Health Bill Appears Dead as Pivotal GOP Senator Declares Opposition – New York Times

WASHINGTON — A last-ditch attempt by President Trump and Senate Republicans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act appeared to collapse on Monday as a pivotal senator announced her firm opposition to the latest repeal plan, virtually ensuring that Republicans would not have the votes they need for passage.

The announcement by the senator, Susan Collins of Maine, effectively dooms what had been a long-shot effort by Republicans in the Senate to make one more attempt at repealing the health law after failing in dramatic fashion in July.

The demise of the latest repeal push means that Republicans are now all but certain to conclude Mr. Trump’s first year in office without fulfilling one of their central promises, which the president and lawmakers had hoped to deliver on quickly after Mr. Trump took office.

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For seven years, Republicans have said they would repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement and replace it with a new health care system more palatable to conservatives. But they were never able to formulate a replacement that was both politically and substantively viable.

Ms. Collins, one of three Republican senators who opposed the last repeal attempt in July, described the latest plan as “deeply flawed.” She expressed concerns about cuts to Medicaid as well as the rolling back of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“Health care is a deeply personal, complex issue that affects every single one of us and one-sixth of the American economy,” Ms. Collins said in a statement, lamenting the rushed process and the content of legislation that has shifted as Republican leaders scrambled for votes. “Sweeping reforms to our health care system and to Medicaid can’t be done well in a compressed time frame, especially when the actual bill is a moving target.”

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now faces the unpalatable choice of admitting defeat or moving ahead with a vote that appears certain to fail.

Republican leaders in the Senate can afford to lose only two of their members, and they now have three firm opponents within their ranks: Rand Paul of Kentucky, John McCain of Arizona and Ms. Collins. Additionally, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, has withheld his support and requested changes to the bill.

Time is not on their side: Republicans have only until the end of the month to pass the bill through the Senate while being protected from a Democratic filibuster.

Beginning in October, Republicans would need Democratic votes in order to pass a repeal bill, a seeming impossibility given that Democratic senators have been unified in opposition to the repeal push.

Some Republican senators have suggested starting over, with parliamentary language in a new budget blueprint that once again would shield a repeal bill from a filibuster. But that could terribly complicate Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code, a risk the leadership may not want to take.

Ms. Collins’s announcement came three days after Mr. McCain said that he could not “in good conscience” support the latest repeal proposal, written by Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

The senators released a revised version of their bill on Monday morning, hoping to win over holdout Republicans in part by shifting more funds to states like Alaska and Maine. The bill would take money provided under the Affordable Care Act for insurance subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid and send it to states, with vast new discretion over how to use it for health care or coverage.

But writing a repeal bill that could win over at least 50 of the 52 Republican senators has proved extraordinarily difficult, and putting together a complicated bill against the backdrop of a ticking clock only added to the challenge. Insurers, hospitals, doctors and patient advocacy groups assailed the proposal, as did the late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

The Capitol complex looked at times like a hospital ward on Monday as patients swarmed through the corridors, pleading with senators not to take away their health insurance. Some wore T-shirts that said, “I Am a Pre-Existing Condition.”

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the repeal bill on Monday, and it was immediately disrupted by people in the audience shouting opposition to the proposal. “No cuts to Medicaid,” they chanted. “Save our liberty!” Capitol police officers removed the protesters, some of whom were in wheelchairs.

As Mr. Cassidy and Mr. Graham revised their bill to try to build support, critics asserted that their last-minute changes further weakened protections for patients, including those with cancer and other pre-existing conditions.

Dick Woodruff, senior vice president at the lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society, said that under the bill, patient protections provided by the Affordable Care Act would be up to each state to decide.

“Some states could decide not to cover even preventive services, like cancer screenings, routine mammography or colonoscopy,” Mr. Woodruff said.

Republican senators had to make up their minds with little information about the measure’s implications.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday that “millions of additional people would be uninsured” under the Graham-Cassidy bill, compared with the number of people expected to lack coverage under current law.

“Enrollment in Medicaid would be substantially lower because of large reductions in federal funding for that program,” the budget office said.

But the budget office said it did not have time to produce a more complete assessment, leaving senators without specifics on how the bill would affect coverage and health insurance premiums.

The rushed process contributed to the bill’s demise.

Mr. McCain, who killed the last repeal effort in July with a dramatic middle-of-the-night vote, faulted Republicans for trying to pass sweeping health care legislation without the participation of Democrats or extensive public deliberations.

Mr. Paul had previously said he would oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill because it did not go far enough in repealing the health law. On Monday, he continued to denounce it as a “fake repeal.”

Mr. Paul presented himself as open to compromise, voicing support for a narrower measure. But he rejected the Graham-Cassidy bill’s core concept of providing block grants to the states to use for health care — leaving little room for Republican leaders to win his vote unless they radically altered the legislation.

“I think if you vote for this bill, you put your stamp of approval on a trillion dollars’ worth of Obamacare spending,” he said.

Mr. Paul was not the only conservative with reservations. Mr. Cruz said on Sunday that he had not yet been won over and was seeking changes to the repeal plan, though he said he wanted to ultimately wind up in favor of the bill. An aide to Mr. Cruz said on Monday that he still wanted to see changes.

Before Ms. Collins’s announcement on Monday, Mr. Trump expressed frustration that Republicans had talked for years about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act but failed to deliver now that a Republican was in the White House.

On the “Rick & Bubba Show,” a radio program, Mr. Trump singled out Mr. McCain, calling his vote in July “a tremendous slap in the face of the Republican Party.” And the president seemed resigned to defeat in the latest attempt at repeal.

“We’re going to lose two or three votes,” he said, “and that’s the end of that.”

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Hurricane Maria: Puerto Ricans Plead for More Federal Aid to Devastated Island – NBCNews.com

Puerto Ricans described desperate conditions on the hurricane-ravaged island and pleaded for more help from federal agencies on Monday, with some saying they felt the U.S. territory was being forgotten.

“It looks like a bomb went off,” said Monique Casablanca, 37, by phone from Ocean Park in the capital of San Juan.

“I’ve seen very little to no police presence, I’ve seen zero military presence. Nights are excruciating, there’s screaming, there’s gunshots. It’s hot, so it’s hard to sleep right now I haven’t slept in 48 hours,” said Casablanca, a rental property manager.

Casablanca said that while she had seen Federal Emergency Management Agency workers visit the area a few days ago, she had not seen them since.

“You feel like you’re forgotten. I’m in an area that’s flooded and there’s basically dead animals — cats, dogs, rats just floating around — the smell is crazy and I don’t see anyone here anywhere as of today or yesterday,” she said.

“We need more of everything, we need help,” she said.

Federal agencies rescuing people and delivering humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria faced an island that remains largely without power, running water, fuel and access to cell service on Monday, five days after the storm first made landfall.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert arrived on the island on Monday and met Gov. Ricardo Rossello in San Juan as relief crews continued to work to provide much needed supplies to the island.

More than 10,000 federal staff were on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, assisting with rescue efforts, restoring power and getting badly needed supplies to parts of the islands, FEMA said on Twitter Monday.

Related: Here’s How to Help Victims of Hurricane Maria

Nine search and rescue were working “around the clock” in the region, FEMA said in another tweet.

The agency said Sunday that it had provided more than 1.5 million meals, 1.1 million liters of water and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits.

FEMA representatives didn’t immediately return requests Monday for comment on islanders’ complaints.

But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Long and Bossert were sent to assess the damage from the ground.

“We’ve done unprecedented movement in terms of federal funding to provide for the people of PR and others that have been impacted by these storms,” she said during the White House press briefing. “We’ll continue to do so and continue to do everything that we can possibly under the federal government to provide assistance.”

Maria was the third major storm to hit U.S. shores in just a month, after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and southeastern U.S.

Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, has been blamed for 16 deaths on Puerto Rico, officials said Monday.

William Booher, director of public affairs for FEMA, told the Associated Press on Saturday there was no difference in the agency’s response in Puerto Rico, compared with Texas, Louisiana or Florida after recent hurricanes. FEMA has had sufficient resources to deal with back-to-back-to-back hurricanes, he said, adding that “we’ve been able to address each one of them.”

Rossello also praised federal relief efforts on Monday and said FEMA was doing a “phenomenal job,” according to the Associated Press.

But earlier Monday, he also said the island was facing an “unprecedented disaster” and called for swift action from President Donald Trump’s administration.

“Given Puerto Rico’s fragile economic recovery prior to the storms, we ask the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress to take swift action to help Puerto Rico rebuild,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, advocates, residents and officials implored the federal government to send more help and take seriously the long-term impact Maria would have for Puerto Rico.

Image: A man stands on a car on a  flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San JuanImage: A man stands on a car on a  flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan

A man stands on a car on a flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico on on Sept. 25.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Frances Colón, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Cenadores, said the “scale of the federal response right now is not on scale with the level of devastation.” Colón formed Cenadores to organize Puerto Ricans on the mainland to volunteer to help the island.

“We still have townships not reached. The government had a diesel ship parked in the bay and the government and National Guard is so maxed out they couldn’t ensure security so the fuel could reach its destination,” said Colón, who lives in Miami and worked 12 years for the State Department as a science and technology adviser. “We need boots on the ground from the federal government. We need FEMA, National Guard, a federal response at [Hurricane] Katrina scale.”

“Everyone is overwhelmed because the disaster is bigger than everyone,” she said.

Image: People sit in their apartment with the window blown out in San JuanImage: People sit in their apartment with the window blown out in San Juan

People sit in their apartment with the window blown out by the winds of Hurricane Maria as it passed through the area last week in San Juan, Puerto Rico on on Sept. 25.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

“The response can’t be tepid. It’s been a week and still communication is down and there are towns that haven’t been reached.”

PHOTOS: Hurricane Maria Lashes Puerto Rico, Storm-Battered Caribbean

Armando Valdés Prieto, a lawyer who has been helping with volunteer operations in San Juan said he felt the sheer magnitude of the devastation on the island made distributing federal aid difficult.

“The scope and magnitude of what’s going on is so large that I’m not entirely sure that they really know where to start,” he said by phone Monday afternoon.

He said that while he felt a lot was being done, being unable to communicate with parts of the island compounded problems.

“We’re still kind of in an assessment phase where I guess it’s a little hard to gauge whether or not things are being done right,” he added.

Related: Puerto Rico Holds Its Breath Over Hurricane-Battered Dam

Image: Downed trees surround damaged homes in the aftermath of Hurricane MariaImage: Downed trees surround damaged homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Downed trees surround damaged homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 25 in Naranjito, Puerto Rico.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Adding to the island’s woes is stifling heat. San Juan tied for its maximum temperature at 94 degrees on Sunday, according to the NWS.

“It’s really, really hot and there’s not a lot of respite from the heat,” said Valdés Prieto, adding that many people did not have electrical power and could not use their air conditioners.

And the island’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority said Monday that only about 40 percent of their customers, or 500,000 people, had water service.

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Senate Republicans admit defeat on health bill as Collins declares her opposition – Washington Post

Senate Republicans admitted defeat Monday in their latest attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act, as a third GOP senator announced her opposition to the measure.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced she could not back the measure authored by Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), moments after a much-anticipated partial analysis of the measure by the Congressional Budget Office forecast that “millions” of Americans would lose coverage by 2026 if it was enacted.

Two GOP senators — and Rand Paul (Ky.) and John McCain (Ariz.) — had already come out against the bill, even after a new round of drafting, and Collins’ announcement means it lacks the votes to pass. Republicans hold a 52-to-48 advantage in the Senate and can lose only two votes from their party and still pass legislation with the help of a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Pence.

A fourth Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), indicated through his aides Monday that he could not back the bill because it does not go far enough in repealing the 2010 law.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who had been overseeing a raucous hearing on the proposal, said Monday evening that he would only allow one more round of questions given the bill’s predicament.

“Let’s face it, we’re not getting anywhere,” he remarked.

Collins delivered a scathing assessement of the bill in a statement, saying the fourth version that the senators had produced in an effort to win over her vote and others’ “is as deeply flawed as the previous iterations.”

“Health care is a deeply personal, complex issue that affects every single one of us and one-sixth of the American economy,” she said. “Sweeping reforms to our health care system and to Medicaid can’t be done well in a compressed time frame, especially when the actual bill is a moving target.”

The CBO also projected that a reduction in government spending on health care would lessen the federal deficit by at least as much as a $133 billion drop under an ACA-repeal bill that the House passed earlier this year.

In his opening remarks on the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) thanked Cassidy and Graham for their work, but suggested their work had stalled out. He thanked other lawmakers and committees of jurisdiction, as one might do at the official conclusion of a legislative push.

“I’d like to thank each of these committees, their chairs, their members and their staffs for their hard work to provide the American people with a better way than Obamacare and its years of failures,” McConnell said.

The legislation’s sponsors have rewritten the bill to deliver more money to Alaska and Maine than the original version. Two GOP senators in those states — Collins and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — had expressed concerns, but had not yet declared how they would vote on the measure by the start of the week.

[Latest GOP effort to dismantle Obamacare on the brink of failure after defections]

The contentious debate erupted into public view Monday afternoon as protesters chanted so loudly at the hearing’s outset that the panel’s chairman, Hatch, was forced to temporarily adjourn as police officers arrested and removed several of them.

“No cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!” screamed one woman in a wheelchair as she was wheeled out.

After a brief recess, Hatch resumed the session, but warned the audience that if their behavior got out of hand, “I won’t hesitate to adjourn.” He added that the situation had not yet reached that point, “but it’s close.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the panel, questioned why Republicans were rushing to pass a measure this week that was just having its first hearing, and one which he considered “a lemon.”

“Nobody has to buy a lemon, just because it’s the last car on the lot,” Wyden said.

Cassidy acted as a witness during the hearing after sitting on the panel as a member — a unique role that drew an objection from Wyden but a defense from Hatch. After listening to Graham’s opening remarks from his seat on a far end of the horseshoe-shaped dais, Cassidy took his seat at the witness table at the center of the room and told his colleagues that he pushed ahead with a GOP-only bill after years of trying to work with Democrats.

“So when I ask people, ‘Will you help me?’ — three years I’ve been doing this, and for three years I’ve was basically told, ‘Nice try,’ ” he said.

[Cassidy on new health-care plan: ‘It’s not for Susan, it’s for the Mainers’]

In an interview earlier in the day, Cassidy said he hoped that the new language — coupled with the fact that failing to act would keep the current Obama-era health law intact — would persuade some colleagues to change their positions.

“If there’s a billion more going to Maine … that’s a heck of a lot,” Cassidy said. “It’s not for Susan, it’s for the Mainers. But she cares so passionately about those Mainers, I’m hoping those extra dollars going to her state … would make a difference to her.”

Several Republicans close to the process have long counted Collins as an eventual no, predicting that little could be done to the bill to change her mind.

The last-minute changes over the weekend, which came as GOP leaders were racing to pass legislation before losing the budget authority Oct. 1 that lets them to pass legislation by a simply majority, underscore the tense atmosphere on the Hill.

The rush to rewrite the bill was so frenetic that Cassidy posted two separate bills on his website Monday morning. “The last version was just correcting drafting errors,” Cassidy told the Finance Committee.

Unlike earlier GOP proposals to repeal the ACA, Senate leaders have remained one step removed from the process. Asked whether any staffers outside his own had been involved in making changes to the bill over the weekend, Cassidy declined to answer.

The Cassidy-Graham legislation would overhaul the Affordable Care Act by lumping together the current law’s spending on insurance subsidies and expanded Medicaid and redistributing it to states in the form of block grants. Alaska would get 3 percent more funding between 2020 and 2026 than under current law, and Maine would get 43 percent more funding during that period under the updated bill.

While the figures in the revised bill draft aim to ease concerns of several key senators, there was no indication that the sponsors have abandoned their plan to make steep cuts to Medicaid through a per capita cap.

Such a move would end up cutting federal funding by tens of billions of dollars by 2026 and would mean that even with another carve-out for Alaska elsewhere in the bill, the state may end up losing money. And other states will still be hit hard.

Aides to Murkowski did not comment Monday on the revised bill.

Graham, who spoke quickly and intensely in support of the bill’s block grant approach before the Senate panel Monday, said it reflected his trust in politicians who have more direct interaction with their constituents.

“My goal is to get the money and power out of Washington, closer to where people live,” he said.

[In radio interview, Trump slams McCain, dings McConnell and botches a Senate candidate’s name]

But even President Trump expressed skepticism Monday about the bill’s chances of passage, blaming McCain and Collins for its expected demise in an interview on the “Rick & Bubba Show,” an Alabama-based syndicated radio program.

McCain came out against the measure Friday, arguing that Republicans should work with Democrats to produce a bill that can attract wider support.

“You can call it what you want, but that’s the only reason we don’t have it, because of John McCain,” Trump said of efforts to repeal the 2010 health-care law, adding later, “Looks like Susan Collins and some others will vote against. So we’re going to lose two or three votes, and that’s the end of that.”

Trump did not mention Paul, who told reporters Monday that could not back Cassidy-Graham unless it was changed dramatically — cutting off the “entire trillion dollars” the bill devoted to block grants and having states opt in to the current law’s essential health benefits requirement.

“Republicans did not promise to block grant Obamacare; they promised to repeal,” Paul said. “I think it’s actually better to monitor the death spiral of Obamacare.”

Democrats, for their part, continued to rail against the measure during the Senate hearing. Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.) was especially animated during his remarks, raising his voice as he questioned the motivations of Republican senators.

“Why are we here, colleagues, making matters worse?” he asked.

[The Cassidy-Graham bill probably won’t become law. And more than half of America is good with that.]

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), whose state has expanded Medicaid, also has indicated that he needs to see the CBO analysis before taking a position on the legislation.

Cruz made it clear over the weekend that he had grave reservations and on a Monday call with reporters, his aides said that the senator had moved from yes to no after learning that the bill would not include the “consumer freedom” changes he’d wanted from the start.

“We had an agreement and that was moved away from us,” said the aides. “His focus is on premiums, on cost. It’s that consumers have sufficient freedom and options on the waiver pieces and the regulations.”

[A closer look at how the revised GOP health bill affects key states ]

The bill has been roundly rejected by influential national groups representing physicians, hospitals and insurers. Over the weekend, six such organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, issued a joint statement urging the Senate to reject the measure.

These groups, along with others, are escalating their efforts to derail the bill. A group of patients held a rally Monday at the U.S. Capitol, to protest its effect on Americans with preexisting conditions. And the advocacy group Save My Care is airing a new six-figure ad in Washington starting Tuesday that will highlight the opposition of not just the AMA but also AARP, Medicaid directors in all 50 states, and a range of patients’ rights organizations.

Kelsey Snell, Paige Winfield Cunningham, Amy Goldstein, Elise Viebeck and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Read more at PowerPost

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Multinationals in Puerto Rico respond to Hurricane Maria – Reuters

(Reuters) – Storm-battered Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.4 million, is still without electricity five days after Hurricane Maria struck with ferocious winds and torrential rains, the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. territory for nearly a century.

Eighty percent of the power lines in Puerto Rico are down, the island’s electricity utility PREPA said on Monday. PREPA spokesman Carlos Monroig said the utility is evaluating all of Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure by air.

The following are responses from multinational companies with a presence in Puerto Rico on how they are dealing with the aftermath of Maria:

WAL-MART STORES INC

Wal-Mart spokesman Phillip Keene said: “We don’t have a timetable yet on being fully operational, but we are working very hard to recover operations on the island as quickly as possible. As of this morning, hundreds of loads of water, emergency supplies and other needed resources like generators have either been delivered to the island or are on the way there. We will send trucks to open stores and those that are able to accept deliveries as soon as safely possible. No details to share on economic or operational impact.”

SPRINT CORP

Lisa Belot, media relations at Sprint, said: “Due to the severe damage caused by Hurricane Maria and the impact on Sprint’s network, technical staff have mobilized to review the state of our sites in Puerto Rico and to expedite the reconstruction process to reestablish communication as quickly and safely as possible for all of our customers. Our first shipment has already arrived in Puerto Rico with generators and parts required for restoration, and crews of engineers and technicians from the U.S. have already joined the local team on the island. A second shipment is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.”

AT&T INC

The company said: ”We are closely monitoring our network in Puerto Rico and working to address the full effects of Hurricane Maria. Storm damage is significant across the region and commercial power is unavailable, both of which can affect our ability to provide service. And, unfortunately, some cleanup crews working in the area have accidentally damaged additional communications infrastructure.

“We are coordinating with local authorities and deploying resources as rapidly as possible to assist in restoration and recovery efforts as quickly as conditions allow.”

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

Natália Salomão, global corporate media relations at drugmaker and consumer Johnson & Johnson, said: ”Our preliminary assessment is that our physical facilities fared well given the magnitude of the storm. We are partnering with local and federal authorities to monitor the state of the infrastructure.

“While we helped our employees and campuses prepare, we continue to work with customers and our emergency aid partners to restock products and relief supplies that have been in heavy demand. Prior to the storm, we took steps to adjust our raw material and product supply flow to account for potential interruptions, and we will continue to assess the situation.”

BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB CO

Bristol-Myers Squibb spokesman Ken Dominski said: ”Puerto Rico sustained significant damage, and our primary concern is with our employees, their families and the citizens of Puerto Rico.

“We have some damage to one of our three facilities, however we are executing contingency plans that we believe mitigates product supply risk as we assess the situation on the island and work to bring our operations back online. We are contacting employees to provide support in their recovery from Hurricane Maria while the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is responding with a $250,000 cash donation to support emergency relief efforts.”

HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL INC

Scott Sayres, a spokesman for Honeywell International, said the company’s focus is on making sure their employees are safe. “They’re still working on it … our folks on the ground are making sure everyone’s accounted for and what their needs are … we’re still assessing the facilities.”

Compiled by Jennifer Ablan; Reporting by Bill Berkrot, Anjali Athavaley, Stephanie Kelly and Trevor Hunnicutt, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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North Korean diplomat says tweet by Trump ‘declared war’ – Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea’s top diplomat said Monday that a weekend tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump was a “declaration of war” and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

It was the latest escalation in a week of undiplomatic exchanges between North Korea and the U.S. during the U.N. General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting.

Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters that the United Nations and the international community have said in recent days that they didn’t want “the war of words” to turn into “real action.”

But he said that by tweeting that North Korea’s leadership led by Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer,” Trump “declared the war on our country.”

Under the U.N. Charter, Ri said, North Korea has the right to self-defense and “every right” to take countermeasures, “including the right to shoot down the United States strategic bombers even when they’re not yet inside the airspace border of our country.”

Hours later, the White House pushed back on Ri’s claim, saying: “We have not declared war on North Korea.” The Trump administration, referring to the tweet, stressed that the U.S. is not seeking to overthrow North Korea’s government.

U.S. Cabinet officials, particularly Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have insisted that the U.S.-led campaign of diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea is focused on eliminating the pariah state’s nuclear weapons program, not its totalitarian government.

But the more Trump muddies the picture, the tougher it may become to maintain cooperation with China and Russia, which seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis and not a new U.S. ally suddenly popping up on their borders. It also risks snuffing out hopes of persuading Kim’s government to enter negotiations when its survival isn’t assured.

Trump tweeted Saturday: “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” Trump also used the derisive “Rocket Man” reference to Kim in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 19, but this time he added the word “little.”

This was not the first time North Korea has spoken about a declaration of war between the two countries. In July 2016, Pyongyang said U.S. sanctions imposed on Kim were “a declaration of war” against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — the country’s official name — and it made a similar statement after a new round of U.N. sanctions in December. The North Korean leader used the words again Friday.

The foreign minister’s brief statement to a throng of reporters outside his hotel before heading off in a motorcade, reportedly to return home, built on the escalating rhetoric between Kim and Trump.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump told world leaders Sept. 19. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Kim responded with the first-ever direct statement from a North Korean leader against a U.S. president, lobbing a string of insults at Trump.

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” he said, choosing the rarely used word “dotard,” which means an old person who is weak-minded.

“Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hardline countermeasure in history,” Kim said.

On Monday, Ri escalated the threat by saying Trump’s weekend claim that North Korea’s leaders would soon be gone “is clearly a declaration of war.”

All U.N. members and the world “should clearly remember that it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” the foreign minister said, adding that North Korea now has the right to take counter-measures and retaliate against U.S. bombers.

Ri ended his brief remarks by saying: “The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then.”

Military maneuvers by the U.S. and its allies are adding to tensions along the two Koreas’ heavily militarized border. In a show of might, U.S. bombers and fighter escorts flew Saturday to the farthest point north of the border between North and South Korea by any such American aircraft this century.

A Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Rob Manning, said Monday that the operation was conducted in international airspace and legally permissible.

The U.S. has a “deep arsenal of military options to provide the president so that he can then decide how he wants to deal with North Korea,” Manning told reporters. “We are prepared to defend ourselves and our allies from an attack and are prepared to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the threat from North Korea,”

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called for careful management of the tensions to prevent a conflict that would devastate the region.

“It’s very likely that North Korea will conduct further provocations,” Kang said. “Under these circumstances it is imperative that we — Korea and the United States — manage the situation with astuteness and steadfastness in order to prevent further escalation of tensions or any kind of accidental military clashes in the region which can quickly spiral out of control.”

“There cannot be another war in the region,” Kang said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “The consequences would be devastating not just for the Korean Peninsula but for Northeast Asia and indeed the whole international community.”

Kang said North Korea’s nuclear program seems to be at a “tipping point,” approaching the goal of having a nuclear-armed missile that could reach the continental United States.

She voiced South Korean support for the U.S.-led strategy of “maximum pressure” on North Korea as a tool to get Pyongyang to negotiate on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — not at toppling the North Korean government.

“There is still room for diplomacy,” Kang said, but “time is running out.”

North Korea has repeatedly said it needs a nuclear deterrent because the U.S. intends to invade it.

Ri told the General Assembly on Saturday that North Korea’s recent “ICBM-mountable H-bomb test” was a key step to completing its nuclear force. He called it “a war deterrent for putting an end to nuclear threat of the U.S. and for preventing its military invasion.”

“Our ultimate goal is to establish the balance of power with the U.S.,” he minister said.

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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‘Declaration Of War’ Means North Korea Can Shoot Down US Bombers, Minister Says – NPR

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho leaves his hotel in New York on Monday. Ri says President Trump’s tweets amount to a declaration of war against North Korea — and that the country can now defend itself under international law.

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

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North Korea’s foreign minister says President Trump’s tweets about the Korean nation amount to a declaration of war and that under international law, his country can legally shoot down U.S. military planes — even if they’re not in North Korea’s airspace.

“For the past couple of days, we had earnestly hoped that the war of words between North Korea and the U.S. would not lead to action,” Ri Yong Ho said in remarks translated for NPR by journalist Jihye Lee. “However, Trump had ultimately declared war again last weekend, by saying regarding our leadership, that he will make it unable to last longer.”

Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

The foreign minister said that Trump, as America’s current leader, had issued a “clear declaration of war.”

In response, Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning said, “If North Korea does not stop their provocative actions, you know, we will make sure that we provide options to the president to deal with North Korea.”

Ri was speaking this morning in New York, where U.N. meetings have been going on since last week. He was responding to a tweet from Trump, who said on Saturday, “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

The exchange of threats also included this from Trump, on Friday: “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!”

Today, Ri said:

“The world, including all member states currently attending the United Nations General Assembly, must clearly remember that this time, America declared war on us first. The U.N. charter acknowledges all member states’ independent rights to self-defense.

Because the United States declared war, even if U.S. strategic bombers do not intrude into our air, we will possess the right to respond in self-defense, including the right to launch at a random time and drop [the strategic bomber].”

Regarding who or what country might “last longer,” the North Korean official added, “We will see when the time comes.”

Over the weekend, the U.S. sent warplanes into international airspace east of North Korea, in a show of force that included B-1B Lancer bombers and F-15C Eagle fighter escorts.

Of that flight, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said, “This is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.”

As for how the U.S. State Department sees the current state of affairs, East Asian and Pacific Affairs spokesperson Katina Adams tells NPR’s Michele Kelemen:

“The United States has not ‘declared war’ on North Korea. We continue to seek a peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“No nation has the right to fire on other nations’ aircraft or ships in international airspace or waters.”

The dispute between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea has taken on a decidedly personal tone lately — as when President Trump called Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” during a speech at the U.N. on Tuesday. The president also said he would “totally destroy” North Korea if the U.S. had to defend itself or its allies.

In response, Kim issued a long statement in which he took the rare step of using the first person — and in which he vowed, “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

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Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva has highest-selling gear in past 24 hours – ESPN

1:55 PM ET

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva became the best-selling player in the NFL by midday Monday.

A spokesman for Fanatics, which runs the NFL’s online store, confirmed to ESPN that, over the past 24 hours, more Villanueva gear, including jerseys and name and number T-shirts, has been ordered than that of any other NFL player.

Villanueva beat out New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for the top spot. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers rounded out the top five over the past day.

Both the NFL Shop and Fanatics websites had Villanueva jerseys and T-shirts in men’s and women’s sizes.

A former Army Ranger who earned a Bronze Star and served three tours in Afghanistan, Villanueva was the only Steelers player who came outside the tunnel during Sunday’s national anthem, after the team collectively decided not to be on the sideline during the song. Pictures and video of Villanueva standing, with his hand on his heart, filled social media networks.

His actions weren’t supported by all, including his own coach. Asked after the Steelers’ 23-17 loss to the Chicago Bears what he thought of Villanueva’s positioning for the anthem, Mike Tomlin responded, “I was looking for 100 percent participation. We were gonna be respectful of our football team.”

While Villanueva, a Spanish-American, already has a strong following in Latin America, it is unprecedented to see an offensive lineman rise to the top of NFL player sales for any period of time. The only comparison of an out-of-nowhere player to see a rise to the top was backup defensive end Devon Still, whose Cincinnati Bengals jersey became one of the league’s most popular jerseys in 2014, after his daughter’s fight with cancer became public.

“I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year … when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year,” Villanueva told ESPN last year, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling.

Roughly 180 players didn’t stand for the national anthem Sunday. Three teams — the Steelers, Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks — didn’t come to the sideline for the song.

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North Korea asserts a right to shoot down US bombers – Washington Post

North Korea’s foreign minister on Monday asserted that the pariah state has the right to defend itself by shooting down U.S. planes, even if they are not in the country’s airspace.

Ri Yong Ho, speaking to reporters at a hotel across the street from the United Nations, said President Trump’s comments at the General Assembly last week constituted a declaration of war.

“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” he said. “Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country.”

Ri’s remarks were the most direct and threatening so far since Trump gave a combative address to the General Assembly last week in which he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Lauding the “great strength and patience” of the United States, Trump said that “if it is forced to defend ourselves or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Tensions have escalated almost every day since then. North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, made a rare TV appearance in which he called Trump “mentally deranged.” Trump responded with mockery, calling Kim “little rocket man.”

Ri, who said North Korea was prepared to test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, told the United Nations on Friday that Trump’s disrespect toward Kim made it “inevitable” that rockets would “visit” the U.S. mainland.

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New version of health-care bill will help Alaska and Maine — home of two holdout senators – Washington Post

The Republican senators at the forefront of the latest effort to undo the Affordable Care Act proposed Monday sending more health-care dollars to the states of key holdouts, hoping to keep their bill viable as it faced a wall of resistance on Capitol Hill.

Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) have given more money to Alaska and Maine — two of whose GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), respectively — have expressed concerns but not yet declared how they would vote on the measure.

But there was little evidence Monday that the changes would secure enough votes for the legislation’s passage. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who is one of two GOP senators against the bill, reiterated his opposition to the updated measure, and the other lawmaker, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), has objected to it on the grounds that there has been no bipartisan outreach.

In an interview Monday, Cassidy said he hoped that the new language — coupled with the fact that failing to act would keep the current Obama-era health law intact — would persuade some colleagues to change their positions.

“If there’s a billion more going to Maine … that’s a heck of a lot,” Cassidy said. “It’s not for Susan, it’s for the Mainers. But she cares so passionately about those Mainers, I’m hoping those extra dollars going to her state … would make a difference to her.”

A vote by Collins or any other senator would be enough to defeat the bill, since no Democrats are expected to support it. Republicans hold a 52-to-48 advantage in the Senate and can lose only two votes from their party and still pass legislation with the help of a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Pence.

Several Republicans close to the process have long counted Collins as an eventual no, predicting that little could be done to the bill to change her mind.

The last-minute changes over the weekend, which come as GOP leaders are racing to pass legislation before losing the budget authority on Oct. 1 that lets them to pass legislation by a simply majority, underscore the tense atmosphere on the Hill. Outside the room where the Senate Finance Committee is slated to hold a hearing on the bill at 2 p.m., 60 police officers lined up shoulder-to-shoulder as protesters and audience members waited to go inside. A large group of patient advocates held a rally in the hallway, while the high number of attendees in wheelchairs prompted the press gallery staff to reduce the number of spots available to reporters.

The Cassidy-Graham legislation would overhaul the Affordable Care Act by lumping together the current law’s spending on insurance subsidies and expanded Medicaid and redistributing it to states in the form of block grants. Alaska would get 3 percent more funding between 2020 and 2026 than under current law, and Maine would get 43 percent more funding during that period under the updated bill.

While the figures in the revised bill draft aim to ease concerns of several key senators, there was no indication that the sponsors have abandoned their plan to make steep cuts to Medicaid through a per capita cap.

Such a move would end up cutting federal funding by tens of billions of dollars by 2026 and would mean that even with another carve-out for Alaska elsewhere in the bill, the state may end up losing money. And other states will still be hit hard.

Aides to Murkowski and Collins did not immediately comment on the revised bill.

In an interview Monday with NPR’s “Morning Edition” one of the bill’s original co-sponsors, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said he and Graham have warned GOP leaders that they would withhold their votes for any new budget resolution unless it gave them another chance to pass health-care legislation, a threat that could complicate the party’s efforts to advance other policy priorities if this week’s effort to repeal ACA fails.

“We’ll give ourselves that option for next year as well,” Johnson said.

But even President Trump expressed skepticism Monday about the bill’s chances of passage, blaming McCain and Collins for its expected demise in an interview on the “Rick & Bubba Show,” an Alabama-based syndicated radio program.

McCain came out against the measure on Friday, arguing that Republicans should work with Democrats to produce a bill that can attract wider support.

“You can call it what you want, but that’s the only reason we don’t have it, because of John McCain,” Trump said of efforts to repeal the 2010 health-care law, adding later, “Looks like Susan Collins and some others will vote against. So we’re going to lose two or three votes, and that’s the end of that.”

Trump did not mention Paul, whose spokesman Sergio Gor said Monday that his boss, who has raised concerns about the block-granting approach at the core of the bill, said he cannot endorse the revised version of the Cassidy-Graham bill.

Democrats, for their part, continued to rail against the measure.

In a statement Monday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the most recent changes to the bill “only worsen the crushing costs and cruelty their bill inflicts on millions of Americans with preexisting conditions and working families everywhere.”

“Republicans must stop making a dangerous bill even worse and join Democrats for constructive bipartisan progress to improve and update Americans’ health care,” she added.

The fresh discord over a signature Republican promise added turbulence to the start of a critical week for Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In addition to health care, both are watching Tuesday’s special-election primary runoff in Alabama, a high-stakes intraparty fight between establishment Republicans and conservatives that could set the tone for the midterm elections next year. GOP leaders also are expected to unveil their most detailed blueprint yet of tax cuts they hope to pass by the end of the year.

[The Cassidy-Graham bill probably won’t become law. And more than half of America is good with that.]

Collins, a moderate Republican who has opposed previous efforts that cut Medicaid and eased coverage ­requirements, said Sunday in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it was “very difficult” to envision herself voting for the Cassidy-Graham legislation. She has cited concerns about how it would affect Medicaid recipients and people with pre­existing conditions, among other things.

Collins voted against a repeal bill in July, and she is a key vote in the current dynamic. She said she chatted at length with Pence on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to sway her. She said she wants to see the limited analysis due out this week from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office before making a final decision.

The CBO will issue a preliminary analysis of an updated version of the bill later Monday, it announced in a blog post, though the report will address only the legislation’s fiscal impact and not its effects on the number of Americans with health coverage or on insurance premiums.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), whose state has expanded Medicaid, also has indicated that he needs to see the CBO analysis before taking a position on the legislation.

Other Republicans also have expressed reservations about the latest effort to unwind the ACA. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — a conservative who has advocated a more far-reaching repeal — said at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin that he and at least one other conservative, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), do not back the measure “right now.”

Cruz said he and Lee met with Graham and Cassidy last week to propose changes to the measure that would get them to yes. Their changes were not included in the latest draft.

Graham and Cassidy pledged to keep trying to pass their bill — but the White House and McConnell gave differing accounts of the path ahead. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short predicted a Wednesday vote, while a McConnell spokesman declined to publicly embrace that timeline.

[A closer look at how the revised GOP health bill affects key states ]

The bill has been roundly rejected by influential national groups representing physicians, hospitals and insurers. Over the weekend, six such organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, issued a joint statement urging the Senate to reject the measure.

These groups, along with others, are escalating their efforts to derail the bill. A group of patients held a rally Monday at the U.S. Capitol, to protest its effect on Americans with preexisting conditions. And the advocacy group Save My Care is airing a new six-figure ad in Washington starting Tuesday that will highlight the opposition of not just the AMA but also AARP, Medicaid directors in all 50 states, and a range of patients’ rights organizations.

Elise Viebeck and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Read more at PowerPost

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North Korea says US ‘declared war’ warns it could shoot down US bombers – Reuters

UNITED NATIONS/BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s foreign minister said on Monday that President Donald Trump had declared war on North Korea and that Pyongyang reserves the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down U.S. bombers even if they are not in its air space.

“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told reporters in New York.

“Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country,” Ri said.

“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then,” Ri said in a direct reference to a Twitter post by Trump on Saturday.

The increasingly heated rhetoric between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is raising fears of a risk of a miscalculation by one side or the other that could have massive repercussions.

China called on Monday for all sides in the North Korea missile crisis to show restraint and not “add oil to the flames.”

Ri told the U.N. General Assembly on Saturday that targeting the U.S. mainland with its rockets was inevitable after “Mr Evil President” Trump called Kim a “rocket man” on a suicide mission.

“Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” Trump said on Twitter on Saturday.

North Korea, which has pursued its missile and nuclear programs in defiance of international condemnation and economic sanctions, said it “bitterly condemned the reckless remarks” of Trump. They were an “intolerable insult to the Korean people” and a declaration of war, the North’s official news agency said on Monday.

Pyongyang accuses the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, of planning to invade and regularly threatens to destroy it and its Asian allies. The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950s conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

U.S. Treasury yields fell to session lows after Ri’s comments on Monday.

‘DERANGED’

In an unprecedented direct statement on Friday, Kim described Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” whom he would tame with fire.

Kim said North Korea would consider the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the United States and that Trump’s comments had confirmed his nuclear program was “the correct path”.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho walks to speak to the media outside the Millennium hotel New York, U.S., September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Trump threatened in his maiden U.N. address last Tuesday to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if North Korea threatened the United States or its allies.

Asked how concerned China was the war of words between Trump and North Korea could get out of control, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang described the situation as highly complex and sensitive.

It was vitally important everyone strictly, fully and correctly implemented all North Korea related U.N. resolutions, Lu said, resolutions which call for both tighter sanctions and efforts to resume dialogue.

All sides should “not further irritate each other and add oil to the flames of the tense situation on the peninsula at present”, Lu told a daily news briefing.

Slideshow (2 Images)

“We hope all sides do not continue doing things to irritate each other and should instead exercise restraint.”

Speaking to British Prime Minister Theresa May by telephone, Chinese President Xi Jinping repeated Beijing’s position that the North Korean issue should be resolved peacefully via talks, state media said.

China hopes Britain can play a constructive role in easing the situation and pushing for a resumption in talks, Xi said. May, like some other U.S. allies, has pushed for China to do more on North Korea.

Downing Street said the two leaders agreed there was a particular responsibility for China and Britain, as permanent Security Council members, to help find a diplomatic solution.

North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb test on Sept. 3. Pyongyang said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean.

While China has been angered by North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests, it has also called for the United States and its allies to help lessen tension by dialing back their military drills.

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighters flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea on Saturday in a show of force the Pentagon said indicated the range of military options available to Trump.

In response to a question about the exercises, Chinese spokesman Lu said: “A continued rise in tensions on the peninsula, I believe, is not in the interests of any side.”

Wang Jingdong, president of the world’s largest lender Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), told reporters during a briefing the bank will “strictly implement U.N. Security Council decisions related to North Korea and carefully fulfill relevant international responsibility”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday said his decision to call a snap election would not distract his government from responding to North Korean threats.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Christine Kim in Seoul; Additional reporting by Shu Zhang in Beijing, Elizabeth Piper in London and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Writing by Philip Wen; Editing by Nick Macfie and Grant McCool

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