Live Coverage

Today's News: March 7, 2016

The GOP’s Obamacare-replacement plan, retaliatory steps from North Korea and Malaysia, and more from the United States and around the world.

Yuri Gripas / Reuters

—Republicans unveiled their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but the measure has critics within the GOP itself. More here

—Malaysia barred North Koreans from leaving the country in a retaliatory step after Pyongyang did the same for Malaysians. More here

—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


This live blog has concluded

China Proposes the U.S. Stop Military Exercises in Exchange for an End to North Korea's Nuclear Tests


China said on Wednesday that if the U.S. and South Korea ended its yearly military exercises that North Korea might suspend its nuclear and missile testing. The proposal Wednesday morning came from China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, who compared the current diplomatic tensions between the countries to two trains headed toward each other on the tracks. "The question is,” Wang said, “are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision? Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brakes on both trains.” The proposal comes a day after North Korea launched four missiles from a long-range site in the country’s northwest, where it is said to be developing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which if functional could potentially reach the U.S. In response, the U.S. on Tuesday said it would deploy an antimissile system in South Korea. China is strongly opposed to this system, called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad. China, too, has tried to get its ally North Korea to give up its nuclear program, and last month it suspended coal imports from Pyongyang. The United Nations has outlawed North Korea from testing ballistic missiles, because they could be used to deliver nuclear weapons.

Trump Will Nominate Noel Francisco for Solicitor General

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The Trump administration will nominate Noel Francisco as solicitor general, the government’s top advocate before the U.S. Supreme Court and one of the most coveted legal jobs in Washington D.C. Francisco was serving as acting solicitor general, and he has previously clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia. Francisco has a strong conservative reputation in D.C., and has argued several cases before the Supreme Court while working as a private attorney for the law firm Jones Day. Last June he defended former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in a corruption case that he won unanimously. And before that, in May, Francisco represented several religious nonprofits that sought exemption from an Obamacare guideline requiring them to pay for contraception. The Supreme Court sent that case back to a lower court. Francisco also served as a White House lawyer from 2001 to 2003, and served two years in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2003 to 2005, both under George W. Bush’s administration. Most recently, Francisco has helped retool Trump’s travel ban after it was challenged in the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court. The position will require Senate confirmation.

DOJ Dismisses Its Own Appeal of Trump's Travel Ban

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Tuesday it would dismiss its own appeal of a federal court ruling in Seattle that blocked President Donald Trump’s original travel ban. The dismissal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals went unchallenged by Washington state’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who had  filed the first lawsuit in a Seattle federal court, and was joined in the Ninth Circuit by Minnesota. This week Trump unveiled his new order after legal concerns bogged down the first ban, which blocked travel from seven primarily Muslim countries. The new order is slightly more narrowed, but reflects the intentions of Trump’s original plan, like blocking for 90 days travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen—it differs in that it allows travelers from Iraq. It also differs in that it does not affect legal permanent residents, and will only blocks people applying for new visas. The new version of the order was meant to make it more resilient to legal challenge, and it seems to have accomplished that to some degree. Ferguson has said the new order in itself was a victory for Washington state, because it cut back on who is barred from entering the country. He also said his office would likely make a decision this week if it will challenge Trump’s new order.

Israel Passes Law Barring Entry to Foreigners Who Support Boycott

Amr Nabil / AP

Israel’s Knesset passed a bill Monday night barring from the country foreigners who publicly supports the boycott of Israel or its settlements. The ban, which passed with 46 lawmakers in favor and 28 opposed, applies to anyone “who knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel that, given the content of the call and the circumstances in which it was issued, has a reasonable possibility of leading to the imposition of a boycott—if the issuer was aware of this possibility.” The law also applies to those calling for boycotts of areas under Israel’s control, such as Israel’s West Bank settlements. It is not entirely clear what constitutes a public call, or how the ban will be enforced. At present, visitors to Israel and the Palestinian territories (entry to which Israel controls) are issued three-month tourist visas, though such entry permits can be denied at the Interior Ministry’s discretion. As Haaretz reports, Israel’s Justice Ministry urged that the bill exclude Palestinians who hold temporary residence permits in Israel, though the country’s Interior Committee reportedly rejected the idea. Israel has long condemned campaigns like Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), which advocates for the international boycott of Israel’s government and institutions over what critics say is its poor treatment of the Palestinians. The bill has received pushback by organizations such as Peace Now, an Israeli non-governmental organization that condemned the move as a violation of freedom of expression that is “neither Jewish nor democratic.” It’s not immediately clear when the law will go into effect.

U.K.'s House of Lords Votes to Give Parliament a Veto Over Triggering Brexit


The House of Lords voted 366-268 to give the U.K. Parliament the power to veto the invocation of Article 50 of the EU charter, the mechanism by which the U.K. can trigger its exit from the European Union. The defeat of the government’s position on Brexit is the second in recent days: Earlier this month, the upper house of Parliament voted to give EU citizens who currently live in the U.K. the right to stay after Brexit. The government maintains that the measure approved by the House of Lords on Tuesday weakened the U.K.’s bargaining position with EU negotiators over what a future EU-U.K. relationship will look like. Here’s what’ll likely happen now, via The Guardian:

The Brexit bill will now return to the House of Commons with the amendment forcing [Prime Minister Theresa] May to have a vote on her Brexit deal and another guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens.

MPs are likely to overturn those amendments, although some Conservative MPs remain unhappy that it is not clear whether parliament will get a vote if May ends up trying to take the UK out of the EU without a deal having been struck.

This will send the Brexit bill back to the House of Lords, which may end up backing down and acknowledging the supremacy of the Commons.

Britons voted last summer 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU. The results of the vote shocked the U.K.’s and EU’s political establishment. Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will respect the results of the referendum and will invoke Article 50 by the end of this month.

German Court Denies Syrian Refugee's Request for Facebook to Remove His Selfie With Angela Merkel

Anas Modamani takes a selfie with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin's Spandau district on September 10, 2015. (Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)

A German court rejected Tuesday a Syrian refugee’s request for a temporary injunction to force Facebook to remove posts falsely linking him to attacks he did not commit. The posts at issue feature a photo Anas Modamani, a 19-year-old refugee from Damascus, took with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a Berlin refugee shelter in September 2015. The photo quickly went viral, and was erroneously used in posts connecting him to the 2016 Brussels Airport bombing and to the attack of a homeless man by a group of migrants last December. Though the court in its decision conceded such posts constitute “indisputable defamation,” it ruled Facebook is neither a “perpetrator nor a participant” by hosting the content. It added Facebook could not be obliged to delete the content under European law. Facebook, which had argued it was not possible to search the entire contents of the social-media site for the photo, said in a statement it was “pleased that the court shares our view.” The company added: “We appreciate that this is a very difficult situation for Mr. Modamani … and will continue to respond quickly to valid reports of the content at issue from Mr. Modamani’s legal representatives.” Hate speech on social media has long been an issue of concern in Germany, whose Justice Ministry has considered issuing fines to social-media platforms that fail to actively remove such content from their sites.

Iraqi Forces Push Further Into Western Mosul

Displaced Iraqis flee their homes as Iraqi forces fight to retake western Mosul from the Islamic State on March 7, 2017. (Suhaib Salem / Reuters)

Iraqi forces announced the recapture of several buildings in western Mosul from the Islamic State Tuesday, marking the latest gains in the military’s campaign to dislodge the militant group from its last major stronghold in the country. The buildings, which include a government compound, the central bank, and the Mosul museum, were seized in a pre-dawn raid of western Mosul’s Bab al-Tob neighborhood. The gains come less than two weeks after Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, announced the recapture of Mosul’s airport from ISIS, and less than a month since Iraq began its campaign to push the militant group out of the western part of the city. Brigadier General Yahya Rasoul, the spokesman for Iraq’s joint operations command, told the Washington Post that “the plan for the western side is progressing much faster than expected.” Still, reclaiming the remainder of the western half—including the historic old city—could pose more of a challenge due to the area’s narrow streets and denser population. Of the 700,000 civilians believed to remain in western Mosul, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates more than 200,000 have been displaced.  

WikiLeaks Publishes What It Says Are New CIA Documents

(Dado Ruvic / Reuters)

WikiLeaks published Tuesday a trove of documents it says comes from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence in Langley, Virginia. The website says the agency “lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal … [giving] its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.” The authenticity of the claim has not been verified, but WikiLeaks’s previous revelations, including material revealed by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, illustrated the scale of U.S. surveillance worldwide. Here’s more from WikiLeaks:

"Year Zero" introduces the scope and direction of the CIA's global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of "zero day" weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, include Apple's iPhone, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.

My colleage Kaveh Waddell has more.

Malaysia, in Retaliatory Step, Imposes Travel Restrictions on North Koreans

Police block Tuesday the entrance to the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur on March 7. (Lai Seng Sin / Reuters)

Malaysia retaliated Tuesday against North Korea’s announcement it was temporarily barring Malaysians from leaving the country, imposing similar measures against North Koreans in Malaysia. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak accused North Korea of “effectively holding our citizens hostage” and said police had been told to “prevent all North Korean citizens in Malaysia from leaving the country until we are assured of the safety and security of all Malaysians in North Korea.” The tit-for-tat steps mark further deterioration in relations between the two countries. Tensions flared after the assassination on February 13 of Kim Jon Nam, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother. As my colleague Matt Vasilogambros wrote last night: “Three weeks ago in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, two women, one Vietnamese and one Indonesian, rubbed a VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam’s face. He died 20 minutes later. Pyongyang is suspected of orchestrating the … assassination. The two women, who have been charged with murder, claim they thought they were playing a television game. Meanwhile, two North Koreans wanted by Malaysian police in the assassination are still hiding in the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur.” North Korea has denied any involvement, claiming Kim died of heart failure.

Your Reading List for the GOP's Obamacare-Replacement Plan

The House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees released its plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement that is also known as Obamacare.

Here’s the quick version of what the plan does, per my colleague Vann Newkirk:

In all, the American Health Care Act is roughly a repeal of the Obamacare mandates, a steep rollback of current and future federal commitments to covering people via Medicaid, a replacement of the existing tax credit with one that’s less generous for low-income people but still applies to middle-class people, and a repeal of most of the revenue-generating taxes of the ACA. At first glance, it appears that the most likely result nationally would be a net loss of coverage and a decrease in insurance affordability for many people who are the most vulnerable, but at least some of that effect might be offset by some enhanced state Medicaid payment capabilities and the stability fund.

The New York Times has a useful chart of what aspects of Obamacare the GOP plan will keep, repeal, and change. You can read that here.

My colleague Olga Khazan looked at whom the plan helps the most: “Unlike Obamacare, which determined subsidies for insurance by income, the new plan would weight the tax credits by age and then phase them out in increments by income,” she notes. Here’s more:

Under the GOP’s plan, a 30-year-old would receive $2,000 to put toward insurance, and a 60-year-old would get $4,000. But the important thing is that those amounts would apply to anyone who makes up to $75,000 (or $150,000 if it’s a married couple filing jointly). After that threshold, they would titrate down in 10 percent increments. …

Compare this to Obamacare, under which people who earn more than about $48,000 don’t get any subsidies—no matter how old they are. As I’ve interviewed Trump supporters at the inauguration, in Pennsylvania, and in Tennessee, I’ve found that many of them make just over that threshold, and they’re angry that Obamacare doesn’t seem to take them into account. If they earn, say, $60,000, they don’t feel rich—in fact, their incomes are about average for Americans—yet they can’t afford health insurance. They’re also resentful that people on Medicaid are getting something for nothing. Perhaps that’s one reason why people who earned between $50,000 and $100,000 were more likely to vote for Trump.

But as my colleague Russell Berman pointed out, the challenge of selling the plan to Republicans began almost as soon as it was made public:

“[K]ey House conservatives immediately criticized the new proposal for failing to fulfill the party’s iron-clad promise to rip out the signature policy of former President Barack Obama. “It’s Obamacare in a different format,” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a member of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, said in a phone interview. Jordan cited three provisions that conservatives have complained about for weeks leading up to the formal release of the House GOP plan on Monday evening: its extension of Obamacare Medicaid expansion for another four years; its failure to immediately repeal all of the law’s tax increases; and its call to provide refundable tax credits to help people buy insurance, which Jordan labeled “a new entitlement.”