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News Wrap: Medicare head says ACA site improving while insurers cancel policies

November 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: The White House spent another day on the defensive today about whether it overpromised on its health care plan. President Obama said Americans would be able to keep their existing insurance, but insurers are canceling thousands of policies.

Lawmakers from both parties are now complaining about a process they say is at best unclear and at worst seriously flawed.

Medicare and Medicaid Chief Marilyn Tavenner told a Senate hearing today the troubled Web site’s performance is improving.

MARILYN TAVENNER, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services: We are now able to process nearly 17,000 registrants per hour or five per second with almost no errors. We have updated the site several times since October 1, fixing bugs and improving the healthcare.gov experience. We have added more capacity and we have doubled the number of servers in order to meet demand.

GWEN IFILL: In Washington last night, the president told supporters he has one more campaign in him to prove the health care law will work for everyone. He will take that pitch to Dallas tomorrow, meeting with enrollment volunteers.

Federal findings today raised major questions about day care. The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services found that 21 states do not require a yearly unannounced inspection at day care facilities, and only 15 states require background checks on employees; 1.6 million children rely on federal subsidies to attend programs at 500,000 day care centers or homes nationwide.

This was Election Day in a number of cities and states around the country. In New Jersey, a strong reelection win for Republican Governor Chris Christie could boost his potential bid for the White House in 2016. He spoke after voting today.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-New Jersey: My children were asking me about it. Why — you know, what would this mean to you? I just said, you know, it’s an affirmation of all the hard work that we have done. And that’s — if it happens tonight, that would be very gratifying for me personally, given all the effort that I have put into the job.

GWEN IFILL: There was also a governor’s race today in Virginia, and New York, Detroit and Boston chose new mayors.

In Colorado, a 25 percent tax on marijuana sales is on the ballot, and, in Houston, a bond measure could determine whether the city renovates or razes the Astrodome. The landmark arena opened in 1965, but it’s been closed since 2009.

Illinois is about to become the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Statehouse approved it today and sent the bill back to the state Senate for a final technical change.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate moved ahead on the first major bill to bar workplace discrimination against homosexual, bisexual, and transgender Americans. The measure could come to a final Senate vote by Friday, but it faces strong Republican opposition in the House. We will have more on this later in the program.

The mayor of Toronto admitted today he has smoked crack cocaine, touching off new calls for him to resign. Rob Ford has been dogged since may by allegations he’d been caught on video smoking crack. He sidestepped questions, but last week, Toronto police said they have found a copy of the video.

Today, Ford spoke to reporters outside his office.

MAYOR ROB FORD, Toronto, Canada: Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.

QUESTION: When, sir?

ROB FORD: But no — do I? Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.

I answered your question. You ask a question properly, I will answer it. Yes, I have made mistakes. All I can do now is apologize and move on.

GWEN IFILL: Later in the day, Ford did apologize, but said he will not resign. The video has not been released publicly, but police say it doesn’t constitute enough evidence to bring criminal charges.

Police in Paramus, New Jersey, tried today to piece together why a gunman killed himself in the state’s largest shopping mall last night; 20-year-old Richard Shoop fired multiple shots into the mall ceiling, then retreated to a back corridor where he took his own life. Officers found his body after a lengthy search. Hundreds of shoppers and employees were trapped for hours before they could leave.

Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged today that Europeans have legitimate questions about U.S. surveillance. Kerry spoke in Warsaw, Poland, where he said he’s trying to address complaints about U.S. spying on European leaders and their people.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY:  We have to strike the right balance between protecting our citizens, and obviously privacy of all of our citizens. And we will work very closely with our friends in order to make certain that the road ahead is one that is understood and that is mutually agreed upon.

GWEN IFILL: Kerry said it’s important not to let the issue affect U.S. talks with the European Union on creating the world’s biggest free-trade zone. From Poland, he flew on to Israel in a bid to jump-start peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Kerry visit comes amid reports that Israel, Iran and Arab states held a rare meeting two weeks ago on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Diplomats said today the adversaries met in Switzerland to discuss a possible international conference on the issue. One official said the gathering was quite constructive, and there could be another meeting later this month.

More than 1,400 works of art looted by the Nazis and found in Munich, Germany, are turning into a treasure trove. Authorities announced today the paintings date from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and they include previously unknown works by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, among others.

REINHARD NEMETZ, German Prosecutor (through interpreter): A total of 121 frames and 1,285 non-framed works, among them famous artists, were seized. There were oil paintings, others in India ink, pencil, watercolors, color prints, and other prints from artists like Max Liebermann and others.

GWEN IFILL: The art was discovered last year in a Munich apartment. Officials still have to identify all the works, find the rightful owners and determine the legal status of each piece.

India has launched its first mission to Mars. The unmanned spacecraft lifted off today from an island off the country’s east coast. If it arrives in Mars’ orbit next September, as planned, it will make India’s space program only the fourth one to reach the Red Planet.

On Wall Street, stocks mostly stalled after a batch of disappointing earnings reports. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 21 points to close at 15,618. The Nasdaq rose three points to close near 3,940.