’s national security correspondent commented on Kelly’s appearance in the briefing room:

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) responded to Sean Hannity’s assertion that supporting Sasse had been “one of the biggest mistakes in [his] career”:

The Week published this provactive cover:

Twitter briefly locked the account of Rose McGowan, who has accused Harvey Weinstein of rape and has been tweeting about sexual harassment across Hollywood:

When McGowan regained access to her account, she took this shot at Trump:

And The Post’s David Fahrenthold brought his legal pad back out — this time to track sports teams staying at Trump hotels:

GOOD READS FROM ELSEWHERE:

— Newsweek, “How the VA fueled the national opioid crisis and is killing thousands of veterans,” by Art Levine: “The fetid VA swamp has been spreading for years … It’s an institution long notorious for vicious retaliation against whistleblowers and a penchant for falsehoods, obfuscation and delay, as well as rampant cover-ups of unsafe and sometimes deadly conditions — or even fraud — by the VA’s watchdog agencies. This is all kept from view by what some longtime employees call ‘the code’ — the institutional silence and protection offered wrongdoers. Likening it to the mob’s ‘omertà,’ one high-ranking VA administrator, [said], ‘You don’t break ‘the code,’ or your career is over …. It’s a fearful environment. … This turf-protecting has perhaps been most apparent in the VA’s belated response to the national opiate crisis it helped usher in. … ‘The code,’ [one] VA official says, ‘is designed to do this: don’t fix the problems.’”

— CNN, “Can the company Harvey Weinstein founded survive his scandal?” by Brian Stelter and Jamie Gangel: “Right now it’s an open question, even among the 200-odd staffers at the company. The two men now running the firm, Weinstein’s brother Bob and the company’s president David Glasser, could be the next out the door[.] … The two Weinstein Co. executives are coming under severe scrutiny because some of the allegations of misconduct by Harvey Weinstein date back decades, which raises the question: Why didn’t people in a position to know do more?”

— The Wall Street Journal, “Roger Goodell Has a Secret Defender on Twitter: His Wife,” by Andrew Beaton: “When National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell is under attack, as he so often is these days, @forargument is there to fight back. … The Twitter account, under the name ‘Jones smith,’ has no followers, no profile picture and has been virtually dormant for long periods since its creation in 2014. But @forargument has roared to life in the past few months, rising up to vigorously defend Mr. Goodell against perceived attacks on his handling of issues such as the national anthem protests by players. … Who is this valiant defender of a man who has so few defenders? It is Roger Goodell’s wife, Jane Skinner Goodell[.]”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“As Trump slams media, an Indiana lawmaker has drafted a bill to license journalists,” from the Indianapolis Star: “An Indiana lawmaker has drafted a bill that would require professional journalists to be licensed by state police. Rep. Jim Lucas had the measure drawn up earlier this year and said he may file it to drive home a point about his signature issue — gun rights. ‘If you’re okay licensing my second amendment right, what’s wrong with licensing your first amendment right?’ he said. Lucas, a Seymour Republican, has been critical of media coverage of his efforts to repeal an Indiana law that requires a permit to carry a handgun. He said reporters, columnists and editorial boards frequently mischaracterize the idea, which is sometimes referred to as ‘constitutional carry.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT

“Phil Robertson to Star in New Show That Will ‘Reject Political Correctness,’” from the Hollywood Reporter: “Robertson is getting his own show again, and it promises to be much more of a vehicle for his irreverent take on politics than Duck Dynasty ever was. Robertson is joining CRTV, a $99-a-year digital network where its most popular shows are hosted by conservative commentators Mark Levin, Steven Crowder and Michelle Malkin. The show is dubbed In the Woods With Phil[.] … ‘What does a man do when they try to run him out of town for quoting a Bible verse?’ Robertson asks in one episode of the show. ‘I tell you what he does — he goes deep in the woods.’”

 

DAYBOOK:

Before his big Iran speech today, Trump will attend the 2017 Values Voter Summit. He will also visit a Secret Service training facility later in the day.

Pence is in New York today for a speech to the Koch-backed Seminar Network.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

Energy Secretary Rick Perry accidentally referred to Puerto Rico as a country during an exchange with Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.).

CASTOR: What is your plan to build a more distributed grid there with the modern technology that’s at our fingertips?

PERRY: Congresswoman Castor, you have just pointed out the real challenge that this country faces in dealing with the territory and the citizens of Puerto Rico. That is a country that already had its challenges before this storm . . .

CASTOR: Well, they’re — it’s America. They’re American citizens, so it’s not a country. But could you just detail, since the time is limited . . .

PERRY: Yeah, that’s the reason I called it a territory, ma’am. I apologize for misstating here and calling it a country.

(Perry had referred to Puerto Rico as a territory immediately before the exchange, likely making the mistake just his latest slip of the tongue.)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

— It will be muggier and a bit warmer in the District today. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Temperatures and mugginess go back up a bit. We may not notice so much, since we may again deal with drizzle and periodic fog. If we’re lucky the soupiest cloudiness will relent during the afternoon, and we may even get a peek of sun, but don’t bet on it. Stickier high temperatures may manage the mid-60s to around 70 by evening rush hour. Temperatures could edge higher, stay tuned.”

— A new study found that more than half of D.C.’s new jobs require at least a bachelor’s degrees, which disproportionately benefits the city’s white residents. In 2014, only 12.3 percent of black D.C. residents had graduated from college. (Perry Stein)

— Virginia’s congressional delegation urged the VA to end its practice of delayed payments to doctors. Jenna Portnoy reports: “The state’s two senators and 11 House members urged VA administrators to fix a system that can leave health-care providers waiting more than four months for payments they should have received within 30 days. The delays can damage credit, they said.”

— Swastika graffiti was found in a men’s restroom stall on U-Md.’s campus. (Lynh Bui)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert interviewed Sean Hannity’s interview of Trump:

Samantha Bee went after Harvey Weinstein:

Trump isn’t the first president to threaten FCC licenses:

The Post explained how the 25th Amendment, which lies out a process to remove the president from office, works:

The Post ranked Trump’s 10 softest interviews:

And Nationals fans reacted to the team’s season-ending loss last night:

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