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Caitlin MacNeal

Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Articles by Caitlin

As Iowa worked with the Department of Health and Human Services on a waiver aimed at stabilizing the state’s Obamacare marketplace, President Donald Trump personally intervened in late August and asked the department to reject the waiver, the Washington Post reported Thursday evening.

An unnamed person familiar with the exchange told the newspaper that Trump saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about Iowa’s plan, prompting him to try to intervene. Trump first tried contacting then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was out of the country at the time, according to the report. He then reached Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which was working with Iowa on finessing its waiver request, and told her to reject Iowa’s proposal.

It’s unclear whether CMS will follow Trump’s directive. Some officials within the department are still pushing for approval of Iowa’s waiver, several unnamed Republicans told the Washington Post. Iowa has not yet heard from the federal government about whether the waiver will be approved, a spokesman for the state’s insurance commissioner told the Des Moines Register.

The Trump administration has made several moves to undermine the Affordable Care Act as the Republican-controlled Congress failed in its multiple attempts to repeal the law. HHS has slashed the budget for promoting and educating the public on Obamacare and reduced funding for navigators who help people sign up for health insurance through the marketplaces. The department also cancelled plans for regional directors to travel to states and help them prepare for open enrollment.

The President also has threatened to end cost-sharing reduction payments to help insurers who cover costs for low-income people with significant health needs. The uncertainty over the Trump administration’s plans for those payments has caused insurers to drop out of the marketplaces in some areas, while an end to the payments would likely cause premiums to skyrocket.

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After the National Rifle Association on Thursday called for the federal government to look into regulating bump stocks, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre followed up Thursday night emphasizing that the gun rights group did not call for an outright ban.

“We didn’t say ban, we didn’t say confiscate,” LaPierre told Fox News’ Sean Hannity after noting that the NRA urged the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review whether bump stocks comply with federal law.

“The other side has been so outright trying to politicize this tragedy that we did feel the need to speak out today on this whole bump stock issue,” LaPierre said of the NRA’s statement on bump stocks.

Several bump stocks — devices that make semi-automatic guns behave more like automatic weapons — were found on the Las Vegas shooter’s guns, prompting lawmakers to review why the devices are legally available for sale. Several Republicans in Congress have called for the devices to be banned or for the government to at least hold hearings on the devices.

Despite the NRA’s call for a review of bump stocks, LaPierre still argued on Fox New Thursday nights that gun control laws don’t work.

“If legislation worked, Boston massacre wouldn’t have happened, San Bernardino where California has every gun law on the books, that wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

 

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The Treasury Department’s office of the inspector general found this week that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not violate any laws with his use of government planes, but it also criticized the agency for the skimpy justification offered for Mnuchin’s travel on government planes.

The inspector general’s office reviewed Mnuchin’s air travel following reports indicating that the treasury secretary may have planned a trip to Kentucky on a government plane around the opportunity to view the solar eclipse. The watchdog found that there was no evidence to suggest Mnuchin planned the trip around the solar eclipse.

Several other Cabinet leaders are also under review by inspectors general for their use of non-commercial planes, and Tom Price recently resigned as health and human services secretary over his extensive use of charter planes.

Mnuchin has used government planes seven times this year, with approved plans to use a government aircraft an eighth time, OIG Counsel Rich Delmar found. Mnuchin requested the use of a government plane a ninth time—for his honeymoon—but withdrew that request, Delmar said. The flights so far have cost taxpayers more than $800,000, the report found.

“I see no violation of law in these requests and uses,” Delmar wrote in a report obtained by several news outlets late Thursday.

However, Delmar warned the Treasury Department to offer a more thorough justification for future requests.

“What is of concern is a disconnect between the standard of proof called for in the Daley memo, and the actual amount of proof provided by Treasury and accepted by the White House in justifying these trip requests,” he wrote. “My summaries show that in almost all cases a single boilerplate statement constituted the whole analysis and justification for designation and use of military aircraft, despite the fact that the memo clearly calls for a more rigorous and complete provision of facts and arguments.”

Delmar was referring to a 2011 memo from William Daley, then the White House chief of staff, laying out the procedures for administration officials to request use of government planes for White House support missions. All of Mnuchin’s requests were classified as White House support missions, for which the President must have directed that the travel to occur. To be designated as a White House support mission, officials must also show that commercial options were not available, that a government plane would be more cost-effective, that a government plane is necessary for national security concerns, or that other “compelling operational considerations” make a government plane necessary.

Delmar added that the Office of Management and Budget last week issued a new memo calling for more rigorous justifications for non-commercial air travel and urged the Treasury Department to “be ready to justify government air in greater detail, especially regarding cost comparisons and needs for security and other special factors.”

Mnuchin used government planes for travel abroad and within the United States. One round-trip journey on a military plane to Miami cost $43,725.50, while commercial air would have cost $688, the inspector general’s report said. For that trip, the Treasury Department said that Mnuchin needed the plane to make a secure phone call, whereas for some of the other trips the department only said that the plane and secure communications were required “given the potential for developments during travel related to a number of issues.”

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While taking a photo with military leaders and their spouses during a dinner at the White House on Thursday, President Donald Trump made a bizarre, confusing comment to reporters.

He asked reporters if they knew “what this represents,” making a hand gesture that referred to those lined up for a photo.

“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” he then said, answering his own question.

Asked what “storm” he was talking about, Trump at first ignored the question and remarked that the “world’s great military leaders” were present in the room.

Asked again, he was equally unhelpful. “You’ll find out,” he replied.

It’s unclear what Trump was talking about. He may have been attempting to tease some administration news to come, or perhaps he was making a joke about his dinner with military leaders.

His cryptic comment came as reports dropped that he will announce next week his intent to decertify the Iran deal.

Watch a video of the moment via CNN:

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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has used government planes owned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seven times this year to attend official events both in the United States and abroad, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

The report comes after Tom Price stepped down from the Department of Health and Human Services over the revelation that he spent about $1 million in taxpayer dollars on private and government plane trips. Several other Cabinet heads are also under review for their travel on non-commercial planes.

Chao’s non-commercial air travel appears to be more typical than Price’s trips on private jets, however. The transportation secretary has used a government plane owned by the FAA seven times, and used them only when commercial flights could not accommodate her schedule or security needs, her office told the Washington Post.

Chao spokeswoman Marianne McInerney also told the Post that the previous transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, used FAA planes on 116 trips over four years.

By contrast, Price had flown on a private plane 24 times between May and September. One of his predecessors, Kathleen Sebelius, said that she only took a charter flight once during her time as health and human services secretary under former President Barack Obama in order to fly to a remote area that was otherwise inaccessible.

Chao used FAA planes mostly for domestic travel, according to the Post. In one instance, she had plans to fly on a commercial airline to Detroit but had to unexpectedly remain in Washington, D.C. for part of the time she was scheduled to be traveling. She used a government plane in order to make it to the events in both Detroit and Washington, D.C., per the Post.

The transportation secretary also used government planes to fly to France for the Paris Air Show, then on to Italy for a conference with the Group of Seven, and back to the U.S., per the Washington Post.

The department was unable to estimate the cost of Chao’s travel on FAA planes since the transportation department does not have to reimburse the FAA for use of the planes like other agencies.

Read the Post’s full report here.

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Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who oversees gun issues as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that Republicans will look into bump stocks, the mechanism found on some of the guns owned by the Las Vegas shooter that increases a weapon’s rate of fire.

“We’re going to look at the issue,” Goodlatte told the Washington Post.

“I have a personal concern about what happened,” he added when asked if he had concerns about the legality of bump stocks, according to the Washington Post.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and several other Republican members of the House and Senate also said this week that Congress should hold hearings on bump stocks in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The gunman killed 58 people and injured more than 515 others.

Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) became the first Republican lawmaker Wednesday to call for Congress to ban bump stocks, and others since have have said they would be willing to consider a ban or restrictions on the sale of those devices.

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As Republicans in Congress voice increasing openness to reviewing bump stocks in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, conservatives have sought to tie those gun add-ons back to the Obama administration.

Several conservatives have pointed out since Wednesday night that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) decided in 2010 that bump stocks would not be regulated under the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.

Bump stocks are a legally available mechanism that, when attached to a semi-automatic weapon, increase the speed at which the weapon can fire, allowing the gun to shoot between 400 and 800 rounds in a minute. They were initially created as a way to help disabled people shoot guns. Police found bump stocks on 12 guns in the Las Vegas shooter’s hotel room, prompting lawmakers to take a closer look at the devices.

When asked Thursday morning on CNN about the potential for gun control legislation to move forward, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway mentioned twice that bump stocks had been approved by the ATF under the Obama administration.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who said Wednesday he was open to reviewing bump stocks, also noted the ATF’s 2010 decision in a tweet Thursday morning.

Several conservative news outlets seized on that timeline, too. Breitbart News noted that the ATF approved bump stocks under Obama “because they do not convert a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic.”

The Resurgent went up with the headline, “Guess who approved the ‘bump stock’? That’s right, Obama’s ATF.” The article’s author, Steve Berman, wrote, “Liberals are all enraged that Stephen Paddock could transform two AR-15s into ‘machine guns’ using a simple ‘bump stock’ device. Now they know who to blame.”

National Rifle Association spokeswoman and conservative radio host Dana Loesch also noted the 2010 approval on Twitter:

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In a filing late Wednesday night, a Secret Service official said the agency does not have complete visitor logs for President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and that it is not aware of any system to keep track of visitors to the President there.

The declaration from Special Agent Kim Campbell filed by the Department of Justice came in response to an April Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University,and the National Security Archives. The groups sued for access to visitors records from the White House, Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.

In September, the Justice Department released the names of only 22 visitors to Mar-a-Lago, all from the weekend Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Trump there. At the time, CREW scoffed at the incomplete records release.

Now, the Secret Service has offered an explanation for its failure to release a full list of presidential visitors as Mar-a-Lago.

Campbell wrote in the declaration that “there is no system for keeping track of Presidential visitors at Mar-a-Lago, as there is at the White House Complex.”

“Specifically, it was determined that there is no grouping, listing or set of records that would reflect Presidential visitors to Mar-a-Lago,” Campbell added.

Campbell said that the Secret Service searched in several places, including emails from Secret Service employees, for records of visitors to Trump at Mar-a-Lago but came up empty handed. She added that the Secret Service did not include in its search records for Trump family members, White House staff, cabinet leaders or local law enforcement officials scheduled to meet the President.

In a filing accompanying Campbell’s declaration, the Justice Department argued that it had not failed to comply with a court order laying out a schedule for handing over documents, noting that the order was only about scheduling, and was not a “determination on the merits as to the legal status of the Mar-a-Lago records.”

H/t Politico

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As several Cabinet heads came under scrutiny for their use of non-commercial planes to attend official events in late September, Energy Secretary Rick Perry took a charter plane to Ohio to visit a decommissioned uranium enrichment facility, Reuters reported Wednesday evening, citing PMH Aviation, the company that runs the Portsmouth airport in Ohio.

Perry took the charter plane from the Hazleton Regional Airport in Pennsylvania to Ohio on Sept. 28. The next day, Tom Price resigned as health and human services secretary due to his extensive use of private planes to fly up and down the East Coast.

Reuters noted that while commercial flights do not fly to or from the Hazleton airport, commercial airlines serve airports in Pennsylvania about an hour away.

Several members of Trump’s Cabinet have come under scrutiny over the past month for their use of private or government planes, including Price, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Their travel has triggered inspector general probes and an investigation in the House Oversight Committee.

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Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) on Wednesday said Congress should ban the sale of bump stocks, add-ons that make semi-automatic guns behave like automatic weapons, 12 of which were found on rifles in the Las Vegas gunman’s hotel room.

“In my view of the world, anything that makes a semi-automatic weapon behave like an automatic weapon ought to also be illegal,” Flores said in a Wednesday interview with Texas radio station WTAW. “I do think we need to take a look at making those illegal or somehow become controlled—subject to tight controls. I don’t see a reason for the average gun owner to have a bump stock.”

“I think we can do that and still protect the Second Amendment,” he added.

The Texas congressman followed up in an interview with The Hill and said that bump stocks should be banned.

Flores, a former chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, is the first Republican in Congress to call outright for a ban on bump stocks.

Other Republicans on Capitol Hill have said they would be open to hearings on bump stocks and potentially to legislation addressing them, suggesting that Congress could move forward with some kind of gun control measure in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told reporters Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill that Congress should hold hearings on bump stocks once the investigation into the shooting has been completed.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dean Heller (R-NV) also believe Congress should look into bump stocks, according to NBC News.

“One of the concerns that I have is the ability to manipulate a semi-automatic rifle and turn it into a fully automatic rifle,” Heller said, as quoted by NBC. “There has to be a way to be able to stop this.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who would have jurisdiction over the issue as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has indicated he won’t move quickly for a hearing on bump stocks, if he pushes for a review of them at all.

He told reporters in Iowa that the Senate is unlikely to move forward with any gun control legislation, noting that a bill would need the support of 60 senators to go anywhere. He also argued that it’s premature to consider legislation before the investigation into the shooting is completed.

“We’re still learning what really happened there,” Grassley said, according to the Des Moines Register. “We need to wait and see what the police reports say. Were loopholes exploited? We need to study everything before we make some judgment.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee who’s long advocated for an assault weapons ban, on Wednesday introduced a bill to ban bump stocks.

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