US threatens Syria, says Assad is planning chemical weapons attack – Reuters

FILE PHOTO: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Croatian newspaper Vecernji List in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 6, 2017. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Croatian newspaper Vecernji List in Damascus, Syria, in this handout picture provided by SANA on April 6, 2017. SANA/Handout via

REUTERS

By Jeff Mason and John Walcott| WASHINGTON

The White House warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday that he and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it conducted a chemical weapons attack and said the United States had reason to believe such preparations were underway.

The White House said in a statement released late on Monday the preparations by Syria were similar to those undertaken before an April 4 chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians and prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to order a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

“If … Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” he said.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on potential U.S. plans or the intelligence that prompted the statement about Syria’s preparations for an attack.

Trump, who took to Twitter not long after the statement went out, focused his attention on a Fox News report related to former President Barack Obama and the 2016 election rather than developments in Syria.

Trump ordered the strike on the Shayrat airfield in Syria in April in reaction to what Washington said was a poison gas attack by Assad’s government that killed 87 people in rebel-held territory. Syria denied it carried out the attack.

Assad said in an interview with the AFP news agency earlier this year that the alleged April attack was “100 percent fabrication” used to justify a U.S. air strike.

The strike was the toughest direct U.S. action yet in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad’s two main military backers.

‘ABNORMAL ACTIVITY’

U.S. and allied intelligence officers had for some time identified several sites where they suspected the Assad government may have been hiding newly made chemical weapons from inspectors, said one U.S. official familiar with the intelligence.

The assessment was based in part on the locations, security surrounding the suspect sites and other information which the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to describe.

The White House warning, the official said, was based on new reports of what was described as abnormal activity that might be associated with preparations for a chemical attack.

Although the intelligence was not considered conclusive, the administration quickly decided to issue the public warning to the Assad regime about the consequences of another chemical attack on civilians in an attempt to deter such a strike, said the official, who declined to discuss the issue further.

At the time of the April strike, U.S. officials called the intervention a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the U.S. role in the Syrian war.

The United States has taken a series of actions over the past three months demonstrating its willingness to carry out strikes, mostly in self-defense, against Syrian government forces and their backers, including Iran.

The United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Twitter: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people.”

Washington has repeatedly struck Iranian-backed militia and even shot down a drone threatening U.S.-led coalition forces since the April military strike. The U.S. military also shot down a Syrian jet earlier this month.

Trump has also ordered stepped-up military operations against the Islamic State militant group and delegated more authority to his generals.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and John Walcott; Additional reporting by Eric Beech, Patricia Zengerle, and Michelle Nichols; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Jeff Mason; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Google hit with record EU fine over Shopping service – BBC News

Google has been fined 2.42bn euros ($2.7bn; £2.1bn) by the European Commission after it ruled the company had abused its power by promoting its own shopping comparison service at the top of search results.

The amount is the regulator’s largest penalty to date against a company accused of distorting the market.

The ruling also orders Google to end its anti-competitive practices within 90 days or face a further penalty.

The US firm said it may appeal.

However, if it fails to change the way it operates the Shopping service within the three-month deadline, it could be forced to make payments of 5% of its parent company Alphabet’s average daily worldwide earnings.

Based on the company’s most recent financial report, that amounts to about $14m a day.

The commission said it was leaving it to Google to determine what alterations should be made to its Shopping service rather than specifying a remedy.

“What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” declared Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s Competition Commissioner.

“It has denied other companies the chance to compete on their merits and to innovate, and most importantly it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition, genuine choice and innovation.”

Ms Vestager added that the decision could now set a precedent that determines how she handles related complaints about the prominence Google gives to its own maps, flight price results and local business listings within its search tools.

Google had previously suggested that Amazon and eBay have more influence over the public’s spending habits and has again said it does not accept the claims made against it.

“When you shop online, you want to find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily,” a spokesman said in response to the ruling.

“And advertisers want to promote those same products. That’s why Google shows shopping ads, connecting our users with thousands of advertisers, large and small, in ways that are useful for both.

“We respectfully disagree with the conclusions announced today. We will review the Commission’s decision in detail as we consider an appeal, and we look forward to continuing to make our case.”

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Google Shopping displays relevant products’ images and prices alongside the names of shops they are available from and review scores, if available.

The details are labelled as being “sponsored”, reflecting the fact that, unlike normal search results, they only include items that sellers have paid to appear.

On smartphones, the facility typically dominates “above-the-fold” content, meaning users might not see any traditional links unless they scroll down.

Google also benefits from the fact the Shopping service adverts are more visual than its text-based ads.

One recent study suggested Shopping accounts for 74% of all retail-related ads clicked on within Google Search results. However, the BBC understands Google’s own data indicates the true figure is smaller.

Seven-year probe

The European Commission has been investigating Google Shopping since late 2010.

The probe was spurred on by complaints from Microsoft, among others.

The rival tech giant has opted not to comment on the ruling, after the two struck a deal last year to try to avoid such legal battles in the future.

However, one of the other original complainants – the price comparison service Foundem – welcomed the announcement.

“Although the record-breaking 2.42bn euro fine is likely to dominate the headlines, the prohibition of Google’s immensely harmful search manipulation practices is far more important,” said its chief executive Shivaun Raff.

“For well over a decade, Google’s search engine has played a decisive role in determining what most of us read, use and purchase online. Left unchecked, there are few limits to this gatekeeper power.”


Analysis: Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent

This is a big moment in a clash between the EU and the US’s tech giants, which has been going on for more than a decade.

The commission believes it has struck a blow for consumers and for little firms at a time when online advertising – particularly on mobile phones – is dominated by Google and Facebook.

Google believes the regulator has a weak case and has failed to provide evidence that either consumers or rivals have been harmed.

In essence, it sees this as a political move rather than one based on competition law. You can be pretty confident that the Trump administration will share that view.

There’s mounting anxiety in European capitals about something called Gafa – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – the four American giants that play such a huge role in all of our lives.

That means we can expect further action to try to limit their powers, with the potential for growing political tension between Brussels and Washington.


Although the penalty is record-sized, it could have been bigger.

The commission has the power to fine Alphabet up to 10% of its annual revenue, which was more than $90bn (£70.8bn) in its last financial year.

Alphabet can afford the fine – it currently has more than $172bn of assets.

But one expert said the company would be more concerned about the impact on its future operations.

“If it has to change the appearance of it results and rankings, that’s going to have an impact on how it can monetise search,” said Chris Green, from the tech consultancy Lewis.

“Right now, the way that Google prioritises some of its retail and commercial services generates quite a lot of ad income.

“When you consider the sheer number of search queries that Google handles on a daily basis, that’s a lot of ad inventory going in front of a lot of eyeballs.

“Dent that by even a few percentage points, and there’s quite a big financial drop.”


Europe v US tech:

At her press conference, Margrethe Vestager insisted her action was “based on facts” rather than any prejudice the European Commission might have against US tech companies.

“We have heard allegations of being biased against US companies,” she said.

“I have been going through the statistics… I can find no facts to support any kind of bias.”

But this is far from the first time the European Commission has penalise US tech giants for what it views to be bad behaviour.

Others to have been targeted include:

  • Microsoft (2008) – the Windows-developer was fined €899m for failing to comply with earlier punishments, imposed over its refusal to share key code with its rivals and the bundling of its Explorer browser with its operating system. Five years later, it was told to pay a further €561m for failing to comply with a pledge to provide users a choice screen of browsers
  • Intel (2009) – the chip-maker was ordered to pay €1.06bn for skewing the market by offering discounts conditional on computer-makers avoiding products from its rivals. Intel challenged the fine, and a final court ruling in the matter is expected in 2018
  • Qualcomm (2015) – the chip-maker was accused of illegally paying a customer to use its technology and selling its chipsets below cost to push a rival out of the market. If confirmed, it faces a fine that could top €2bn, but the case has yet to be resolved
  • Apple (2016) – Ireland was ruled to have given up to €13bn of illegal tax benefits to the iPhone-maker since 1991, and was ordered to recover the funds plus interest from the company. However, Dublin missed the deadline it was given to do so and has said it will appeal
  • Facebook (2017) – the social network agreed to pay a €110m fine for saying it could not match user accounts on its main service to those of WhatsApp when it took over the instant messaging platform, and then doing just that two years later

The commission is also investigating Amazon over concerns that a tax deal struck with Luxembourg gave it an unfair advantage.


The European Commission continues to pursue two separate cases against Google.

The first involves allegations that the technology company has made it difficult for others to have their apps and search engines preinstalled on Android devices.

The second covers claims Google took steps to restrict rivals’ ads from appearing on third-party websites that had installed a Google-powered search box.

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Senate leaders try to bolster GOP health-care bill with incentive for consumers to stay insured – Washington Post

By and ,

Senate leaders worked Monday to modify their plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, adding a provision that would penalize consumers for not keeping their plans, by imposing a six-month waiting provision before they could re-enroll.

The change, intended to satisfy insurers and minimize the number of Americans who may drop their plans if the bill becomes law, received measured praise from some industry officials but sharp criticism from patient advocates.

The move — the first in a series of changes Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to make in the next few days — underscores the degree to which Republicans need to retool their health bill if they hope to pass it this week.

Some of the targeted measures already in the bill have prompted a backlash, and leaders are navigating between moderate Republicans who want to preserve key aspects of the ACA and conservatives hoping to pare it back even further.

The latest change aims to provide a stronger incentive for younger and healthier Americans to maintain health insurance, by making consumers who drop their policies for 63 days or more face a six-month waiting period before coverage may begin in the following year.

It is one of a number of changes expected in an attempt to appease skittish lawmakers and industry stakeholders as GOP leaders push for a vote on the bill this week.

[Health 202: Senate health-care bill is suffering from crippling unpopularity]

When Obamacare was negotiated, insurers were wary that they would for the first time be compelled to accept all customers, healthy and sick, without being able to charge people with preexisting medical issues more — or deny them coverage altogether. The industry accepted that new burden on the condition that the law also for the first time require most Americans to have health coverage — meaning that insurers could count on getting healthy new customers as well as those whose medical problems made them more expensive to insure.

Like the conservative health-care bill passed last month by the House, the Senate’s version would end that insurance mandate in 2020. The House’s legislation would replace the mandate with a subtler form of encouragement for people to keep buying insurance — permission for health plans to charge customers 30 percent more for a year if they have let their coverage lapse.

The Senate version lacks such a deterrent, and that prospect has unnerved the insurance industry, whose leaders worry that consumers will postpone buying coverage until they get sick and need care. That sort of behavior would drive up costs and prices.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said in a statement Monday that it was “encouraged” that the Senate proposal “includes several urgently needed and important steps to help make the individual market for insurance more stable and affordable” for the next two years, including the new penalty for a break in coverage.

But groups that represent people with serious illnesses warned that those Americans could face grave health consequences if they have to wait for a plan to kick in before seeking costly treatments.

Dick Woodruff, the American Cancer Society’s senior vice president of federal advocacy, said in an interview that there are many reasons people could have a gap in coverage. He noted that between 40 and 85 percent of people with cancer stop working when they are receiving treatment, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, and some people may be uninsured at the time of their diagnosis.

“The first six months after diagnosis is when a lot of critical things happen,” Woodruff said, adding that multiple groups have conveyed their concern to Senate Republicans about the change. “I don’t know who he was trying to satisfy with this provision, other than industry.”

Other measures, which were part of the original bill but are now facing intense scrutiny, have also raised questions.

One provision that spells out how the Medicaid program could be converted to a block grant, for example, would allow states to spend any leftover money on an item “that is not related to health care,” as long as they meet “quality standards” set by the Department of Health and Human Services. The state must also ensure that it is spending as much on health care as it has in previous years.

Dee Mahan, who directs Medicaid initiatives for the advocacy group Families USA, said in an interview that the measure, which is not in the House version of the bill, could allow states to play “a shell game with Medicaid money . . . doable on a much larger scale than it was intended for.”

She noted that in April, after Florida received a $1.5 billion authorization from federal officials to fund a program paying hospitals for charity care known as the “low-income pool,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) suggested spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a dike upgrade and tourism promotion.

The language waives a prohibition in the Social Security Act, which bars federal payments to be made “with respect to any amount expended for roads, bridges, stadiums, or any other item or service not covered under a State plan under this title.” Congress has sought on several occasions to bar these kinds of transfers, which Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) described in a 2008 hearing as “a scam.”

A senior Senate GOP aide said Monday that the provision was “an inadvertent error” that arose because the drafting process “was pretty quick.” The staffer, who asked for anonymity because the bill was still being finalized, said the section would be rewritten to clarify the funds could be used only within Medicaid.

Separately, the leaders included language that aims to mollify Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who has questioned the bill’s impact on people in her state who gained insurance under the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. The public insurance program traditionally covers low-income, elderly and disabled Americans along with children and pregnant women. Under the 2010 law, 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid to include able-bodied adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, leading to the coverage of an additional 11 million people.

The bill calls for a transfer of Medicaid funds from states that provide more-generous benefits, such as New York and California, to those that do not. But it says the requirement to transfer funds “shall not apply to any state that has a population density of less than 15 individuals per square mile,” That would affect just five states: Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Medical costs in Alaska are particularly high, in part because so many people there live in remote areas.

Spokespeople for Murkowski and McConnell did not respond to questions about why that provision was included in the measure. Murkowski has voiced skepticism about the way the bill has been crafted in recent weeks, and she has not signaled support for it.

Senators and aides in both parties had been eagerly awaiting the release of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s report Monday, which concluded that the bill would save $321 billion over the next decade and leave 22 million more Americans uninsured. By measuring the bill’s impact on the federal budget deficit, leaders now have a sense of how much money they have to work with when they consider 11th-hour additions to try to appease the concerns senators have expressed.

[CBO report could prove pivotal for Senate Republicans’ health-care bill]

For example, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) have been seeking a dedicated $45 billion fund to treat opioid addiction. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), meanwhile, has been pushing to eliminate more ACA regulations and allow people to buy insurance policies across state lines.

Still, some remain skeptical that there is enough time to absorb the bill, make substantive changes to it and also hold a final vote, as McConnell is aiming to do this week.

“We’re not going to be able to make the changes to the bill if we’re forced into a vote this week,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a Monday interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “We just don’t have time.”

Johnson, like Cruz, has said he does not support the draft of the bill that McConnell released Thursday.

The National Governors Association echoed this point in a bipartisan letter to McConnell on Monday, signed by NGA Chairman Terry McAuliffe (D) of Virginia and its vice chairman for health and human services, Charlie Baker (R) of Massachusetts.

“The nation’s governors are ready to work with leaders in Washington to make health care more accessible and affordable to the people we serve,” they wrote. “However, governors must be given adequate time to determine the impact any health care bill will have on their states and residents, and ensure that the bill does not adversely harm the people we were elected to serve.”

But Republican leaders are putting increasing pressure on the rank and file to swiftly rally behind the bill this week. President Trump called Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Monday to discuss his concerns with the bill, according to Paul spokesman Sergio Gor.

“Senator Paul and the president had a productive call, and he reiterated his issues with the current bill — how it isn’t serious repeal and what things he will need to be convinced it can lower costs for Americans,” Gor said. “He remains open to working with the president and his colleagues on making the bill better.”

And Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who previously voiced openness to voting on health care in July, wrote Monday on Twitter that he was “closing the door” on delays. “We need to do it this week before double digit premium increases are announced for next year,” he added.

Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.

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Three resign from CNN after Russia story retraction – The Hill

Three CNN staffers resigned after the network retracted a story trying a top President Trump ally to a Russian investment bank.

Thomas Frank, the author of the story, Eric Lichtblau, an editor in the CNN investigative unit that ran the story and Lex Haris, who oversaw the unit, have all left CNN, the network reported Monday.

The story connected Anthony Scaramucci, a top proponent of Trump, to a Russian investment fund run by a bank controlled by the Kremlin. 

“In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on CNN.com, CNN has accepted the resignations of the employees involved in the story’s publication,” a spokesman said Monday.

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An internal CNN investigation reportedly found that normal editorial processes weren’t followed in the story’s editing and publication. Only one anonymous source was used in the story, and typical parts of CNN’s workflow, such as fact checkers, were reportedly not utilized before publication.

Those filled in on the results of the internal investigation were reportedly told that the facts of the story weren’t necessarily wrong, but that the piece wasn’t strong enough to run as is.

CNN, which Trump has frequently derided as “fake news,” added strict rules for its Russia coverage following the retraction.

“On June 22, 2017, CNN.com published a story connecting Anthony Scaramucci with investigations into the Russian Direct Investment Fund,” the news organization said in a statement.

“That story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci.”

A source close to CNN told BuzzFeed that the story’s publication was a “massive, massive f— up and people will be disciplined.”

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Supreme Court Takes Up Travel Ban Case, and Allows Parts to Go Ahead – New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court cleared the way on Monday for President Trump to prohibit the entry of some people into the United States from countries he deems dangerous, but the justices imposed strict limits on Mr. Trump’s travel ban while they examine the scope of presidential power over the border.

Mr. Trump quickly hailed the court’s decision to hear arguments on the travel ban in October, saying — in a formal White House statement, not a tweet — that the justices’ temporary lifting of some of the legal roadblocks to his ban was a “clear victory” for national security.

“As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm,” Mr. Trump wrote, calling his efforts to limit entry into the country a “suspension” instead of a ban. “I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive.”

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He later tweeted: “Very grateful for the 9-O decision from the U. S. Supreme Court. We must keep America SAFE!”

But those challenging the travel ban said the court’s opinion would protect the vast majority of people seeking to enter the United States to visit a relative, accept a job, attend a university or deliver a speech. The court said the ban could not be imposed on anyone who had “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said advocates for refugees and other immigrants would urge the justices this fall to lift the president’s travel ban for everyone seeking to come to the United States.

“We think it’s repugnant to our values that they might be treated differently because of where they are from or how they choose to pray,” Ms. Tumlin told reporters.

The court’s opinion sets up a historic legal clash in which the justices will weigh the president’s power to set national security priorities against the need to protect individuals from discrimination based on their religious beliefs or national origin.

In saying they would take the case, the justices partly endorsed the administration’s view that the president has vast authority to control who crosses the border. They said the president’s powers to limit immigration “are undoubtedly at their peak when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States.”

But the opinion also signaled that some of the justices might believe that Mr. Trump exceeded even that broad authority when he twice sought to impose a blanket ban on entry to the United States from certain predominantly Muslim countries. With the limits imposed on Monday by the court, the travel ban will be far narrower than the one he proposed in his first week in office and a later, revised version.

For Mr. Trump, the opinion was a rare legal victory after months in which the lower courts repeatedly chastised him for imposing a de facto ban on Muslims’ entering the country. In May, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., said the president’s revised order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

In a statement, officials at the Department of Homeland Security said the court opinion would allow the department “to largely implement the President’s executive order.” Mr. Trump used similar language in his statement, saying his travel ban would now “become largely effective.”

Critics of the ban disputed those assessments. Cecillia Wang, the deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the opinion meant that the ban would not apply to many people while the court case proceeds.

“Clearly, the White House press statement today is based on alternative facts,” Ms. Wang said.

The court’s decision could lead to months of administrative and legal wrangling as consular officials try to determine which people are allowed to seek entry into the United States and which are barred by the opinion.

“We are going to be monitoring all of that,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

The justices said the distinction should be easy to administer. “In practical terms, this means that” the executive order “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” they wrote.

But Justice Clarence Thomas, who issued a partial dissent on Monday that was joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch, warned that the court’s opinion would “prove unworkable” for officials at consulates around the world and would invite “a flood of litigation” from people denied entry.

“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Justice Thomas wrote.

Based on the dissent, those three justices are likely to vote in favor of the Trump administration.

The court’s four-member liberal bloc — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — are likely to vote against it.

That leaves the ultimate fate of the ban in the hands of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the court’s decision an “important step towards restoring the separation of powers between the branches of the federal government,” and he expressed confidence that the court would uphold the president’s travel ban in its entirety after it heard the case this fall.

Some opponents of the travel ban said they worried about the fate of people who might be barred from entering the United States in the meantime.

“The court’s ruling will leave refugees stranded in difficult and dangerous situations abroad,” said Hardy Vieux, the legal director of Human Rights First. “Many of these individuals may not have ‘bona fide relationships,’ but have strong reasons to look to the United States for protection.”

Mr. Trump’s revised executive order, issued in March, limited travel from six mostly Muslim countries for 90 days and suspended the nation’s refugee program for 120 days. The time was needed, the order said, to address gaps in the government’s screening and vetting procedures.

Two federal appeals courts had blocked critical parts of the order, and the administration had asked that the lower court rulings be stayed while the case moved forward. The Supreme Court granted part of that request in its unsigned opinion.

The Fourth Circuit ruled on constitutional grounds, saying the limits on travel from the six countries violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. It blocked those limits, but not the suspension of the refugee program.

This month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, blocked both the limits on travel and the suspension of the refugee program. It ruled on statutory rather than constitutional grounds, saying Mr. Trump had exceeded the authority granted him by Congress.

The Supreme Court agreed to review both cases in October, noting that the government had not asked it to act faster.

The court suggested that the administration could complete its internal reviews over the summer, raising the prospect that the case could be moot by the time it is argued.

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62 seconds of Sean Spicer not answering a simple question – CNN

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Senate Health Bill Would Leave 22 Million More Uninsured, CBO Says – New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026, a figure that is only slightly lower than the 23 million more uninsured that the House version would create, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

Next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law, the budget office said.

The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, the budget office said.

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The release of the budget office’s analysis comes as a number of reluctant Republican senators weigh whether to support the health bill, which the majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, wants approved before a planned recess for the Fourth of July.

Mr. McConnell already faced a host of reservations from across the ideological spectrum in his conference. Five Republican senators have said they cannot support the version of the bill that was released last week, and Mr. McConnell can afford to lose only two.

Before the budget office released its report on Monday, the American Medical Association officially announced its opposition to the bill, and the National Governors Association urged the Senate to slow down.

Now, the budget office’s findings will give fodder to Democrats who were already assailing the bill as cruel. It could give pause to some Republican senators who have been mulling whether to support the bill — or it could give them an additional reason to come out against the bill altogether.

It is still unclear whether the new budget office projections will be judged against the House’s version, or against the Affordable Care Act’s coverage figures. Beyond the number of Americans without health insurance, the Senate bill’s $321 billion in deficit reduction is larger than the $119 billion total that the budget office found for the bill that passed the House.

Earlier Monday afternoon, Senate Republican leaders altered their health bill to penalize people who go without health insurance by requiring them to wait six months before their coverage would begin. Insurers would generally be required to impose the waiting period on people who lacked coverage for more than about two months in the prior year.

The waiting-period proposal is meant to address a conspicuous omission in the Senate’s bill: The measure would end the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that nearly all Americans have health insurance, but it also would require insurers to accept anyone who applies. The waiting period is supposed to prevent people from waiting until they get sick to purchase a health plan. Insurers need large numbers of healthy people to help pay for those who are sick.

Under one of the most unpopular provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the government can impose tax penalties on people who go without health coverage. Republicans have denounced this as government coercion.

The repeal bill passed by the House last month has a different kind of incentive. It would impose a 30 percent surcharge on premiums for people who have gone without insurance. But the Congressional Budget Office said this provision could backfire. As a result of the surcharge, it said, two million fewer people would enroll, and the people most likely to be deterred would be those who are healthy.

The Senate proposal for a waiting period could also have problems. For someone with cancer or a severe illness, a six-month waiting period could be a death sentence.

“Being denied critical and potentially lifesaving health care for six months is not a fair punishment for someone who is a few hundred dollars short on insurance payments because they lost their job and finances are unexpectedly tight,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.

In yet another rebuke from outside Congress, the A.M.A., the nation’s largest physicians organization, declared on Monday, “Medicine has long operated under the precept of primum non nocere, or ‘first, do no harm.’ The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels.”

The insurer Anthem, on the other hand, offered some positive words about the bill, saying in a statement that it believed the Senate legislation would “markedly improve the stability of the individual market.”

Senate Republican leaders were also facing increased pressure to delay the vote so that lawmakers, governors and consumers could investigate the likely effects of the legislation.

One of the five Republicans who said they would not vote for the bill that was released last week, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, argued against holding a vote this week.

“I see what leadership’s trying to do,” he told the radio host Hugh Hewitt. “They’re trying to jam this thing through.” Mr. Johnson added, “All I’m asking is let’s give ourselves a few more days. Maybe a week or two.”

Top Republicans showed no signs of yielding to the pressure.

The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, had previously left the door open to voting on the bill sometime in July. But on Monday he wrote on Twitter: “I am closing the door. We need to do it this week before double digit premium increases are announced for next year.”

President Trump struck a tone of resignation Monday on Twitter, noting that Republican senators were working hard to pass their repeal bill.

“Not easy! Perhaps just let OCare crash & burn!” Mr. Trump wrote, reiterating his assertion that President Barack Obama’s signature health care law will be doomed if Congress does not come to its rescue.

Though Senate Republicans vowed to write their own bill after the House passed its repeal bill last month, the legislation released by the Senate last week is broadly similar.

The Senate bill would end the requirement that most Americans have health coverage while setting up a revamped system of tax credits to help people buy insurance on the individual market. It would repeal most of the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act, including those on high-income people and on health care companies.

The measure proposed in the Senate would also make sweeping changes to Medicaid, the federal-state health program for low-income people, which would have major implications for states in the long term. The bill would roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and it would change the broader Medicaid program from an open-ended entitlement to a program with capped payments to states.

Reed Abelson contributed reporting from New York.

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Supreme Court Will Hear Travel Ban, Which Is Partly Reinstated – New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for President Trump to prohibit the entry of some people into the United States from countries he deems dangerous, but the justices imposed strict limits on Mr. Trump’s travel ban while the court examines the scope of presidential power over the border.

Mr. Trump quickly hailed the court’s decision to hear arguments on the travel ban cases in October, saying — in a formal White House statement, not a tweet — that the court’s decision to temporarily lift some of the legal roadblocks to his ban was a “clear victory” for national security.

“As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm,” Mr. Trump wrote, calling his efforts to limit entry into the country a “suspension” instead of a ban. “I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive.”

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But those challenging the travel ban said the court’s opinion would protect the vast majority of people seeking to enter the United States to visit a relative, accept a job, attend a university or deliver a speech. The court said the travel ban could not be imposed on anyone who had “a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Karen Tumlin, legal director of the National Immigration Law Center, said advocates for refugees and other immigrants would urge the justices this fall to lift the president’s travel ban for everyone seeking to come to the United States.

“We think it’s repugnant to our values that they might be treated differently because of where they are from or how they choose to pray,” Ms. Tumlin told reporters.

The court’s opinion sets up a historic legal clash this fall in which the justices will weigh the president’s power to set national security priorities against the need to protect individuals from discrimination based on their religious beliefs or national origin.

In saying they will take the case, the court partly endorsed the administration’s view that the president has vast powers to control who crosses the border. The court said the president’s powers to limit immigration “are undoubtedly at their peak when there is no tie between the foreign national and the United States.”

But the opinion also signaled that some of the justices might believe Mr. Trump exceeded even that broad authority when he twice sought to impose a blanket ban on entry into the United States from particular, Muslim-majority countries. With the limits imposed on Monday by the court, the government’s travel ban will be far more limited than the one he proposed in his first week in office and a later, revised ban.

For Mr. Trump, the court opinion is a rare legal victory after months in which the lower courts repeatedly chastised him for imposing a de facto ban on Muslims entering the country. In May, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., said the president’s revised order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

The court’s decision could also lead to months of administrative and legal wrangling as consular officials try to determine which individuals are allowed to seek entry into the United States and which are barred by the opinion.

“We are going to be monitoring all of that,” said Becca Heller, the director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

The justices said the distinction should be easy to administer. “In practical terms, this means that” the executive order “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

But Justice Clarence Thomas, who issued a partial dissent on Monday that was joined by Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch, warned that the court’s opinion would “prove unworkable” for officials at consulates around the world and would invite “a flood of litigation” from people denied entry.

“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding — on peril of contempt — whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Justice Thomas wrote.

Based on the dissent, those three justices are likely to vote in favor of the Trump administration.

The court’s four-member liberal bloc — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — are likely to vote against it.

That leaves the ultimate fate of the ban in the hands of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the court’s decision an “important step towards restoring the separation of powers between the branches of the federal government” and he expressed confidence that the court would uphold the president’s travel ban in its entirety after it heard the case this fall.

Some opponents of the travel ban said they worried about the fate of people who might be barred from entry into the United States in the meantime.

“The Court’s ruling will leave refugees stranded in difficult and dangerous situations abroad,” said Hardy Vieux, of Human Rights First. “Many of these individuals may not have ‘bona fide relationships,’ but have strong reasons to look to the United States for protection.”

Mr. Trump’s revised executive order, issued in March, limited travel from six mostly Muslim countries for 90 days and suspended the nation’s refugee program for 120 days. The time was needed, the order said, to address gaps in the government’s screening and vetting procedures.

Two federal appeals courts had blocked critical parts of the order. The administration had asked that the lower court ruling be stayed while the case moved forward. The court granted part of that request in its unsigned opinion.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, this month blocked both the limits on travel and the suspension of the refugee program. It ruled on statutory rather than constitutional grounds, saying Mr. Trump had exceeded the authority granted him by Congress.

The Supreme Court agreed to review both cases in October, noting that the government had not asked it to act faster.

The court suggested that the administration could complete its internal reviews over the summer, raising the prospect that the case could be moot by the time it was argued.

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High Court To Hear Case Of Cake Shop That Refused To Bake For Same-Sex Wedding – NPR

Dave Mullins (right) sits with his husband, Charlie Craig, in Denver. The owner of a cake shop refused to make a wedding cake for the couple, citing his religious beliefs, and the couple then filed with the state’s civil rights commission.

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The Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case on whether the owner of a Colorado cake shop can refuse to provide service to same-sex couples due to his religious beliefs about marriage.

Jack Phillips, who along with his wife owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in suburban Denver, has argued that a state law compelling him to produce wedding cakes for gay couples, which runs counter to his religious beliefs, violates his right to free speech under the First Amendment.

David Mullins and Charlie Craig, who are now married, filed a discrimination lawsuit in September 2012 after Phillips refused to make their wedding cake.

The case is “about more than just a cake,” Craig wrote in a blog post for the ACLU. “It’s about making sure that Masterpiece and other businesses don’t discriminate against customers because of who they are.”

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission sided with Mullins and Craig. It said that if Phillips is creating custom wedding cakes for heterosexual couples, he must do the same for gay couples. The Colorado Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of the couple.

Phillips argues that he is happy to sell baked goods to gay customers. “He simply believes that only marriage between a man and a woman should be celebrated,” his lawyers wrote in the petition asking the court to take the case. “Thus, he declined to create custom art for a specific event because of the message it communicated, not because of the persons requesting it.”

The petition stated that Phillips faced a stark choice: “Either use your talents to create expression that conflicts with your religious beliefs about marriage, or suffer punishment under Colorado’s public accommodation law.”

Advocates for the LGBT community see the case as simply an issue of basic rights. “Open a business to serve the public? You have an obligation to serve everyone,” Laura Durso of the LGBT research and communications project at the Center for American Progress told NPR in 2013.

Durso said that allowing businesses to deny services to gay couples for religious reasons was a “slippery slope” and warned that it could lead to discrimination against LGBT employees.

Now, the nation’s top court will decide.

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Supreme Court allows parts of travel ban to take effect – CNN

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