Women will surround Trump at State of the Union address
By LAURIE KELLMAN
Friday, February 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — Pelosi behind and above. Female immigrants, gazing down from the balcony. A black woman who ran a close race for governor of Georgia, rebutting.
When President Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address under divided government on Tuesday, he’ll be surrounded by these and other living reminders of the 2018 elections that delivered Democrats the House majority and a record number of women to Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will sit just over his shoulder on the dais, on-camera, looking out at the assembled lawmakers, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and diplomats. Seated in front of Trump will be a record number of women House members, most Democrats and some dressed in easy-to-spot white. And in the gallery overhead? Two former employees of Trump’s New Jersey golf club, women and immigrants, who have spoken out about its hiring practices.
Afterward, Stacey Abrams will become the first black woman to deliver the Democratic rebuttal.
“I hope she does a good job. I respect her,” Trump said Thursday of Abrams, who narrowly lost the race for Georgia governor to the president’s ally, Brian Kemp. The president pledged to deliver a speech rooted in a theme of “unity,” even as he renewed his demand for a border wall as a condition of keeping the government open past Feb. 15. Before he spoke in the Oval Office Thursday, Pelosi again rebuffed the demand and belittled him on national security matters.
Trump will give his speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress at a sensitive time in talks to prevent agencies from shuttering after the longest government shutdown in history. Members of Congress are inviting federal workers who went without pay for 35 days and are worried about a repeat.
But the striking visual is shaping up to be the new lawmakers who will be arrayed around the president, who were elected in the wake of Trump’s inflammatory statements about women, immigrants, Muslims and more.
Two female immigrants will be among the lawmakers’ guests and seated in the gallery above the House chamber. One is Victorina Morales, who worked for one of Trump’s clubs in New Jersey for years even though she was born in Guatemala and lived in the U.S. illegally. Morales, a guest of New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, said in an interview that she feels respectful toward the president. But she does have a message for him after years of hearing Trump describe immigrants as a scourge that takes jobs from Americans.
“Forget about the wall, stop separating families and focus on immigration reform,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press, conducted in Spanish.
Another woman who cleaned the president’s clothes and made his bed at his Bedminster club is attending the address, too.
Sandra Diaz, 46, a native of Costa Rica who worked at Trump’s club from 2010 to 2013, will be attending as a guest of Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California, according to the lawyer for both women, Anibal Romero. Diaz told the AP last month that she was also hired without legal papers and supervisors at the club knew it. She is now a legal permanent U.S. resident. Diaz said she decided to speak out because she is angry about the president describing immigrants as violent.
Abrams speaks both before and after Trump. The Georgia Democrat, heavily courted by Democrats to run for a Senate seat in 2020, lost her bid to be the nation’s first African-American woman governor after a protracted fight.
On Sunday, she will take her push for voting rights to the airwaves in her home state during the Super Bowl. Abrams’ political group, Fair Fight, has bought airtime on Georgia affiliates broadcasting the game so she can push for election law changes.
Abrams said she’ll speak about inclusion “at a moment when our nation needs to hear from leaders who can unite for a common purpose.”
Associated Press writers Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington, Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Bernard Condon in New York contributed to this report.
Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman and Alonso Lugo at http://www.twitter.com/LuisAlonsoLugo
Trump, Pelosi remain far apart on the border wall issue
By ALAN FRAM and ANDREW TAYLOR
Friday, February 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared that there will be no “wall money” in any compromise border security deal as she and President Donald Trump signaled that congressional negotiators may never satisfy his demands for his cherished Southwest border proposal.
Trump, who in recent weeks has expressed indifference to whether the term “wall” or something else is used, clung with renewed tenacity to the word that became his campaign mantra, declaring, “A wall is a wall.” Yet in a series of tweets and statements, he issued conflicting messages about what he’d need to declare victory and suggested that merely repairing existing structures along the boundary could be a major component of a triumph.
Amid signs that Trump’s leverage in Congress is atrophying, he seemed to aim one tweet at his conservative followers. He wrote that Democrats “are not going to give money to build the DESPERATELY needed WALL. I’ve got you covered. Wall is already being built, I don’t expect much help!”
Pelosi, D-Calif., left the door open for an accord that could finance some barriers, citing what she said was already existing “Normandy fencing” that blocks vehicles.
“If the president wants to call that a wall, he can call that a wall,” she told reporters Thursday. She added: “Is there a place for enhanced fencing? Normandy fencing would work.”
Yet Pelosi’s other remark — “There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation” — underscored the linguistic battle underway. It also showed that Democrats see no reason to let Trump claim a win in a cause that stirs his hard-right voters and enrages liberals.
Trump’s political muscle weakened following Democrats’ capture of House control in the November election. It waned further after his surrender last week in ending a record 35-day partial government shutdown without getting a penny of the $5.7 billion he’d demanded to start building the wall.
In another sign of his flagging hold over lawmakers, the GOP-controlled Senate backed legislation on a 68-23 vote Thursday that opposes withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
When Trump folded on the shutdown, he agreed to reopen government until Feb. 15, giving lawmakers more time to craft a bipartisan border security compromise.
If there’s no deal by then, Trump has threatened to revive the shutdown or declare a national emergency, which he claims would let him shift billions from unrelated military construction projects to erecting his wall. He criticized Democrats’ negotiating stance so far, telling reporters in the Oval Office that Pelosi is “just playing games” and saying GOP bargainers are “wasting their time.”
Democrats remain united against those tactics. Republican opposition seems nearly as strong, and GOP leaders are becoming increasingly assertive about publicly telegraphing those feelings to Trump.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters that “there are a lot of us that are trying to dissuade” Trump from declaring a national emergency should border security talks deadlock. Cornyn, a close adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said he has “absolute confidence” that such a declaration would be challenged in court, tying up the money, and said Congress might even vote to defy him.
“The president needs to know that before he heads down that path,” Cornyn said.
No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota told reporters that “a lot of folks are uncomfortable” with an emergency declaration. He stopped short of ruling out a challenge by the Senate, calling the question “hypothetical.”
Earlier this week, McConnell, R-Ky., a longtime opponent of shutdowns, called the move “government dysfunction which should be embarrassing to everyone on a bipartisan basis.”
Lawmakers caution that if Trump declares an emergency, future Democratic presidents might do the same for issues they favor that Congress derails. Some are reluctant to cede Congress’ constitutional power to control spending to any president, and many say there is no real border emergency.
Democrats offered further details of their border security plan Thursday, unveiling a measure that would provide no wall funds.
It would significantly boost spending for scanners at ports of entry, humanitarian aid for apprehended migrants, and new aircraft and ships to police the U.S.-Mexico border. It would freeze the number of border patrol agents and block any wall construction in wildlife refuges along the border.
Without a border security accord, lawmakers could avert another shutdown by once again temporarily financing dozens of federal agencies, perhaps for months.
Trump has been unpredictable in the shutdown debate, mixing softer rhetoric about a multifaceted approach to border security with campaign-style bluster about the wall. Lawmakers negotiating the bill are aware that he could quash an agreement at any time, plunging them back into crisis.
“Obviously, it makes it more challenging,” Cornyn told reporters. “You keep talking and try to understand where he is and try to work it out.”
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.
Trump health chief asks Congress to pass drug discount plan
By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
Friday, February 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s top health official asked Congress on Friday to pass its new prescription drug discount plan and provide it to all patients, not just those covered by government programs like Medicare.
The plan would take now-hidden rebates among industry players like drug companies and insurers and channel them directly to consumers when they go to pay for their medications.
Patients with high drug co-pays stand to benefit from the proposal, while people who take no prescription drugs, or who rely on generics mainly, would probably pay somewhat more, since premiums are expected to rise.
A day after unveiling the plan as a proposed regulation, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar raised the stakes by calling on Congress to make it law and broaden it to include people covered by employer health insurance, not just Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
“Congress has an opportunity to follow through on their calls for transparency … by passing our proposal into law immediately and extending it into the commercial drug market,” Azar said in a speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank.
Ahead of next week’s State of the Union speech, President Donald Trump is under political pressure to show results for his promise to slash prescription drug costs. Data show that prices for brand-name drugs have continued to rise, though at a somewhat slower pace. Polls show consumers across the political spectrum want government action.
Democrats say the administration’s plan doesn’t go far enough because it still leaves drug companies free to set high list prices. They say drug pricing is like a black box, and it’s impossible to tell if prices reflect actual costs or if companies are charging what they think the market will bear.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says she’s also worried that the plan would raise premiums. HHS acknowledges Medicare prescription premiums would go up $3 to $5 a month.
Nonetheless, the administration’s proposal appears to be in the mix as Congress gears up to craft legislation addressing prescription drug costs.
The complex plan would work by doing away with an exemption from federal anti-kickback rules that currently allows drug makers, insurers and middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers to negotiate rebates among themselves.
Drug companies pay rebates to make sure their medications are covered by insurance plans that are the intermediaries between them and patients. HHS says hidden rebates can amount to up to 30 percent of a drug’s list price. Insurers say they use the money from rebates to hold down premiums for all consumers.
Under the plan, the current anti-kickback exemption for industry rebates would be replaced with a new one for discounts offered directly to consumers.
Azar said the idea would reshape the drug pricing system, shifting it away from hidden rebates to upfront discounts, creating pressure on drug makers to keep prices down. The proposal was co-authored with the HHS inspector general’s office.
Experts say it will take time to sort out all the potential consequences.
Peter Bach, director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said the current system of rebates harms patients who take costly drugs with high co-pays.
Think people with cancer, patients with intractable illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, and those who take brand-name medicines with no generic competition. Patients’ cost sharing is often based on list prices, not the cost of the drug after rebates.
“Simply put, those on no medications at all will just see their premiums go up and see no savings because they don’t take any medicine,” said Bach. “Those on generics only may be essentially in this category (as well).
“But those on expensive medications … they will see savings in total,” he added. More than half a million people filled at least $50,000 in prescriptions in 2014, according to an Express Scripts report.
Insurers and pharmacy benefit managers like Express Scripts and CVS oppose the administration plan, saying it will undercut their ability to bargain with drug-makers for lower prices.
Drug-makers have applauded the administration’s action.
Consumers are worried about prices for brand-name drugs, particularly new medications that promise breakthrough results. Generics account for nearly 90 percent of prescriptions filled, but brand-name drugs account for more than 70 percent of the spending.
Azar contends that under the current system everybody but the patient benefits from high prices. A high list price makes room for bigger negotiated rebates for insurers and middlemen. And drugmakers then merely build that expectation into their prices.
Before joining the Trump administration, Azar was a top executive for drug maker Eli Lilly. That led to criticism that he would be an industry pawn. But the drug makers vehemently disagree with some of his other ideas, including an experiment using lower international drug prices to cut some Medicare costs.
Opinion: Cory Booker’s Preaching Unity to a Polarized Democratic Party. Will It Work in the Primary?
By Michael Graham
“Unity. Unity and respect. Those are the themes of Cory Booker’s career, and they will be the themes of his campaign.”
So said Jim Demers, a key player in New Hampshire Democratic politics, the morning Booker released a video announcing his candidacy. But is Booker’s “Together We Will Rise” slogan the message Democratic primary voters in the divisive era of Donald Trump really want to hear?
Demers says yes.
“I talked to him last night,” Demers told InsideSources. “Sen. Booker called around 9pm, right before he went to meet with his minister to share his decision [to run in 2020] with him. He told me how happy and excited he is to get back to New Hampshire.”
Demers has been on the Booker bandwagon for months, one of the few prominent Democrats in this key First-in-the-Nation primary state openly backing a candidate a year ahead of the primary. (While no date has been set, the current thinking is that New Hampshire will vote on February 11, eight days after the Iowa caucus, which is tentatively set for February 3.)
Demers believes Booker has the right mix of progressive policies and compelling personality to do well in the retail-politics arena of New Hampshire.
“New Hampshire is a critical state for Sen. Booker. I don’t think anyone in the campaign has any illusions about competing in here with candidates with neighboring states in the race. But he will do well here, and a good showing here sets him up well for South Carolina,” Demers said.
Booker was certainly enthusiastically received by New Hampshire Democrats in November at the party’s post-midterm victory celebration in Manchester, where the fire marshal was forced to send part of the packed crowd into the overflow room. But even Demers acknowledges that Granite State Democrats aren’t in a rush to pick a nominee.
“They are not going to make up their minds early. They want to get this right. They want to know who has the strongest chance to beat Trump,” Demers said.
Sen. Booker’s message of unity (He’s the author of the book “United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good“) might help him win a general election, pulling independents away from President Trump. But will it help him win Democratic primary voters in progressive electorate more energized by the opportunity to defeat Republicans than reach out to them? An electorate that, according to a recent NHJournal poll, believes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez better represents their party today than Sen. Hillary Clinton?
“Booker is filing the only lane that hasn’t been occupied yet in the field – bringing people together. It’s designed to attract moderates and independents,” says former Hillary for America senior aide Joel Payne. “One pollster I spoke with recently said that candidates should not underestimate voters desire for pragmatism and unity. That appears to be part of the bet that Booker and his team are making from the outset.”
Perhaps, but it’s not showing up in polls as of yet. While early polling of the overall electorate before some candidates are even in the race isn’t particularly helpful, two straw polls of progressive activists released in December give a glimpse of how the most energized members of the Democratic base view the field. In a MoveOn.org straw poll, supporters ranked Booker ninth in the field with just 2.6 percent support, well below Beto O’Rourke (16 percent), Sen. Kamala Harris (10 percent) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (6 percent). Booker also failed to crack the top five in a similar straw poll by the progressive political action committee Democracy For America.
And in a recent Suffolk University poll of Democrats nationwide, not only do more want the Pelosi-led House to prioritize investigating Trump over addressing climate change (22 percent-18 percent), but by a two-to-one margin (56 percent-24 percent) they’re worried that congressional Democrats’ efforts against Trump won’t go far enough.
That same poll, however, found that the overall priority for Democrats–and Americans in general–is for Washington, DC to “stop fighting and get its act together.”
So do Democratic primary voters want a unifier, or a fighter? Someone to bring Americans together or to take on Trump?
“I believe that on the political Left, those are the same message,” Republican pollster Scott Rasmussen tells InsideSources. “Our data show that Democrats strongly believe the president is guilty of treason and should be impeached. They have a hard time recognizing that not everybody shares their views.” In other words, Democrats believe that opposition to Trump is the unifying message.
“I think you’ve seen a real shift recently,” Demers said. “People really want the Trump presidency to end. Regardless of party affiliation, they want government to work and they don’t see that today They want a country that’s united. That will only happen if we have different people leading our country,” Demers said.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael Graham is political editor of InsideSources and NH Journal. He’s also a CBS News contributor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opinion: Has Cancer Moonshot 2020 Explored All Options?
By Eyal Barad
As the Cancer Moonshot 2020 initiative enters its final year, many in oncology are examining its successes and shortcomings to better understand how to approach cancer treatments in the new decade. Cancer Moonshot 2020, a program that was announced by Congress in January 2016, was designed to accelerate cancer research, encourage greater collaboration between oncology professionals, and improve the sharing of data between researchers, while simultaneously improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage.
Cannabinoids and cannabis-based treatments have shown success in treating cancer-related symptoms. While more research is needed, there has also been some promising data showing their potential in treating cancer itself as well. Although we have witnessed strides in cancer therapy over the last 25 years, the industry at large needs to vet properly all potential treatments, including cannabinoids, in order to spark a downward trend in cancer prevalence.
While Cancer Moonshot has helped drive down cancer rates, we cannot stop until the number hits zero. As the program enters into its fourth year, the Cancer Moonshot initiative is moving from the planning phase into the research segment.
Prior to this final stage, a critical component to achieve Cancer Moonshot was the founding of the Blue Ribbon Panel, which released comprehensive guidelines to meet the goals of the initiative by the year 2020. After the panel’s release, the National Cancer Institute moved quickly to implement changes within the cancer industry to adhere to recommendations in the Blue Ribbon Panel report. This has led to the launch of new scientific programs and more than $600 million awarded to researchers nationwide to continue to pursue new cancer therapies.
Patients can take solace in knowing that the majority of the funds made available in 2017 and 2018 through Cancer Moonshot have already been granted, and the research is underway.
The findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel are extensive in scope and provide recommended focus areas for cancer researchers, but cannabinoid-based treatments and their potential for treating both the symptoms of cancer and cancer itself are still missing from the conversation, largely in part due to current laws in place that dictate the use of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. This ultimately has led to a gap in reliable research for oncologists to draw from to make informed decisions for patients.
Initiatives like Cancer Moonshot present an opportunity to change laws governing research to be fully inclusive when considering all cancer therapies.
Many companies have already began critical research around cannabinoids and cannabis to provide alternative treatments. In past years, chemotherapy has taken centerstage to treat patients living with cancer. However, chemotherapy brings its own shortcomings, and so, there has been a significant movement to explore other options, for example, immunotherapy. Cannabinoid-based treatments can also offer a solution, filling in many of the gaps we have in cancer therapy today.
With the advancements of the 21st century, artificial intelligence can play a major role in developing cancer treatments. At Cannabics Pharmaceuticals, we are creating a platform that leverages novel drug-screening tools and AI to create cannabinoid-based therapies for cancer that are more precise to a patient’s profile. While studies like ours are vital, the needle cannot be moved by one company alone. The approach must be embraced on a larger scale and applied across multiple disease areas in order to develop an exhaustive list of treatment courses for consideration.
Overall, advancements made in cancer therapy have begun to accelerate rapidly, with a great deal of credit given to the programs and funding provided by Cancer Moonshot. The initiative has shown success in expanding areas of focus and research around the traditional approaches to cancer treatment.
However, cannabis has presented itself as a viable alternative to many of these traditional methods, such as chemotherapy, and should be included in the next wave of funding. In order to find new avenues for combating this life-threatening disease, we need to think outside of the box and examine every possible option. Doing so will improve patient outcomes and empower them to have a greater say in their treatment regimen, which is currently limited.
Cancer Moonshot continues to offer hope and evokes positivity in the fight against cancer. Considering cannabinoids as part of the solution can widen the scope of research and benefit those living with cancer, as well as the clinicians who treat them. To truly achieve the goal of Cancer Moonshot 2020, we need to change what a cancer diagnosis means, and through continued studies in the cannabinoid space, we have a chance to give this reality new meaning in the new decade.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Eyal Barad is CEO of Cannabics Pharmaceuticals, a personalized cannabinoid medicine company focused on cancer and its side effects. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.