Barack Obama: Senate proposal 'is not a health care bill,' is 'a massive transfer of wealth'

(Photo by Michele Tantussi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)(NEW YORK) -- Former President Barack Obama came out against the Senate-produced health care bill on Thursday, calling it "a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America."

"The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill," the former commander-in-chief writes on Facebook. "It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else."

Echoing Democratic concerns that the bill would raise premiums and deductibles on many people, especially the sickest Americans, Obama notes the millions of Americans who are expected to lose coverage if the bill becomes law.

"Simply put," Obama wrote, "if there's a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family -- this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation."

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Trump calls Russia election hack a 'big Dem hoax'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to call Russian interference in the 2016 election a "big Dem hoax" and slammed the Democratic National Committee over how it dealt with the hacking of its email systems last year.

“Why did the DNC REFUSE to turn over its Server to the FBI, and still hasn't?" Trump wrote on Twitter. "It's all a big Dem scam and excuse for losing the election!”


On Wednesday, former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson testified at a House Intelligence Committee hearing about what his agency knew about Russian interference and how it attempted to prevent it during the campaign season. Jeh also answered questions about what then-President Barack Obama knew, as well as coordination between the DNC and the DHS.

Specifically, Johnson was questioned about whether the DHS helped the DNC after learning about possible Russian hacking.

“The FBI and the DNC had been in contact with each other months before about the intrusion,” said Johnson, adding later, “the DNC did not feel it needed DHS’s assistance at that time.”

Trump seized on Johnson's comments, blasting the Democrats in an additional tweet for not working with the DHS to prevent the hacks.

"Why did Democratic National Committee turn down the DHS offer to protect against hacks (long prior to election). It's all a big Dem HOAX!” he wrote.

The tweet appeared to answer a question that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer couldn't during Tuesday’s press briefing. Spicer was asked whether Trump stands by the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia tampered with the 2016 election and said only that he hadn't "sat down and asked [Trump] about his specific reaction."

 On Thursday, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to clarify Trump's use of the word "hoax" during the press briefing.

"I believe that the reference to the hoax is about the fact that they're trying to delegitimize his win," she said of the Democrats.

Former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz contradicted Johnson, issuing a statement Wednesday which claimed: “At no point during my tenure at the DNC did anyone from the FBI or any other government agency contact or communicate with me about Russian intrusion on the DNC network.”

"It is astounding to me that the chair of an organization like the DNC was never contacted by the FBI or any other agency concerned about these intrusions," she added.

In a third tweet Thursday morning, Trump asked: “By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn't they stop them?”

At a forum hosted by the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday, Johnson responded to Trump’s tweets but did not say whether he felt the president had twisted his words, adding that he would “leave that to the journalists." He also advised people to focus on the current administration's actions around Russian interference rather than past efforts by the DNC or Obama administration.

"The larger question that we need to address is, now that we know what happened, what are we going to do about stop a foreign superpower from interfering in our democracy," Johnson said.

He added that he believes that America remains "exposed."

Johnson said the U.S. "has not done much to harden" its cyber defense systems, and stressed that a more robust defense would make hacking the U.S. "cost-prohibitive” for other countries in the future.

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DNC Chairman Tom Perez suggests Democrats could 'take 50 seats' in House

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The results of recent congressional elections suggest that Democrats could "take 50 seats" in the House of Representatives in 2018, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said on ABC's The View Thursday.

Perez noted that Democrats are losing, but by encouraging margins, citing the April special election in Kansas' 4th district where he said Democrats were expected to lose by 30 percentage points but lost by less than 7.

"If we keep taking the margins down by 20 points like we have done, we're going to take 50 seats," Perez said.

Democrats hold 193 seats and need to gain 24 to be in the majority.

"If you look at our history, the last three times we have had single-party control ... the following midterm election, the party out of power won 28 seats,” he said.

He added, however, that "History ... is not always prologue."

Perez, a former labor secretary, said there are 71 congressional districts "more competitive" than Georgia's 6th district, where Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel Tuesday by less than 4 points.

Perez says he was "disappointed" by that election, but suggested it was to be expected. "This was Newt Gingrich's old seat. Democrats haven't won there in 37 years,” he said of the former speaker of the House.

"All of the seats that have been in play, the congressional seats are beet-red districts," he added.

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Four Republican senators announce opposition to current health care bill

US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- A quartet of Republican Senators released a statement on Thursday in opposition to the Republican-controlled Senate's health care bill.

Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Mike Lee issued a joint statement following the release of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017. "For a variety of reasons," the four Senators wrote, "we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor."

"There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current healthcare system" the four explain. "But it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their healthcare costs."

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Lawmakers react to Senate GOP health care bill

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republicans unveiled a "discussion draft" of their long-awaited health care bill Thursday, a part of their party's ongoing efforts to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act.

“A little negotiation, but it's going to be very good,” President Trump told reporters this week.

A number of Capitol Hill lawmakers have responded to the bill, which critics on both sides of the aisle said was shrouded in secrecy.

As Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor Thursday morning to tout the bill, a large protest gathered outside the Kentucky senator’s office.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the Senate Republicans’ “Better Care Reconciliation Act” as “every bit as bad” as the American Health Care Act passed in the House.

“The president said the Senate bill needed heart. The way this bill cuts health care is heartless,” Schumer said Thursday. “The president said the house bill was mean. The Senate bill may be meaner.”

He continued, “The Senate Republican health care bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, only this wolf has even sharper teeth than the House bill.”

During her weekly press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it’s important to stop the Republican legislation that she calls “a tax bill disguised as a health care bill.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said in a statement that she "will carefully review the text of the Senate health care bill this week and into the weekend."

A vote from Collins, who has been willing to break from her party in the past, would be key to ensure the bill's passage.

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What's inside the Senate GOP health care bill

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Seven weeks after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, Senate Republicans unveiled their version of the health care bill on Thursday.

Here's how the Senate bill differs from the one passed by the House:

Inside the Senate bill

  • Funds two years of current Obamacare payments to insurers (which President Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull) to stabilize the insurance marketplace.
  • Delays cuts to Medicaid.
  • Eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate and doesn’t include penalties for a lapse in coverage.
  • Allows children to stay on parents’ plans through the age of 26.
  • Does not include the House bill language to waive essential health benefit coverage, but does give states the ability to opt out of other Obamacare rules.

Recapping the House bill

  • Prevents women from using federal tax credits to buy plans that cover abortion and temporarily blocks Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds for one year.
  • Lets states impose work requirements for Medicaid.
  • Allows states to seek waivers from covering essential health benefits -- including maternity care and emergency room trips.
  • Allows states to waive an Obamacare regulation that prevented insurers from charging sicker consumers more, which would effectively undermine pre-existing conditions protections.
  • Repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate but penalizes people who let their coverage lapse for 63 days.
  • Replaces Obamacare’s income-based tax credits with age-based tax credits that don’t vary with local insurance costs.
  • Adds $8 billion to high-risk pools for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Going forward

The bill’s release follows months of speculation and contentious debate. Senate Democrats have criticized their Republican counterparts for working on the bill behind closed doors.

Earlier this week, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., appearing on ABC News’ Powerhouse Politics podcast, noted that when crafting the Affordable Care Act, Republicans had a chance to offer changes.

“In the Health Committee, I think 160 Republican amendments were accepted into the bill,” he said. “It was debated for 25 straight days before it was voted on. It was scored well in advance. This is a sham.”

The Congressional Budget Office, which provides nonpartisan, quantitative analyses to Congress, will now evaluate the bill. A CBO score could come as soon as Friday.

The CBO estimated that the version of the American Health Care Act passed by the House would leave 24 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under the Affordable Care Act. The office also estimated the bill would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion from 2017 to 2026.

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Democrats' disputes simmer after special election losses

US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats were left picking up the pieces after spending millions of dollars from the party’s war chest to back a young candidate in a traditionally red district outside Atlanta and pushing hard for their base of supporters from around the country to donate to him too.

The loss in the high-profile, costly race was only exacerbated by a second defeat Tuesday night in a race that flew mostly under the radar: Democrats also lost a special election in South Carolina.

Despite national fervor and grassroots activism that have sprung up on the left since President Trump took office, Republicans have swept all four special election races in 2017.

"I don’t like moral victories, I like victories," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who challenged House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the House Democratic leadership elections last fall, told reporters Wednesday morning.

"There's a level of depression," he said of the mood among Democrats, adding that the national brand of the party is "toxic."

On Capitol Hill, top party officials told their colleagues to stay motivated after a strong showing in a conservative district that once sent former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to Congress and re-elected former Rep. Tom Price by double digits in November.

In an internal memo distributed to Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staff obtained by ABC News, Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, argued that many Republicans won their districts by slimmer margins than in the Georgia-sixth last fall. With all the grassroots energy, he wrote, the party still had a chance to take back the House of Representatives next year.

"I think the hype before the election that we had to win this was wrong," said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York. "If the [marginal swing from November] holds true in a year, we sweep the House."

But for other Democrats critical of their party's leaders, Tuesday's losses resurfaced long-simmering frustrations with Pelosi’s leadership and the party’s message heading into the midterms.

Asked if Democrats can win in 2018 while GOP groups run attack ads featuring Pelosi, Ryan said "it's going to make things a heck of a lot harder."

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., who supported Ryan's leadership bid, tweeted Wednesday that Jon Ossoff had to spend time and money "defending against attacks on our party leadership" despite Trump's unpopularity.

"Attacks aren't fair or justified, but GOP keeps using this playbook because they see that it works. That's a fact we can't keep ignoring," she wrote.

Joe Cunningham, a Democrat running for Congress in a bid to unseat Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., tweeted a promise not to vote for Pelosi for leadership if he wins his race -- just hours after announcing his bid.

"Time to move forward and win again," he wrote.

In a previously scheduled closed-door conference meeting Wednesday morning, Pelosi and Lujan kicked off the session by mentioning the race Tuesday night, and the need for the party to develop an economic message.

The comments, seven months after the 2016 election, left some scratching their heads.

“It's June 21st,” one member in the meeting told reporters in disbelief.

Progressive Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a freshman who has expressed frustration with Pelosi and party’s platforms in the past, argued Tuesday night that the party has to rally behind a “concrete” and “bold” economic agenda.

“I think we do need a bolder economic platform that speaks to wage stagnation and the need for new jobs ... and has new ideas that can capture people's attention and imagination,” he told ABC News. He listed the possibility of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that create jobs or a dramatic earned income tax credit expansion.

“As you know, we need 24 seats to retake the majority. Our DCCC polling team and outside pollsters went into dozens of districts in the last few months to learn: Is the momentum real? Is it building to the point that we can win 24 seats and take back the House? The answer is yes,” Lujan wrote. “In more than 24 districts and counting, generic Democrats are leading in the polls or have already made significant shifts from the last polls available in 2016.”

The memo talks about specific districts in Florida, New Jersey and Arizona where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says it has “tested the named head-to-head between Republican incumbents and specific Democrats, and the results are staggering. Many incumbents -- who won with double digits last cycle -- would be in the race of their careers.”

In a letter to House Democrats Wednesday, Pelosi praised the party's slate of candidates for giving Republicans "a run for their money" in all the special elections in "deep red congressional districts"

"The House was in play before the Georgia race. The House remains in play now," she wrote.

Pelosi said Democrats continue to fine-tune their economic message to voters, an effort led by Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., David Ciciline, D-R.I., and Hakeem Jeffires, D-N.Y.

Pelosi and Lujan have been working on a economic messaging plan for months, updating members on the process since the election.

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Trump basks in GOP special election wins at Iowa rally

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday night held a campaign-style rally in Iowa, at which he congratulated the Republican winners of Tuesday's special elections in South Carolina and Georgia. He also sent his well wishes to Rep. Steve Scalise, who was injured in last week's shooting in Alexandria, Virginia.

"It is great to be back in the incredible, beautiful state of Iowa," Trump told the crowd at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. "It's always terrific to be able to leave that Washington swamp and spend time with the truly hard working people we call American Patriots, truly amazing people."

He then congratulated Karen Handel, who won the Georgia special election, and Ralph Norman, who won the South Carolina special election.

"I also want to extend our congratulations to Karen Handel of Georgia," the president said. "And we can't forget Ralph Norman in South Carolina. He called me and I called him. He said, 'you know what? I felt like the forgotten man.' But he won beautifully. A lot of people didn't show up because they thought he would win ... Karen is going to be really incredible."

Trump added that Handel will target "tax cuts, reducing crime, securing that Second Amendment, and that looks like it's in great shape with Judge Gorsuch."

According to the Georgia Secretary of State, Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff by a 52.13 percent-47.87 percent margin. That translated to 132,459 votes for Handel, and 121,635 votes for Ossoff. And in South Carolina, Republican Ralph Norman won Tuesday's special election in that state's 5th Congressional District, defeating Democrat Archie Parnell with 51 percent of the vote. Parnell had roughly 48 percent of the vote.

At the rally, the president said of Scalise, "I would like to take this moment to send out thoughts to our courageous friend Steve Scalise and everyone recovering from the assault."

He continued, "so to Steve we say, he was a great guy ... we're praying for you, we're pulling for you. You have our full support ...and our gratitude tonight goes out as well to the Capitol Police.

Prior to his rally, Trump visited Kirkwood Community College to get briefed on agricultural technology being developed there. Among the machines he saw was a "combine simulator" — a virtual way to practice using a combine.

Following his visit to the college, Trump told reporters he had "just learned more about farming than I ever thought I'd learn."

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Ex-DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson defends Obama handling of Russian meddling

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson defended the Obama administration’s decision to delay publicly commenting on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Wednesday.

"We have to carefully consider whether declassifying the information compromises sources and methods," Johnson said under grilling in a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, adding, "There was an ongoing election. Many would criticize us for perhaps taking sides in the election. So that had to be carefully considered."

An intelligence report released in January concluded that "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election" and acted "to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency."

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. pressed Johnson on why the administration waited to publicly comment on the Russian efforts if the interference first took place during the summer of 2016. The first public statement on the meddling efforts was not made until October.

"One of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way," Johnson continued, referring to Donald Trump's campaign claims. "So we were concerned that by making the statement we might in and of itself be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.”

Johnson further explained that the October release of behind-the-scenes video from Access Hollywood, in which Trump was recorded making derogatory sexual comments about women, distracted from the eventual statement on the interference.

The former secretary outlined a timeline of steps he took to alert election officials of a threat, saying that state-level officials were notified in August and that public statements were made that month, as well as in September, and twice in October.

"This was an ongoing effort to inform the public about everything we were in a position then to tell the public," said Johnson.

Johnson portrayed the situation as one in which there was bound to be contention, given the two-sided nature of U.S. politics.

After testifying, Johnson urged members of Congress not to lose sight of the more important issue.

"During my time as secretary of Homeland Security, I testified 26 times. It's no longer part of the job description," he said. "But when I was invited, I came here because I thought it was important."

"The big issue, and let's not lose sight of it, the big issue is the cyber intrusions on our democracy last year and how to prevent that from happening in the future for the sake of our democracy," Johnson added. "And that's the overriding, overarching issue and I hope that people in Congress and in government don't lose sight of that picture."

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Bloomberg says America should 'get behind Trump' because 'the public has spoken'

Xinhua/Wang Ying via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said America should "get behind" President Trump because "the public has spoken - whether you like the results or not" during an appearance on ABC's The View.

Bloomberg said that opposing a president just because they are aligned with the opposing party is the wrong approach. He referenced a 2010 interview with the National Journal in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

"That's my country, that's my kids and grandkids," Bloomberg said of his reaction to McConnell's statements. "You have to make it work! We have an election. Whoever wins, you got to get behind."

"He's our president and we need this country to be run well. I didn't vote for him," Bloomberg added. "Let's just all hope that Donald Trump is a good president of the United States."

The businessman and philanthropist also said Americans should direct their energy toward changing the outcome of the next election rather than fighting with the current administration.

Bloomberg said people in other countries "try to tear down the government and have a revolution" when their candidate doesn't win, but Americans should be more strategic.

"We should sit back and say, four years from now, how do I get my woman or man elected? And that's very different," he said.

But Bloomberg said people should still fight back against policies they don't agree with.

"You can protest. You can elect other officials, write letters, make phone calls," Bloomberg explained. "But in the end, the public has spoken -- whether you like the results or not."

Bloomberg joked that Trump also had "a little help from the Russians" in the 2016 election.

As for whether the results of Tuesday's special election in Georgia have serious implications for the future of the Democratic Party, Bloomberg warned people not to read too much into it.

But he said "one thing" the congressional race won by Republican Karen Handel did show was that "all the money in the world can't buy an election."

"The public is a lot smarter than people give them credit for," Bloomberg said.

In the end, he said it was Trump's "Make America Great Again" message that resonated with voters.

"I don't know what the 'again' means," Bloomberg added. "[Because] we're better today than we have ever been. Still, that's the key."

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