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Report: White House Rushed Condolences To Gold Star Families

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At least three families said they received express-shipped packages from the White House after Trump claimed he called “virtually everybody.”

Multiple families of military service members killed in the line duty are now getting rush-delivered letters from President Donald Trump, days after Trump claimed he had called the immediate families of all service members who had been killed since he took office in January.

The Atlantic reported Saturday that their reporters had spoken to three Gold Star families who received condolence packages from the president this week.

Timothy Eckels Sr., whose son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant ship in August, told the magazine he had not heard from Trump until Friday, Oct. 20. His letter from the White House was dated Oct. 18.

The families of Corey Ingram and John M. Hoagland III, two other sailors who died in the USS John McCain collision, also received rush-delivered packages from the White House this week, according to the Atlantic.

The sudden outreach appears to follow mounting criticism over Trump’s reaction to the Niger ambush that killed four U.S. soldiers.

When asked during a Monday press conference why he hadn’t publicly acknowledged the deaths in Niger, Trump pitted himself against past presidents, saying he had written the soldiers’ families personal letters, while “President Obama and other presidents ... didn’t make calls.”

On Tuesday, Trump followed up that remark by claiming he had called “virtually” all Gold Star families who had lost kin since he took office.

“To the best of my knowledge I think I’ve called every family of somebody who’s died,” Trump told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade during a radio interview. “It’s the hardest call to make... the hardest thing for me to do is to do that.”

He later hedged his claim to Kilmeade saying, “I have called, I believe, everybody ― but certainly I’ll use the word virtually everybody.” 

Hours after that Oct. 17 radio broadcast, the White House scrambled to identify and find the contact information for Gold Star families who lost a service member since January, according to an internal Defense Department email obtained by political news site Roll Call.

The email exchange, between the White House and the Pentagon, revealed that senior White House aides knew Trump’s statement about having called “virtually” all Gold Star families was not accurate ― and they needed to correct it as soon as possible.

The White House was attempting to find out which Gold Star families Trump had not yet reached out to, according to Roll Call.

Multiple news outlets have found Trump has yet to reach out to a number of families who lost loved ones since January. In a report published Wednesday, the Washington Post interviewed the families of 13 service members who were killed after Trump took office: Half of the families received phone calls from the president, the remainder had not heard from Trump.

The Associated Press reported it had reached out to the families “of all 43 people who have died in military service since Trump became president,” but only “made contact with about half of the families.”

Some families told AP they were comforted by Trump’s call, while others hadn’t heard from the president.

The family of Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter, who died in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in August, was promised a call from the president but instead heard from Vice President Mike Pence.

Brittany Harris, the widow of Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris who also died in Afghanistan in August, said she had not heard from the president either.

AP identified at least two other Gold Star families who had wanted, but did not receive a call from the president.

 

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John Kelly misrepresented Rep. Frederica Wilson's 2015 speech while criticizing her over Gold Star family controversy

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White House chief of staff John Kelly's claim that Rep. Frederica Wilson had boasted about procuring funding for an FBI field office in 2015 was proven wrong by a video released by The Sun Sentinel on Friday, backing up Wilson's claim that she had only taken credit for working across the aisle to name the building after two FBI agents who were killed in the line of duty.

Kelly called Wilson an "empty barrel" on Thursday and rebuked her for taking credit for securing funding for the future FBI building. Wilson, however, shot back and denied the claim, which was corroborated by the video of her speech.

The video shows that Wilson described how, after she was informed of the long process it would take to finalize the building's name, she "went into attack mode."

"Immediately I went into attack mode... They hotlined it to the Senate floor in just two days," she said in the speech. "And guess what? The president signed the bill into law this past Tuesday, April 7th, 2015, with a bang, bang, bang!"

Wilson was elected to Congress in 2010, one year after the funding for the building was secured, according to CNN.

"Gen. Kelly said he was 'stunned' that Rep. Wilson made comments at a building dedication honoring slain FBI agents about her own actions in Congress, including lobbying former President Obama on legislation," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement sent to Business Insider. "As Gen. Kelly pointed out, if you're able to make a sacred act like honoring American heroes about yourself, you're an empty barrel."

The back-and-forth between Wilson and Kelly follows another feudbetween the Florida congresswoman and President Donald Trump himself, in which Wilson criticized Trump for making an insensitive call to the widow of a fallen US soldier.

 

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Trump Falsely Claims Obama Didn’t Contact Families of Fallen Troops

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President Trump falsely asserted on Monday that his predecessor, Barack Obama, and other presidents did not contact the families of American troops killed in duty, drawing a swift, angry rebuke from several of Mr. Obama’s former aides.

Mr. Trump was responding to a question about why he had not spoken publicly about the killing of four Green Berets in an ambush in Niger two weeks ago when he made the assertion. Rather than answering the question, Mr. Trump said he had written personal letters to their families and planned to call them in the coming week. Then he pivoted to his predecessors.

“If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference in the Rose Garden with the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. “A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate.”

Mr. Trump’s assertion belied a long record of meetings Mr. Obama held with the families of killed service people, as well as calls and letters, dating to the earliest days of his presidency. Before he decided to deploy 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, Mr. Obama traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to greet the coffins of troops.

While Mr. Obama’s former staff members have grown used to Mr. Trump’s gibes about the “failure” of the Affordable Care Act or the “disastrous” Iran nuclear deal, they lashed out at his remarks on Monday with unusual bitterness.

“This is an outrageous and disrespectful lie even by Trump standards,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama, posted on Twitter. “Also,” Mr. Rhodes added, “Obama never attacked a Gold Star family.”

That reference was to the public feud Mr. Trump began with the parents of a Muslim American soldier, Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. The soldier’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, appeared at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, where Mr. Khan criticized Mr. Trump.

Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former senior aide to Mr. Obama, used even stronger language on Twitter, calling Mr. Trump’s statement a lie — along with an expletive — and describing him as a “deranged animal.”

A spokesman for Mr. Obama declined to comment.

Several former Obama administration officials recalled the former president’s walks through Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, where the dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are buried, his visits to the wounded at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and the time he spent with families of the fallen at the White House and around the country.

In August 2011, after a Chinook military helicopter was shot down over Afghanistan, killing 38 people, including 25 Special Forces troops, Mr. Obama consoled the families of all those killed, according to Jeremy B. Bash, a former chief of staff to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who attended the ceremony.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said, “I don’t recall anything moving him more. He saw it as his duty to console them as best he could and thank them on behalf of the nation.”

But several officials said it was not always realistic to expect presidents to call the families of every fallen soldier. During the peak years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Obama and former President George W. Bush faced hundreds of fatalities each year.

In 2009, the first year of Mr. Obama’s presidency, there were 317 American military fatalities in Afghanistan and 149 in Iraq. So far this year, there have been 11 fatalities in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. Seventeen sailors were killed in accidents involving two Navy warships, the John S. McCain and the Fitzgerald.

In the Niger episode, three American soldiers were killed while on patrol on the border between Niger and Mali this month. The body of a fourth American soldier was recovered later.

While he did not explain why he had not called their families, Mr. Trump said he had written letters to the family members over the weekend, which he said would be mailed later in the day or on Tuesday. He said he also planned to call them.

“I felt very, very badly about that,” he said. “The toughest calls I have to make are the calls where this happens. Soldiers are killed. It’s a very difficult thing,” he said. “Now, it gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day. It’s a very, very tough day. For me, that’s by far the toughest.”

A senior official said Mr. Trump had planned to speak sooner to the families, but the White House had to wait until the Pentagon’s paperwork was completed.

Pentagon officials said the military’s Africa Command was putting together a detailed timeline of the attack and of the response by French helicopters that first provided air cover for the badly outnumbered American and Nigerian forces, and eventually medical evacuation.

On Monday, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, joined a growing chorus calling for a review of the circumstances leading to the ambush.

After he answered the question about his response to the attack, Mr. Trump was pressed later in the news conference about his claim that Mr. Obama had never called bereaved families. This time, he seemed to soften his tone.

“I don’t know if he did,” the president said. “I was told he didn’t often, and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters.”

“President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t,” Mr. Trump continued. “That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals.” Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

 

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Trump Undermines Obamacare By Slashing Subsidies

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U.S. President Donald Trump moved to undermine Obamacare dramatically late on Thursday by cutting off subsidies to health insurance companies for low-income patients, sparking threats of legal action and concern of chaos in insurance markets.

The decision is the most dramatic action Trump has taken yet to weaken the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, which extended insurance to 20 million Americans.

The move drew swift condemnation from Democrats and threats from state attorneys general in New York and California to file lawsuits.

Trump has been frustrated by Republicans' failure to repeal and replace the law known as Obamacare, thwarting a promise he made during his successful 2016 presidential campaign.

His decision is likely to please those among his political base who detest the Obamacare system, which many Republicans have attacked for years as an unneeded government intrusion in Americans' healthcare.

In a nod to that same constituency, the president signed an executive order earlier on Thursday to make it easier for Americans to buy bare-bones health insurance plans exempt from Obamacare requirements.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi derided the subsidies cut-off in a joint statement, saying Trump would single-handedly push Americans' healthcare premiums higher.

"It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America," they said. "Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it."

Insurers and proponents of Obamacare have implored Trump for months to commit to making the payments, which are worth billions of dollars. Several insurers have cited uncertainty over the payments when hiking premiums for 2018 or exiting insurance markets altogether.

Healthcare stocks have edged lower in recent days. Ending the payments could hurt shares of insurers such as Anthem Inc, Molina, Cigna Corp and Centene, which are offering plans on Obamacare markets for 2018.

Trump has made the payments, guaranteed to insurers under Obamacare to help lower out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income consumers, each month since taking office in January. But he has repeatedly threatened to cut them off and disparaged them as a "bailout" for insurance companies.

LAWSUITS

The White House said late on Thursday that it could not lawfully pay the subsidies anymore.

A White House statement said that based on guidance from the Justice Department, "the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies under Obamacare."

"In light of this analysis, the Government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments," it said.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement he was prepared to lead other attorneys general in a lawsuit.

"I will not allow President Trump to once again use New York families as political pawns in his dangerous, partisan campaign to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act at any cost," he wrote.

The payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans against the Obama administration that alleged they were unlawful because they needed to be appropriated by Congress. A judge for the federal district court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Republicans, and the Obama administration appealed the ruling.

The Trump administration took over the lawsuit and had delayed deciding whether to continue the Obama administration’s appeal or terminate the subsidies, but in April Trump began threatening to stop the payments. That case became more complicated in August when a U.S. appeals court allowed 16 Democratic state attorneys general to defend the payments and have a say in the legal fight.

The political turbulence has affected insurers' decisions.

Anthem Inc, one of the largest remaining Obamacare insurers, in August scaled back its offerings in Nevada and Georgia and blamed the moves in part on uncertainty over the payments.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina earlier this year raised premiums by more than 20 percent, but said it would have only raised premiums by about 9 percent if Trump agreed to fund the payments.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that cutting off the insurer payments would cause premiums to rise 20 percent in 2018, and said that 5 percent of Americans would live in areas that do not have an insurer in the individual market in 2018.

Trump has taken a number of other steps to undermine Obamacare. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued rules that let businesses or non-profit organizations lodge religious or moral objections to obtain an exemption from Obamacare’s mandate that employers provide birth control in health insurance with no co-payment.

The administration also slashed the Obamacare advertising and outreach budget and halved the open enrollment period.

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Top News Jaguars Owner Locks Arms With Players After Trump Protests

Shahid Khan had donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan joined dozens of football players in a silent demonstration during the national anthem in London on Sunday.

Khan, who donated $1 million to President Trump’s inauguration committee, linked arms with his players Marcedes Lewis and Telvin Smith at Wembley Stadium as an estimated 27 others took a knee on the field.

The stance came in response to Trump demanding that the National Football League fire players who were kneeling during the national anthem in protest of social injustices. He also encouraged fans to boycott the league over the protests.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,’” Trump said during a rally on Friday in Alabama.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, wide receiver Mike Wallace and safety Lardarius Webb were among those who took a knee on the field on Sunday, The Associated Press reported. 

Participating Jaguars players included linebacker Dante Fowler, defensive tackle Calais Campbell, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti also expressed his support for his players on Sunday.

“We recognize our players’ influence. We respect their demonstration and support them 100 percent. All voices need to be heard. That’s democracy in its highest form,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.

 

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