News Wrap: Trump tells Congress to ‘act now’ on health bill
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JUDY WOODRUFF: President Trump is warning that Congress must act on a Republican health care bill to head off a crisis with Obamacare. He called in key House congressional committee chairs today to praise their work, despite opposition from Democrats, medical groups and some conservatives.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must act now to save Americans from the imploding Obamacare disaster. Premiums have skyrocketed by double digits, and triple digits in some cases. This is the time we’re going to get it done. We’re working together. We have some great results. We have tremendous spirit, and I think it’s something that’s just going to happen very shortly.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining me to discuss the American Health Care Act are NewsHour’s White House correspondent John Yang and congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins.
Well, let’s start with the resistance in Congress. The president in his tweet says everything is going smoothly, but on Capitol Hill, not so much.
LISA DESJARDINS: It’s real and significant.
Right now, if you look at the House, they can spare 21 Republican votes and still pass this. But, by my count, there are somewhere like 40 Republicans who are either unsure or have expressed clear doubts or even no votes. They have a lot of reasons for concern.
One are the tax credits we have talked on the show before. To some conservatives, that’s just another government entitlement program. They’re hoping there’s negotiations ahead, but it’s not clear if there are.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, John, what does the White House do to try to make sure that those 40 Republicans stay in line?
JOHN YANG: Well, the president says that he hasn’t have to do much of anything.
He points out that — in the meeting with the House whips the other day, he pointed out his margin of victory in the districts of a lot those recalcitrant House Republicans. And he knows those numbers. He knows what they won and he knows what he won.
He’s going to go out on what they call a full-court press to sell this, but what he’s selling is repealing the current law. That’s what he is trying make this vote, not a vote for the — so much for the proposal that they have got on the table now, but a vote for repealing Obamacare. So the question is, do you want to go home and say you voted against repealing Obamacare?
HARI SREENIVASAN: There are still those sticking points. Besides the tax credits, what else is making these Republicans hesitant?
LISA DESJARDINS: There’s another problem for moderate Republicans as well, some like, say, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who has many constituents on Medicaid or on the Medicaid expansion.
They’re worried about coverage and whether many of their constituents are going to lose coverage. And they’re worried about the Congressional Budget Office score, which we expect on Monday. That is going to be a big factor in how this battle go.
This is kind of that wild moment, Hari, where people are still deciding, which way will the wind go? And CBO is going to have an effect on that.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The White House went out of its way to sort of discredit the CBO already before the numbers came out just yesterday.
JOHN YANG: It’s gaming the ref.
They have already said — they’re already preparing themselves for a bad score. They said — Sean Spicer said if you’re looking for accuracy, the CBO is the wrong place to look. So they’re already discrediting before it even comes out.
HARI SREENIVASAN: But a couple of kind of mixed messages that we see here is, we see Paul Ryan on the one hand saying, this is it, this is the final thing. And then sometimes we also hear from other people that this is open to negotiation, this is a process.
Which is it?
LISA DESJARDINS: Right. It’s very curious.
Behind closed doors, conservatives have said the president has told them in meetings this week with people like Jim Jordan that he is listening, that he’s willing to change some things they don’t like.
But, publicly, that’s not what the message is. And Paul Ryan used a very important word yesterday. He said this is a binary decision. Translation, ultimatum. Just like John was saying, either you vote for this, or, if you vote no, that is a vote for Obamacare. That drives these conservatives crazy, because they don’t see the choice that way.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, so it’s either you’re with us or you’re with Obamacare.
JOHN YANG: Although the president says — or Sean Spicer said in his briefings today, it’s not so much the details that the president is looking at. He laid out five principles for this bill in his speech to Congress. As long as those five principles are met, he really doesn’t care what the details are.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, John Yang, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The U.S. economy cranked out more jobs in February. The Labor Department reports that U.S. employers added a net of 235,000 new positions. The unemployment rate dipped slightly to 4.7 percent, as more people began looking for work.
During the campaign, then candidate Trump dismissed the jobs data as phony. Today, a White House spokesman said, they may have been phony in the past, but they’re very real now.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It turns out lawyers for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn told the Trump transition team before the inauguration that he might have to register as a foreign agent. That’s because Flynn had lobbied for the Turkish government during the campaign, before he joined the Trump administration.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today that Flynn’s lawyers spoke to transition lawyers, and he defended the vetting process.
SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary: He was also the head of the department — the Defense Intelligence Agency, unbelievably qualified, 40 years in the military with impeccable credentials. So, what is it that he — what is exactly are you getting at? Because, so far, he has impeccable credentials, he had a stellar career in the military, widely respected.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Flynn was fired last month when it came out that he had had contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., but misled the vice president and others about it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Native Americans and their supporters rallied outside the White House today against the Dakota Access oil pipeline. Their march started at the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters and culminated with a gathering next to the executive mansion. They have also been staging protests on the National Mall this week. The final phase of the pipeline is under construction in North Dakota.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Volkswagen has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice in its emissions cheating scandal. The German automaker entered the plea in federal court in Detroit. It agreed to pay $4.3 billion in penalties. The case involved nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In South Korea, President Park Geun-hye was officially ousted today by the nation’s highest court.
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has the story.
MARGARET WARNER: The constitutional court’s verdict, announced in Seoul, was unanimous. Upholding the impeachment of South Korea’s President Park, it removed her from office a stunning fall from power.
Streets overflowed with demonstrators, many celebrating the ouster of the country’s first female leader.
WOMAN (through interpreter): The people gave her the power to serve. But she filled her own pocket, disrupted social order and undermined democracy.
MARGARET WARNER: Others protested the verdict, saying Park’s removal leaves South Korea at risk.
WOMAN (through interpreter): We should be thankful to president Park for protecting our nation. Young people these days don’t know that. It’s only been 67 years since the Korean War erupted. We could soon see another similar tragedy happen.
MARGARET WARNER: Two people died during today’s protests, and at least 30 were hurt. All of this follows Park’s suspension from office in December.
Now she may face criminal charges of conspiring to let childhood friend Choi Soon-sil meddle in state affairs and extort money from businesses, including Samsung, whose own chief is now on trial for bribery.
The political turmoil in South Korea comes at a moment of high tensions in the region. North Korea test-fired a barrage of long-range missiles this week, as the U.S. and South Korea conducted annual joint military exercises. And China is now protesting U.S. plans to deploy a new missile defense system in the South.
The Pentagon shipped components of the so-called THAAD defense system to South Korea this week. Washington says it’s designed to protect against a North Korean attack, not to threaten China. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is likely to reinforce that message, as he visits South Korea next week.
Meanwhile, a caretaker president is in place while the country gets ready to hold elections in the next 60 days.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Margaret Warner.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House said today the U.S. expects to continue to work with South Korea as a friend and ally.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The president of Guatemala called today for reforms after a deadly fire at a crowded shelter for abused teens. Meanwhile, the death toll in Wednesday’s deadly blaze rose to 37. Police say some of the girls set fire to mattresses to protest abuses. Families of victims held a candlelight vigil and protest last night to call for an investigation. They also demanded the president’s resignation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.N. Human Rights Office accused Turkey today of widespread killings and other abuses, mostly against minority Kurds. Investigators said roughly 2,000 people died during security operations in Southeastern Turkey over 18 months. The U.N. told of entire neighborhoods destroyed, displacing several hundred thousand people.
In Geneva, a U.N. spokesman said Turkey is hindering a thorough investigation.
RUPERT COLVILLE, Spokesman, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: It appears that not a single suspect was apprehended and not a single individual was prosecuted for violations that occurred during this period.
The government of Turkey has repeatedly failed to grant us access, but has nevertheless contested the veracity of the very serious allegations made in this report.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Turkish government says that 800 of the dead were troops, and that many others were Kurdish rebels.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Pope Francis has now signaled that he’d consider letting some married men become priests, but with strict limits. He told a German newspaper the men would have to be older, with proven character. and they’d serve only where there’s a shortage of clergy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, there’s word that the death of Russia’s U.N. ambassador was due to a heart attack. Vitaly Churkin collapsed in his office last month. The Associated Press cites a senior New York City official who says there’s no sign of foul play. The State Department has asked the city not to release the autopsy results, in accordance with diplomatic protocol.
HARI SREENIVASAN: House Republicans pushed through legislation today to sanction lawyers and others who file frivolous lawsuits in federal courts. It doesn’t change the standard for determining whether a suit is frivolous, but it does require judges to impose penalties.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s being reported tonight that President Trump will nominate Dr. Scott Gottlieb to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. Wire service accounts say that he would be tasked with speeding the drug approval process. Gottlieb served previously as a deputy FDA commissioner and is currently a partner in a venture capital firm.
And on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 44 points to close near 20903. The Nasdaq rose almost 23, and the S&P 500 added seven. For the week, all three indexes were down slightly.