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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

Administrators at a Hollywood, Florida nursing home — where 11 died allegedly due to heat when it lost power after Hurricane Irma — left four voicemails with the governor’s office asking for “immediate assistance” 36 hours before the first patient died, CBS Miami reported.

But those voicemails were deleted by the governor’s staff, Gov. Rick Scott’s office confirmed Sunday.

The information from the messages was collected and distributed to the proper agencies before the voicemails were deleted, a spokesperson for Scott’s office said in a statement, according to The Washington Post

The voicemails left on the governor’s cell phone came after the rehabilitation facility made repeated calls to Florida Power and Light when it lost power after Hurricane Irma’s landfall, an nursing home official told CBS Miami.

The nursing home was evacuated three days later after five people died due to heat-related health issues, CBS Miami reported. At least six more residents died after the evacuation.

The governor’s office claimed every call was returned and someone from the state Department of Health told the nursing home staff to call 911 if anyone was in distress.

“None of this changes the fact that this facility chose not to call 911 or evacuate their patients to the hospital across the street to save lives,” a spokesperson told CBS Miami.

After the deaths were reported, Scott stripped the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills of its Medicaid and Medicare funding and suspended its license while the center is under investigation.

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President Donald Trump said that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of private jets for official business travel is “different” than what’s been done by other members of his cabinet.

Speaking to reporters Sunday, Trump acknowledged the department’s inspector general’s probe into Price’s use of charter jets, which could have reportedly cost taxpayers at least $300,000 since May.

When asked about Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of a private jet to fly from New York to Washington, D.C. in August, Trump said he “didn’t think” Mnuchin did that, despite reports investigators are looking into the flight that cost taxpayers $25,000.

Why don’t you check your records before you make a statement. As I understood it – I don’t know much about it – I haven’t heard about it, but I understand he never took that flight,” he said, according to the White House pool report. “As far as Secretary Price is concerned, that’s different. We’re looking into it.”

On Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders firmed up Trump’s comments, saying Price’s use of private jets “wasn’t White House approved travel” and that all use of private charters has been suspended until the probe is complete.

The HHS inspector general announced Friday it was requesting documents related to Price’s travel and his staff’s justifications for picking private charter options over commercial flights.

Politico reported last week that Price had taken at least five private charter flights to conduct official business up and down the East Coast this month. These reports prompted five Democratic congressional leaders to write Levinson, requesting an investigation into the matter.

On Thursday, Politico said the agency secretary had used private planes for travel at least 24 times since May, at the cost of at least $300,000.

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Appearing to dial back on his criticism from Friday night, in which he called any National Football League player who knelt for the national anthem a “son of a bitch” who should lose his job, President Donald Trump told reporters Sunday that his critiques have “nothing to do with race.”

We have a great country. We have great people representing our country, especially our soldiers, our first responders, and they should be treated with respect,” he said. “And when you get on your knee and you don’t respect the American flag or the anthem, that’s not being treated with respect. … No, this has nothing to do with race. I’ve never said anything about race.”

Since Sunday morning, Trump has tweeted or retweeted thoughts on the topic 10 times, claiming the NFL should “change policy” and not condone players who “do not stand proud for their national anthem or their country.” He also retweeted an image that called for a boycott of the NFL.  

On Monday morning he applauded NASCAR and its supporters for saying “loud and clear” that they won’t disrespect the flag and claiming once again that the issue has nothing to do with race.

The morning after Trump insulted the players who knelt for the anthem and called on owners to fire the protesting players at a rally in Alabama Friday night, the head of the NFL released a statement criticizing the President’s “divisive comments.”

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Saturday.

Despite Friday’s comments calling for the firing of players who knelt, Trump back-tracked on Sunday, saying he thinks Goodell can do what he wants.

Look, he has to take his ideas and go with what he wants. I think it’s very disrespectful to our country. I think it’s very, very disrespectful to our flag,” he told reporters.

More than 100 players sat or knelt during the national anthem on Sunday, while other players, couches and owners locked arms during the song.

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After Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announced he would not support his GOP colleagues’ last-ditch Obamacare repeal bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) thanked McCain for his “courage” and said he promised to reach across the aisle to come up with a better plan “as soon as repeal is off the table.”

“John McCain shows the same courage in Congress that he showed when he was a naval aviator. I have assured Senator McCain that as soon as repeal is off the table, we Democrats are intent on resuming the bipartisan process,” Schumer said in a statement.

McCain’s Friday announcement was a major setback for Republicans who were hoping to push the bill through the Senate before the Sept. 30 deadline for passing it with a simple majority vote.

The Arizona senator said he could not “in good conscience” vote in favor of the measure and reiterated his push for a bipartisan solution, which he cited as his rationale for voting against the last Senate repeal bill in July.

“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” McCain said in a statement. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will effect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full CBO score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.”

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Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price is officially under investigation for his use of private jets for official business travel.

On Friday, HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson’s spokesperson told The Washington Post he is requesting documents related to Price’s travel and his staff’s justifications for picking private charter options over commercial flights.

The probe comes after Politico reported that Price’s taste for charter flights have cost taxpayers at least $300,000.

“OIG is conducting a review of Secretary Price’s Federal travel using chartered aircraft. The review focuses on whether the travel complied with Federal Travel Regulations, but may encompass other issues related to the travel,” Levinson’s spokesperson told The Washington Post. “We take this matter very seriously, and when questions arose about potentially inappropriate travel, we immediately began assessing the issue. I can confirm that work is underway and will be completed as soon as possible.”

Politico reported Tuesday that Price had taken at least five private charter flights to conduct official business up and down the East Coast last week. These reports prompted five Democratic congressional leaders to write Levinson, requesting an investigation into the matter.

The group, spearheaded by Rep. Frank Pauline (D-NJ), said they wanted to know who is paying for Price’s charter travel and how much it is costing tax payers. They said the flights appeared to violate policy that requires executive officials to use the most economical form of travel possible.

On Thursday, Politico said the agency secretary had used private planes for travel at least 24 times since May, at the cost of at least $300,000. On Friday, Levinson’s spokesperson confirmed the probe.

The inspector general isn’t the only group looking at the matter. The ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee sent a letter to Price Friday asking for documents related to all non-commercial flights he and any other agency officials have taken since assuming office in January.

Rep. Elijah Cummings’ (D-MD) letter cited Politico’s reports as well as former Congressional probes into use of private aircraft by senior officials as rationale for the investigation.

“If these recent reports are accurate, this would be a stunning and hypocritical breach of trust given the Trump administration at the same time is trying to take away health care from millions of Americans and is proposing to slash funding at HHS— negatively affecting critical programs to provide early-childhood education, fund Medicare for seniors and conduct medication research and development,” he wrote.

Cummings requested Price turn over the documents by Oct. 10.

Read the letter from Cummings below:

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A new $200,000 radio ad campaign launched Friday, pressuring five key Republican senators to vote against the last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The ads are funded by the Community Catalyst Action Fund and are running on radio stations in the home states of Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), John McCain (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as well as in Washington, D.C. for the next week.

The group sponsoring the advertisement calls the Graham-Cassidy legislation the “most destructive repeal plan” that’s been introduced in Congress to date. A Senate vote on the bill could come next week ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline for passing Obamacare repeal via simple majority vote. 

“There’s an old saying: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results,” the narrator says at the start of the radio ads, which are similar in each state and in D.C. “Well, that’s what congressional leaders are doing right now — pushing another bad health care bill.”

The ads then remind the five senators — who either opposed or were key swing votes on previous repeal bills this summer — that the new legislation includes the same provisions as past repeal efforts, including “massive” cuts to Medicaid.

Murkowski is considered one of the most crucial senators in Republicans’ effort to whip votes. She, Collins and McCain voted against the last repeal attempt in July.  She has said she wants to see more information about how the bill would impact her state before she makes any decisions.

Community Catalyst Action Fund previously spent $1.5 million on TV ads over the summer to oppose earlier repeal efforts, The Washington Post reported.

“This bill is a last-ditch effort to turn back the clock and go back to the same damaging, secretive and partisan approach to repeal the Affordable Care Act and to cut Medicaid,” the non-profit’s executive director Robert Restuccia said in a statement. “Senators should reject the Graham-Cassidy repeal plan. Americans want Congress to abandon efforts to repeal the ACA and work in a bipartisan fashion to make our health care better and more affordable, accessible and equitable.” 

Listen to the advertisement running on Alaska radio stations below:

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In a stunning admission, a White House official told Politico, “We really aren’t sure what the impact will be” of Senate Republicans’ latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The concession from an unnamed White House official comes as Senate Republicans are facing fierce criticism from industry and trade groups, governors and other state officials and health policy experts for the rushed process they are are using to get the new Graham-Cassidy repeal bill through the Senate before the Sept. 30 deadline for passing it with a simple majority vote.

Both Democrat and Republican House members have expressed concern over the process of crafting the legislation, especially efforts to push for a vote before the Congressional Budget Office has a chance to make full projections on the cost of the bill and the numbers of people who would lose insurance coverage.

In its letter to Senate leadership, the group of governors — whose opposition alarmed the White House, according to Politico — asked senators to abandon the Graham-Cassidy bill and work on crafting bipartisan legislation that would stabilize insurance markets. They urged senators to use the regular order method of writing a bill, rather than rushing the process.

The Graham-Cassidy bill would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act and would transform Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies into block grants controlled by individual states.

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National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Thursday he knows what the President’s decision will be on the Iran nuclear deal, but only revealed that the President plans to take a broader approach to Iran’s “destabilizing behavior.”

Appearing on CNN’s “New Day” Thursday, McMaster stopped short of saying whether Trump plans to pull out of the 2015 multi-nation deal that limits Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear arsenal in exchange for lifting sanctions against the country, but called the agreement “fundamentally flawed.” 

President Donald Trump said this week he has made a decision about the deal, but hasn’t said whether he will pull out.

The deal is fundamentally flawed. As the President said, he called it the ‘worst deal of all-time.’ It gave the Iranian regime all the benefits up front and then the incompleteness of the deal, the flaws of the deal, the sunset clause that could really give this regime who is not trustworthy, obviously, cover to advance a nuclear program and have a threshold capability,” he said.

He said Trump wants to do something to address “Iran’s destabilizing behavior broadly” and that the administration wants to “block all paths to nuclear weapons” for Iran.

“We have all been involved in lengthy discussions (about) … the potential of the nuclear program, the need to block all paths to nuclear weapons for Iran, but their ballistic missile program, things not covered under this incomplete deal and really what they’ve done to perpetuate violence across the Middle East. …. So we have taken a holistic look at this,” he said.

He said Iran has “crossed the line” with its missile development and that “much more rigorous enforcement is needed.”

“Iran is destabilizing, not just the Middle East, but poses a broader threat, and Iran is perpetuating this humanitarian and political crisis in the Middle East,” he said.

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The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services for contracting with agencies that discriminate against same-sex couples when placing children in homes.

The state department works with several different child placement agencies that often are affiliated with religious organizations and have rejected same-sex couples looking to adopt or become foster parents because of religious objections, according to an ACLU statement.

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of two same-sex couples — Kristy and Dana Dumont and Erin and Rebecca Busk-Sutton — who have attempted to adopt children in Michigan and were rejected because of their same-sex marriages.

The practice violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, as well as the Equal Protection Clause, the ACLU alleges.

Michigan can’t afford to have families like the Dumonts and the Busk-Suttons turned away based on criteria that have nothing to do with their ability to care for a child,” ACLU said in a statement. “Allowing state-contracted agencies to screen out prospective families based on religious criteria not only harms the children most in need, it is also unconstitutional.” 

Michigan is not the only state that pays private agencies that end up rejecting couples based on religious objections. ACLU said it’s not just same-sex couples who are at risk either.

“It’s not just same-sex couples that are at risk. Most of these laws also would allow an agency to reject families that don’t share its faith, single-parent families, or any other kind of family that doesn’t meet its religious criteria,” the statement said. “We are hopeful that we will get a ruling in this case that will send a message to state legislatures that the Constitution does not permit these kinds of laws.”

Read the lawsuit below:

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Following “troubling” reports from Politico about Health and Human Service (HHS) Secretary Tom Price’s use of private jets for official travel, five Democratic congressional leaders are requesting a thorough review of Price’s travel practices, citing concerns that the trips have cost tax payers tens of thousands of dollars.

In a letter to HHS’ inspector general Wednesday, the Democrats — spearheaded by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) — outlined the information Politico reported Tuesday, claiming Price’s use of private jets for five official business trips up and down the East Coast last week have cost an estimated $60,000.

The group is demanding to know who is paying for Price’s charter travel and how much it is costing tax payers.

They said federal regulations allow the use of government or charter aircraft when it is the “most cost-effective mode of travel,” but that separate HHS policy requires all travel be by the “most expeditious” means possible and should “commensurate with the nature and purpose of the duties involved.”

A spokesperson for the department released a statement Wednesday saying they try to find commercial travel options for Price as often as possible, but claimed his schedule is very hectic and it’s not always “feasible.”

They also said Price is “currently managing” recovery and preparation efforts for “three major hurricanes” to apparently illustrate his busy schedule or need for charter travel, but the trips Price made last week were meetings with health organizations in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

“Given these requirements, it is unclear why Secretary Price would require such costly travel in these instances when more economical options were reportedly available,” the letter said, referencing the portion of the Politico report that outline all the commercial options available during the days and times of Price’s travel last week.

Pallone and the other Democrats who signed the letter — Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) — said the reports are “particularly troubling” because of Price’s “repeated statements regarding his intentions to reduce the waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Read the full letter below:

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