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

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price spent tens of thousands of dollars to take a private jet to travel up and down the East Coast last week, Politico reported.

The move isn’t illegal, but breaks with the precedent of his predecessors who took commercial flights for official business travel.

A department spokesperson declined to share details of the flights with Politico or say who paid for the trips, but said Price occasionally uses a charter aircraft for official travel when commercial flights aren’t feasible.

None of the organizations that Price met with in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania paid for his travel, Politico confirmed.

Several current and former Health and Human Services staffers told Politico that Price has been using private jets for domestic travel for months.

While not illegal, the practice is considered suspicious and is characterized as an irresponsible use of taxpayer funds, Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics told Politico. 

In apparent reaction to Politico’s reports, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) announced Wednesday he’s planning to ask the department’s Inspector General to look into Price’s use of private planes for government business, according to a statement.

The ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce committee said he wants to see a “full accounting” of Price’s travel.

Read the full report — which outlines all the feasible methods of commercial travel at the dates and times of Price’s trips — here.

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In an interview earlier this week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she wouldn’t “rule out” challenging the legitimacy of the 2016 election, but clarified Tuesday she has no plans to “contest” the election, regardless of the outcome of the investigation into Russian meddling in the election.

“Nobody is talking about contesting the election, including me. No,” she said appearing on the “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert. “Because there is no mechanism. But I think legitimacy is rooted in what comes out of these investigations because if there is evidence of communication, coordination, whatever it might be, then I think millions of Americans would say, ‘Well, those raise questions about legitimacy.”

She said besides voting in the next election, there’s not much else she or anyone else could do besides ask questions about President Donald Trump’s legitimacy as an elected leader.

“What you do is mobilize politically to express your will and a rejection of that kind of Russian involvement in and coordination, at the ballot box,” she said. “That is where we settle our political difference and that’s where it should be.”

She said the latest revelations about Facebook’s targeted advertisement sales and potential Russian involvement in that process has been enough to push her to “sound the alarm.”

“We’re going to find out a lot more, Stephen, and I am saying as clearly as I can, I feel I’m a bit of a Paul Revere, I’m trying to sound the alarm,” she said. “You have to understand what Putin’s strategy is. He really doesn’t like democracy, he thinks it’s an inconvenient messy process and he doesn’t like us and he wants destabilize our country.”

She also touched on Trump’s first speech at the United Nations General Assembly Monday, calling his words “dark” and “dangerous.”

That’s “not the kind of message that the leader of the greatest nation in the world should be delivering,” she said.

Watch the full interview below:

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A Republican state legislator in South Dakota apologized Tuesday after sharing a meme on Facebook that appeared to encourage people to hit protestors with vehicles.

Under the headline “All Lives Splatter,” the cartoon showed a car apparently hitting people in the street and said “nobody cares about your protest” and “keep your ass out of the road.”

Her caption above the image said “I think this is a movement we can all support,” according to local newspaper, the Argus Leader.

After local progressive groups shared the image and asked for an apology from the lawmaker, Rep. Lynne DiSanto deleted the post and said she “perceived it as encouraging people to stay out of the street.”

“I am sorry if people took offense to it and perceived my message in any way insinuating support or condoning people being hit by cars,” DiSanto said, according to the Rapid City Journal. “I perceived it differently.”

Not long after the post was deleted, the real estate firm where she works posted on Facebook that DiSanto was no longer associated with the company, “due to recent events,” Rapid City Journal reported.

The post comes at a time of heightened concern about violence at protests. 

About a month ago a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia ended in the death of a woman named Heather Heyer, who was killed when a man affiliated with the white supremacists allegedly drove his car through a crowd of counter protesters.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had plenty of words of encouragement Tuesday for his Republican colleagues’ recent efforts to rally the votes for an Obamacare repeal and replace bill, but stopped short of full-on endorsing the legislation.

Speaking from the Senate floor, McConnell criticized Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-VT) recent roll-out of a single-payer health care bill, calling it a “massive expansion of a failed idea” and saying the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson legislation will provide a better alternative.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) “rolled out a health-care proposal of their own last week,” he said. “It would repeal the pillars of Obamacare and replace that failed law’s failed approach with a new one: allowing states and governors to actually implement better health-care ideas by taking more decision-making power out of Washington.”

He said the notion that governors and state legislators would have the chance to make health care decisions for their own constituents is “an intriguing idea” that has a “great deal of support.”

But after the late-night surprise defeat of Senate Republicans’ last “skinny repeal” plan in July, McConnell appears to be unwilling to throw his full weight behind the new bill until he knows he has the votes. So instead he offered warm words of encouragement as the whipping for votes continues. 

“As we continue to discuss that legislation, I’d like to thank Senator Graham and Senator Cassidy for all of their hard work. They know how important it is to move beyond the failures of Obamacare. They know that our opportunity to do so may well pass us by if we don’t act soon.”

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Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasted his Republican colleagues’ latest effort to rush an Obamacare repeal and replace bill through the Senate, especially before the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has a chance to make projections on the cost of the bill and the numbers of people who would lose insurance coverage.

To consider a bill like this without a full CBO score is worse than negligent, it’s grossly irresponsible,” he said. “We were told yesterday that the CBO may be able to provide a baseline estimate of the cost of the bill, but not the coverage numbers or a detailed analysis of how the bill would affect Americans’ health care choices.”

Schumer outlined his party’s concerns with the new Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson legislation, which would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act and convert Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies to block grants controlled by individual states.

He said the plan will cost “millions” their coverage and will “radically restructure” Medicaid, the program that aids the poor, elderly and disabled.

He’s concerned it will allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing medical conditions, throw the individual market into “chaos” and would eliminate consumer protections that give Americans access to things like affordable maternity care, he said.

By Senate rule, Republicans have until the end of September to pass Obamacare repeal with only 50 votes.

Read his full speech from the Senate floor below:

There is a possibility that by the end of next week, the Senate will have a vote, again, on a Republican healthcare bill that was assembled in the dark of night, by one party, without a full account of what that bill would do. It would be shameful, shameful return to the same process that the Majority used to try to ram a bill through in July, unsuccessfully.

To consider a bill like this without a full CBO score is worse than negligent, it’s grossly irresponsible. We were told yesterday that the CBO may be able to provide a baseline estimate of the cost of the bill, but not the coverage numbers or a detailed analysis of how the bill would affect Americans’ health care choices.

Now Mr. President, we are talking about 1/6 of the economy; we are talking about the health care of the nation, we’re talking about the lives, day in and day out, of millions of Americans who need health care, and we’re not going to know what the legislation really does? Senators will be voting blind? You know they say justice is blind, but the Senators on the other side of the aisle should be walking around here with a blindfold over their eyes, because they don’t know what they’re voting on.  Maybe they don’t care. I don’t know how any Senator could go home to their constituents and explain why they voted for a major bill with major consequences to so many of their people without having specific answers about how it would impact their state.

What we do know is that this new Trumpcare bill, the Graham-Cassidy legislation, is worse in many ways than the previous versions of Trumpcare.

The new Trumpcare would devastate our healthcare system in five specific ways:

First, it would cause millions to lose coverage. Second, it would radically restructure and deeply cut Medicaid, ending the program as we know it. The dream of the hard right—get rid of Medicaid—could happen, even though that’s a program that affects the poor and so many in the middle class.  Nursing homes, opioid treatment, people who have kids who have serious illnesses.

Third, it brings us back to the days when insurance companies could discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.  The ban on discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions would be gone. We had a lot of promises from the other side.  ‘They’d never vote for a bill that didn’t protect people with pre-existing conditions.’  That seems to be going by the wayside, in a headlong rush to pass a bill so you could claim a political victory.  And what about that mom, or dad, who finds out his son, or her son/daughter, has cancer? The insurance company says ‘Yeah, we’ll cover you. It’ll cost you $50,000.’ They don’t have it, and they have to watch their child suffer.  This was an advance that almost all Americans supported. It’s an advance that most people on the other side of the aisle claimed to believe in. Gone.

Fourth, the bill gets rid of the consumer protections that guarantee Americans access to affordable maternity care, substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs.  All of those could be out of any plan. Pay a lot for a plan and not get much for it under this bill.

And fifth, it would throw the individual market into chaos immediately, increasing out-of-pocket costs for individual market consumers and resulting in 15 million people losing coverage next year.

On the first point –Trumpcare would cause millions to lose health insurance in two ways: first by undoing the Affordable Care Act’s major coverage expansion under Medicaid and premium and cost-sharing assistance, instead putting that into an inadequate and temporary block grant, and second, by radically restructuring and cutting the traditional Medicaid program through a per-capita cap.

We don’t have a CBO score yet, and may not get one in time, but previous CBO scores of similar schemes have shown that more that 30 million Americans could lose coverage under this bill. 30 million Americans, 10 percent, approximately, of our population.

On the second point – the new Trumpcare would end Medicaid as we know it by converting Medicaid’s current federal-state financial partnership to a per-capita cap, which cuts current Medicaid funding on an annual basis.

This is a direct blow to nursing home patients, folks in opioid treatments. And CBO has said that 15 million fewer people would receive Medicaid in similar proposals.

On the third point – the new Trumpcare actually brings back the ability for insurers to discriminate against folks with pre-existing conditions, as I mentioned.

Fourth – the new Trumpcare would no longer guarantee consumers affordable access to maternity care, substance abuse, and prescription.

And fifth – like the previous repeal and replace bills, it would immediately eliminate the individual mandate, which would raise the number of uninsured by 15 million relative to current law in 2018 and increase individual market premiums by 20 percent.

So, if you vote for this bill, right away, 15 million lose coverage, premiums go up by 20 percent.  People who vote for this bill are not going to be happy with its results.

Mr. President, each one of these five things represents a major step backwards for our healthcare system. Bringing back discrimination against folks with pre-existing conditions? Ending Medicaid as we know it? These are overwhelmingly popular with Democrats, Independents, Republicans. The hard right doesn’t like it. The big financiers of the other party.

We’re going to go backward, backward.  We’re going to go backward and not even know exactly the effects.  I think the other side, why are they rushing this through? They’re ashamed of it.  They need to have that political scalp, ‘See? We abolished Obamacare!’ But what they’re putting in its place, even for those who don’t like Obamacare, is worse. They don’t want to know that. And the joy that they will have, misplaced joy in my opinion, of abolishing Obamacare will evaporate quite soon when their constituents feel the effects of this bill, and they hear about it from people, average folks, who are so hurt.

The Washington Post summed up Graham-Cassidy yesterday. They said the bill “[Graham-Cassidy] would slash health-care spending more deeply and would probably cover fewer people than the July bill — which failed because of concerns over those details.”

Republicans could not garner 50 votes for their various healthcare plans earlier this year because of how much damage those plans did to Medicaid; how they rolled back protections for pre-existing conditions. And some opposed because the process was such a sham. Well Mr. President, all three of those conditions are here again with this bill. Cuts to Medicaid. No guarantee of protections for pre-existing conditions. Sham of a process.

Now there is a better approach. Right now, Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray are working in a bipartisan way – holding hearings, working through the committee, coming back and forth between the parties with discussions—each side’s going to have to give, that’s how it works around here, or should work—and trying to get a proposal that will improve things. That’s the kind of legislating many members of the Senate have said they want to get back to. That’s the kind of process worthy of the world’s greatest deliberative body.

But after a rancorous, divisive health care debate that took up the better part of this year, Democrats and Republicans were working, have been working, in good faith to come to a bipartisan agreement on healthcare in the HELP Committee. The Republican Majority will toss all of that progress away if they pursue Graham-Cassidy next week the way they’re pursuing it: returning to reconciliation, not working through the committees, no full CBO report, making a mockery of regular order.

Mr. President, I hope — for their sake and for the country’s — that my Republican friends turn back from this new Trumpcare, and join us again on the road of bipartisanship. We’ve seen bipartisan sprouts bloom in the last month.  Graham-Cassidy would snuff them out.  Nobody wants that, nobody.

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In his prepared opening statement Tuesday to the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen denied “all the allegations” raised against him publicly, which he claims have all been based on “misinformation and unnamed or unverifiable sources.”

He specially touched on the accusations presented in an “intentionally salacious” dossier published by Buzzfeed in December and condemned those in the U.S. who “want to politicize” Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, according to a copy of the statement obtained by CNN.

Read the full statement below:

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.

As part of this statement, I would like to accomplish two things.

First, I want to comment briefly but clearly on the presumed subject of this morning’s interview. Second, I want to address what I believe are the implications of it.

Let me be totally clear that I am innocent of the allegations raised against me in the public square, which are based upon misinformation and unnamed or unverifiable sources.

I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to hack anyone or any organization.

I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to hack or interfere with the election.

I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to hack Democratic Party computers; and I have never engaged with, been paid by, paid for, or conversed with any member of the Russian Federation or anyone else to create fake news stories to assist the Trump campaign or to damage the Clinton campaign.

Given my own proximity to the President of the United States as a candidate, let me also say that I never saw anything – not a hint of anything – that demonstrated his involvement in Russian interference in our election or any form of Russian collusion.

I emphatically state that I had nothing to do with any Russian involvement in our electoral process.

In fact, I find the activities attributed to the Russian Federation, if found to be true, to be an offense to our democracy.

As an attorney, I believe justice ought not to be politicized in the United States of America – neither in this Senate office nor in the courts. I’m certain that the evidence at the conclusion of this investigation will reinforce the fact that there was no collusion between Russia, President Trump or me.

I’m also certain that there are some in this country who do not care about the facts, but simply want to politicize this issue, choosing to presume guilt – rather than presuming innocence – so as to discredit our lawfully elected President in the public eye and shame his supporters in the public square … this is un-American.

I am here today to reiterate my own innocence regarding the false allegations raised against me. What I seek is the Committee making a public conclusion about the truth or falsity of the allegations that follow.

My reputation was damaged in December 2016 when BuzzFeed published an unverified dossier prepared by a retired British spy – Christopher Steele – that was riddled with total falsehoods and intentionally salacious accusations.

In my opinion, the hired spy didn’t find anything factual, so he threw together a shoddily written and totally fabricated report filled with lies and rumors. The New York Post recently noted that much of the information in the dossier appeared at points to be copied from the internet; with typographical errors included.

My name is mentioned more than a dozen times in the lie-filled-dossier and so within moments of BuzzFeed’s publication, false allegations about me were plastered all over the national and international press. The accusations are entirely and totally false.

A core accusation was that I had traveled to Prague to meet with Russians regarding interfering with the election.

I have never in my life been to Prague or to anywhere in the Czech Republic. I might also add that I only have one passport (a United States Passport). I have to say that to you today – that I only have one passport – because another media outlet suggested that – as a Jew – I must also have an Israeli passport!

Aside from such an allegation being incredibly offensive, it is also totally wrong.

Let me tell you where I was on the day the dossier said I was in Prague.

I was in Los Angeles with my son who dreams of playing division 1 baseball next year at a prestigious university like USC. We were visiting the campus, meeting with various coaches, and discussing his future. Media sources have been able to confirm these facts and I can provide you with proof.

My wife and I have been married for 23 years, and are now entering into the season of our lives when we get to watch our children become adults themselves. My daughter, who is at an Ivy League school, and my wife, who is of Ukrainian descent, have especially been subjected to harassment, insults and threats … some so severe I cannot share them in mixed company.

You might say that the experiences I am living through are the cost of being in the public eye, but they shouldn’t be as I am not a government official. Many Trump supporting Americans are also paying this cost, like the twelve year old child in Missouri who was beaten up for wearing a Make America Great Again hat.

You can oppose the President’s points of view and his policies, but not raise false issues about the validity of his victory.

I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary. This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job. I would ask that the two-page statement about the Moscow proposal that I sent to the Committee in August be incorporated into and attached to this transcript.

I’m very proud to have served Donald J. Trump for all these years, and I’ll continue to support him.

If we really are concerned about a Russian attempt to divide our country and discredit our political system then the best thing we can do is put aside our infighting, stop presuming guilt rather than innocence of American citizens, and address this national security threat as a united people at its source.

Otherwise, the priorities of the American people will continue to be neglected, and the Russians will use our distraction to continue to harm us from the shadows while we harm each other in front of the camera lights.

I look forward to answering all of your questions today.

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The latest Senate Obamacare repeal bill would “uniquely” and “disproportionately” hurt a key sponsor’s home state, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee wrote a letter Monday to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to share her “deep concerns” with the repeal and replace bill that he’s helped  to craft.

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

As Senate Republicans jockey to get 50 votes to support the bill, Gee warned Cassidy that his plan to cut Medicaid expansion would jeopardize coverage for 433,000 Louisiana residents, a move that would be a “detrimental step backwards for Louisiana.”

“As you know, in only one year, we’ve been able to provide more than 433,000 Louisianians with coverage, resulting in more than 100,000 primary care visits, tens of thousands of screenings for cancer and thousands of new mental health services. These treatments have saved lives,” she said, adding that if the bill became law the state would have to end all its efforts and “thousands of Louisiana citizens would lose coverage and access to critical health care services.”

She said she is concerned with the funding formula for per capita caps contained in the new legislation, which are no different than what was included in this summer’s Better Care Reconciliation Act, she said. She claims these caps will result in “profound cuts” to their state’s most “vulnerable” and would create budget instability for the state.

Gee also took issue with the bill’s plan to weaken consumer protections that would hurt those with pre-existing conditions, which she said will inevitably drive up the cost of care, pushing more people out of the workforce and into public assistance programs.

An analysis by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates Louisiana will lose $3.2 billion through 2026, making it the 8th “biggest loser” of the states that would be impacted by the bill, Gee said.

“The legislation you’ve introduced this past week gravely threatens health care access and coverage for our state and its people. It also relies on the closed-door and hurried process of budget reconciliation,” she wrote. “A generational bill as transformative as this one, that would overhaul aspects of nearly one-fifth of this country’s economy, should be done through regular order with public hearings.”

She ended the letter urging Cassidy to tackle “underlying issues” of sky-high pharmaceutical costs and “broken care-delivery models.”

Read the full letter below:

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Democrat Dan Helmer is vying to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th Congressional district.

And the widely unknown Democratic hopeful made some waves this week, but not for the right reason.

In a recently released campaign ad, Helmer, a U.S. Army veteran, performed a parody of the the bar scene in “Top Gun” where Maverick sings “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” to Charlie.

In Helmer’s incredibly awkward rendition, he sings “You’ve Lost That Centrist Feelin’” to a woman who is suppose to be Comstock.

The Washington Post has already dubbed it “cringe-worthy” and Slate has decided it’s the worst ad of 2018.

But Twitter can’t agree on whether it’s horrible or genius.

See for yourself below:

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The President’s oldest son and one of his top advisers are no longer being protected by Secret Service agents, The New York Times and Fox News reported Tuesday.

Donald Trump Jr. requested the removal of the agents so he could have more privacy, according to the Times, which reported it wasn’t clear whether that meant his entire family would no longer be protected by the agency.

Fox News reported his wife Vanessa Trump would no longer have protection either.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s protection has ended as well, both outlets reported. A White House official told the Times that Conway is not required by statute to be protected by the agency, but President Donald Trump requested her coverage in the early days of his presidency after Conway received several threats against her safety.

The news follows USA Today reports that the agency has become overburdened by the size and lifestyle of the Trump family, which frequently travels around the globe for business and leisure.

In August, the Secret Service director said the agency couldn’t pay more than 1,000 of its agents because they had already met their salary and overtime caps for the year. The director has been in talks with lawmakers about raising the compensation cap from $160,000 a year to $187,000, but no legislation has passed yet, according to USA Today.

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A longtime, vocal critic of an Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, President Donald Trump on Monday was noncommittal about honoring the pact.

Trump was asked about the historic pact during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of Trump’s first address before the United Nations General Assembly this week. “You’ll see very soon. You’ll be seeing very soon,” Trump told reporters.

“We are talking about it constantly. Constantly. We are talking about plans constantly, we’ll see,” Trump added.

Trump has called the 2015 deal — which limits Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear arsenal in exchange for lifting sanctions against the country — the “worst deal ever negotiated.”

Trump and Netanyahu share a mutual disdain for the deal, and Trump has already signaled he’d like to withdraw certification of the agreement in October and push for new U.S. sanctions against Iran, The Guardian reported.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there would be consequences if the U.S. withdrew.

“Exiting such an agreement would carry a high cost for the United States of America and I do not believe that Americans would be willing to pay such a high cost for something that will be useless for them,” Rouhani told CNN. “It will yield no results for the United States, but at the same time it will generally decrease and cut away and chip away at international trust placed in the United States of America.”

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