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Barack Obama's Enduring Faith in America

Obama Farewell.

In his farewell address, the president warned of threats to the nation’s tradition of democracy—none more than from inside—and rebuked Donald Trump, but sought to rally the country around shared ideals. In his final speech to the nation as the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama offered a strong defense of American democracy and pluralism, telling the nation that its form of government relies on goodwill and tolerance.

“Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift,” Obama said. “But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power—with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law.  America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

Speaking at McCormick Place in Chicago—just a couple miles south of Grant Park, where he first spoke to the nation as president-elect in November 2008—the president outlined his major accomplishments and thanked voters, his family, and his staff. But Obama also outlined what he saw as a three-pronged threat to American democracy, in a speech that could only be heard as a detailed rebuke of Donald Trump, the man who will replace him in the White House in 10 days’ time.

Obama has always enjoyed playing the role of social theorist, and he took one last opportunity to expound his theory from the bully pulpit. The litany of locations and events he mentioned mapped out his vision of a United States where people of color, women, and gay and lesbian Americans are not simply included but are indeed integral to the identity of the nation—from the founding to Western expansion, the Underground Railroad to “immigrants and refugees” who came across the sea and, pointedly, the Rio Grande, suffragettes to labor organizers, activists who fought for the civil rights of African Americans and LGBT Americans alike, and soldiers from Omaha Beach to Afghanistan.

“That’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional,” Obama said, perhaps settling a score with the critics who once claimed he did not believe in the idea, “not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.”

Yet the nation is fraying, he cautioned. The president argued that the start of the 21st century, from 9/11 attacks to the Great Recession, and implicitly in Trump’s election, had threatened to “rupture [the] solidarity” on which the country rests. The threat came from three corners, he said: unequal economic opportunity; racism and discrimination; and the retreat into bubbles of likeminded individuals.

He warned that indulging fear would endanger a society ordered by Enlightenment ideals of reason, tolerance, and justice. “That order is now being challenged—first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power,” Obama said. “The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile.” He asked the nation to come together in the work of rebuilding American democracy.

“That’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional, not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change.”

But it is not just external threats such as these that pose a danger, he said—so does the temptation to shut out those with different outlooks. “For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions,” Obama said, connecting it to the advent of a media that is not only partisan but riddled with misstatements of fact—and a surfeit of maliciously false news. “We become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.”

Obama’s decision to deliver the farewell address before a crowd of adoring supporters represented a continuation of the style in which he campaigned, and the style he has preferred to govern. While most presidents have delivered their final speeches on camera from the White House, Obama has always disliked the Oval Office address, preferring to speak at a lectern in the East Room when he had to, and speak live before a crowd when he could, feeding from its energy.

Most farewell speeches also do not loom large in history. While outgoing presidents may hope that the addresses offer them a chance to shape and solidify their legacies, few are remembered after the fact—perhaps really only two: George Washington’s in 1796, and Dwight Eisenhower’s in 1961, in which he coined the term “the military-industrial complex.”

Obama’s farewell address was, like many of his major speeches, a finely crafted one; he is one of the finest orators and writers to occupy the office. But despite its emphasis on the ideals of the nation going back to the founding, it seemed inexorably linked to the present moment in American history. The speech seemed like a lecture for Trump on what makes America great and a pep talk for Obama’s supporters on the importance of keeping the faith.

“The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious. For every two steps forward, It often feels we take one step back.”

“You were the change. You answered people’s hopes,” Obama said, recalling the two buzzwords of his first run for president. But he added: “Our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious. For every two steps forward, It often feels we take one step back.”

Obama didn’t have to mention Trump’s name for it to be clear to all who he was referring to. Nearly every paragraph in this speech seems to have a line that directly or indirectly answered Trump. He said that American “potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of the our people.” In a quasi-Marxist rejection of race in favor of class, he rejected the nativist claims of the Trump campaign, saying, “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.” He warned that depriving children of immigrants would only backfire as they came to represent a larger portion of the workforce. The ties of society weaken, he said, “when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.”

In what might have seemed improbable only a few a years ago, one of his biggest applause lines came in a simple restatement of the First Amendment principle of freedom of religion: “That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans.” On climate change, Obama warned Trump and other deniers, “Reality has a way of catching up with you.”

But Obama was not ready to let his own backers off the hook to slip into disconsolation. He called on them to engage with their fellow citizens, saying that while their faith would sometimes be disappointed, it would overall be affirmed. Early in his speech, he hailed the impending peaceful transfer of power to Trump, and scolded members of the crowd who booed or groaned.

As for the president, he was able to keep his composure through most of the speech. It was only in the last minutes of the address, as he thanked the first lady, his daughters, Vice President Joe Biden, and his staff, that the president’s face began to twitch, and he finally had to wipe away a tear. It seemed fitting that the emotional climax of the speech would come at that time—the president’s personal story, his confident and cheerful demeanor, have always been his strongest political asset. Even as his policy legacy teeters on the precipice of destruction, the president remains personally popular, and his decency and family remain widely admired.

And then Obama offered one more callback to his historic 2008 campaign. “Yes we can,” he said. “Yes we did.” And then, once more for the future: “Yes we can.” But will we? At a time when many Americans of all views are more dubious than ever about that proposition, and despite his dire warnings minutes earlier, Obama seemed just as stunningly, serenely confident as he had eight years ago.

“That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change—that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined,” he said. “I hope yours has, too.”

 

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6 MORE REPUBLICANS SAY SLOW DOWN ON OBAMACARE REPEAL

Anxiety about repealing Obamacare without a replacement got a lot more visible in the U.S. Senate on Monday evening, as a half-dozen Republican senators called publicly for slowing down the process. It’s not clear how strongly these senators feel about it, or whether they are willing to defy party leadership over how and when efforts to repeal Obamacare proceed.

But at least three other GOP senators have now expressed reservations about eliminating the Affordable Care Act without first settling on an alternative. That brings the total to nine ― well more than the three defections it would take to deprive Republicans of the majority they would likely need to get repeal through Congress. And the restlessness isn’t confined to the Senate. Members of the House Freedom Caucus on Monday evening issued their own call for slowing down the repeal process.

At the very least, these developments suggest that taking President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy off the books is unlikely to go as smoothly or as quickly as GOP leaders once hoped.

The change in the political environment has been perceptible, and relatively sudden. Following the election of Donald Trump in November, GOP leaders indicated they intended to move immediately on Obamacare repeal, using expedited procedures reserved for certain fiscal issues.

First, Congress would pass a budget resolution, instructing committees with jurisdiction over health care to write repeal legislation. Once that work was done, the House and Senate each would vote on the legislation, work out their differences, and send a bill to the White House, where Trump would presumably sign it. 

The budget resolution is supposed to pass this week, and, as written, it calls for the committees to finish their work by Jan. 27 ― just a little more than two weeks from now.

But as the prospect of repealing Obamacare has suddenly ceased to be hypothetical, Republicans have confronted all sorts of questions ― not least among them what will happen to the roughly 20 million people getting insurance through the program right now.

Initially, GOP leaders responded by promising to let elements of Obamacare remain in place for a short time, setting up a transition period during which people who have Obamacare coverage would theoretically get to keep it. But over the past few days, several GOP senators have said that this “repeal-and-delay” strategy still leaves too much uncertainty about what would follow Obamacare, and have called for settling on a replacement plan ― or at least the outlines of one ― before voting on repeal.

On Monday, five of them put their protests on paper ― by introducing an amendment to the budget resolution that would push back that Jan. 27 date until March 3.

“Repeal and replace should take place simultaneously, and this amendment will give the incoming administration more time to outline its priorities,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. “By exercising due diligence we can create a stable transition to an open health care marketplace that provides far greater choice and more affordable plans for the American people.”

The four other GOP senators behind the amendment are Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

As a legal matter, the amendment wouldn’t mean much. Neither the old nor the new deadline would be binding, Capitol Hill aides said, and it’s entirely possible that Monday’s statement will prove an empty gesture.

Nor is it likely that one extra month would give Republicans enough time to settle on an Obamacare replacement.

But the decision to propose the amendment ― and to attach strong quotes to it ― could also indicate something more, as Jim Manley, longtime aide to former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and before that the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), told The Huffington Post.

“The senators on this letter are smart enough to realize that the train is about to leave to station when it comes to repealing Obamacare without any alternative,” Manley said. “And they want to slow down the process by offering this amendment before the legislative process starts spiraling out of control.

“This letter is yet the latest indication that at least some Republicans realize that just simply repealing Obamacare without any viable alternative in place is completely unworkable and unrealistic and maybe just a little bit crazy,” Manley said.

The other big development on Monday was a statement from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). According to Talking Points Memo, Alexander said, “We have to take each part of it and consider what it would take to create a new and better alternative and then begin to create that alternative, and once it’s available to the American people, then we can finally repeal Obamacare.”

HELP chair Lamar Alexander sure sounds like he's ready to derail the McConnell/Ryan Obamacare repeal train http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/key-goper-we-ll-replace-ocare-once-replacement-is-available 

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It’s difficult to know how far Alexander or other Republican senators are willing to go on slowing Obamacare repeal, particularly if they face intense pressure from party leaders and conservative activists. 

Shortly after the election, for example, Alexander said that Republicans needed to put their replacement together before going forward with repeal. “What we need to focus on first is what we would replace it with and what are the steps we would take to do that,” he told reporters on Nov. 17. “I imagine [it] will take several years to completely make that sort of transition to make sure we do no harm, create a good health care system that everyone has access to and we repeal the parts of Obamacare that need to be repealed.”

But after Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that repeal would include a transition period, Alexander got in line. “The American people expect us to” repeal, he told reporters in the Capitol on Dec. 1, endorsing the repeal and delay strategy. “I think Senator McConnell wants to make it an early item. And the important thing to emphasize is it’s just a beginning. ... We want to start immediately, but it’ll take a matter of years to fully replace and rebuild the health care system that it has taken six years to damage.”

Alexander’s new statements would appear to suggest he’s still not comfortable with moving quickly. And that’s critical, given the role he would play in any Obamacare repeal effort, as a senior, widely respected member of the caucus ― and, more important, as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has direct jurisdiction over health care legislation.

The reticence about junking Obamacare too hastily reflects certain realities that the GOP hasn’t really confronted until now. Different elements of the party have wildly different perspectives on what a new system should look like. And delivering the kind of financial protection most Americans want without dramatically reducing the number of people with insurance is going to be difficult, if not impossible, without the kind of federal spending most Republicans oppose.

Two senators proposing the budget amendment touched on those concerns. Cassidy, who is a physician, spoke specifically about the needs of people with serious medical problems ― the type of people who, in the years before Obamacare, could sometimes be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or would run up against lifetime limits on benefits.

“As Obamacare is repealed and replaced, we must always keep in mind the mom with a breast lump who cannot afford Obamacare and wants something better but also needs to maintain her coverage,” Cassidy said. “This amendment will ensure adequate time is given to repeal Obamacare AND replace it with a substantive alternative that will work for her.”

Murkowski focused on importance making insurance widely available: “I remain committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act,” she said, “and I am equally committed to ensuring that all Alaskans and Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us and those in rural communities, have access to affordable, quality health care.”

Repealing Obamacare was a top priority for Trump during his campaign, and his call thrilled the millions of voters who say they are angry about the law. But Trump also vowed that “everybody has got to be covered,” which is not a promise that GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) have endorsed.

Although polls have consistently shown pluralities of Americans disapprove of the law, those same polls have shown that most of its elements ― including not just protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but also tax credits for buying insurance ― to be highly popular.

Senate Republicans have seen those polls, just as they have heard from GOP governors in states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility using funding that Obamacare made available. Those governors, among them Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), have said that it’s important to make sure Republicans have an alternative ready to go before getting rid of Obamacare.

Meanwhile, three other GOP senators ― Tom Cotton (Ark.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Rand Paul (Ky.) ― have expressed reservations about repeal without a replacement, albeit for different reasons.

How Trump feels about all of this remains something of a mystery. On Monday evening, he and his advisers huddled with Capitol Hill Republicans over several matters. Afterwards, in response to a reporter’s question about the specifics of repealing and replacing Obamacare, Trump adviser Steve Bannon said they were “still thinking that through.”

 

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HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gop-senators-obamacare-repeal_us_587445d4e4b02b5f858acad3?tlxcq6djbmc0afw29

Intelligence Report Concludes That Vladimir Putin Intervened In U.S. Election To Help Donald Trump Win

Intelligence officials concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, with the goal of helping President-elect Donald Trump win. In a highly anticipated report prepared by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, intelligence officials doubled-down on earlier assertions that Moscow was responsible for cyberattacks directed at the Democratic National Committee.

“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” the intelligence community concluded in the declassified version of the report, which was released Friday afternoon.

The CIA and FBI have a high degree of confidence that Putin’s aim was to boost Trump’s chances of winning, while discrediting his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The NSA has a moderate degree of confidence in this assertion.

Megyn Kelly Leaving Fox News For NBC

Fox News host Megyn Kelly is leaving the cable news network for NBC News, the network announced Tuesday. Kelly will take on multiple roles at NBC. She’ll host a one-hour daytime talk show airing Monday through Friday and a Sunday evening news magazine show, and will contribute on breaking news stories and NBC’s coverage of major political and special events. 

“Megyn is an exceptional journalist and news anchor, who has had an extraordinary career,” Andrew Lack, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, said in a release. “She’s demonstrated tremendous skill and poise, and we’re lucky to have her.”

The departure is a major blow to Fox News, where Kelly hosted a top-rated 9 p.m. show and was considered a key part of the network’s future.

In a Facebook post, Kelly said she was “incredibly enriched for the experiences” she had in a dozen years at Fox News. She’ll wrap up her last episode of “The Kelly File” on Friday. 

A former litigator, Kelly joined Fox News as a Washington-based correspondent in 2004. She later moved to co-anchoring in the morning, and in 2010, hosted her own show from 1 to 3 p.m. Kelly’s coverage at the time often echoed the broader Fox News worldview, such as her obsessive focus on the fringe New Black Panther Party. She also came under fire in 2013 after asserting that Jesus and Santa Claus were white.

In recent years, Kelly repositioned herself as an independent voice among Fox News’ more partisan talkers and joined news anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace to moderate debates and steer election night coverage. She was the subject of a January 2015 New York Times Magazine cover story that highlighted her tendency to stray from Fox News orthodoxy and the reputation she has gained for aggressively challenging figures on both sides of the aisle. 

CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

Megyn Kelly moderated a GOP primary debate in January 2015 along with Chris Wallace (left) and Bret Baier.

Kelly’s national profile skyrocketed during the 2016 election after Donald Trump leveled personal attacks against her and feuded with the network over her coverage. At the first Republican debate, in August 2015, she drew Trump’s wrath for asking about his history of misogynistic and sexist remarks. The following day, Trump suggested Kelly was menstruating at the time. 

In July, Kelly was again in the spotlight after telling investigators that she, too, was sexually harassed by former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. He resigned in disgrace soon after.  

Kelly publicly described Ailes’ sexual advances in November during the rollout for her memoir, Settle for More. In the book and subsequent interviews after the election, Kelly revealed Trump threatened to turn his millions of Twitter followers against her. 

During the election cycle, Kelly’s more critical coverage of Trump distinguished her from Fox News’ two other primetime stars. Bill O’Reilly was generally sympathetic to Trump in the 8 p.m. slot, while Sean Hannity was the Republican candidate’s biggest media booster at 10 p.m. 

While Fox News remains the dominant cable news network, the network’s primetime line-up is in flux. O’Reilly, whose contract is up later this year, has hinted at retirement and Kelly was viewed as the future face of Fox News. 

The Murdoch family, which runs parent company 21st Century Fox, tried keeping Kelly in the fold. She is reportedly making $15 million for this final year of her Fox News contract, and Fox News was said to offer her at least $20 million annually to stay. 

In a Tuesday statement, 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch thanked Kelly for her 12 years at Fox News. “We hope she enjoys tremendous success in her career and wish her and her family all the best,” he said. 

For Kelly, the move completes a yearslong trajectory from anchor on a conservative cable news network to a major TV news personality on a broadcast network. And in launching a daytime show, Kelly will presumably also get to broaden her focus, and potentially appeal, to audiences beyond cable news politics junkies. 

The New York Times, which first reported on Kelly’s move to NBC, noted she was also considering opportunities at ABC and CNN. Though the terms of the NBC deal weren’t announced, the network may not have matched Fox News’ offer. Indeed, Kelly’s representative said Tuesday that “money wasn’t the driving factor.”

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Obamacare Is First Item On Congress' Chopping Block

https://crayfisher.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/19-ryan-trump-mcconnell-w710-h473.jpg?w=640&h=426

Congress is back in session on Tuesday, and leaders of both houses say their first order of business will be to repeal Obamacare.

If they do that, it will be a slap in the face to President Barack Obama just three weeks before he leaves the White House. The Affordable Care is the outgoing president's signature achievement, marked by an elaborate signing ceremony in March 2010 at the White House, with lofty speeches from the vice president and Obama himself.

"Today, after almost a century of trying, today after over a year of debate, today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America," Obama said that day, to long applause from the assembled crowd.

And Joe Biden famously leaned over to remind the president that it was "a big ***ing deal."

But Republicans have been vowing to repeal the law since the day it passed, and they'll soon have a sympathetic president in the White House to sign whatever bill they send him.

 

"We will repeal the disaster known as Obamacare and create new health care, all sorts of reforms that work for you and your family," President-elect Donald Trump vowed last month in Orlando.

That new health care plan hasn't been fleshed out yet by Trump or his allies in Congress. So they say they'll vote to get rid of Obamacare, but delay its demise until they come up with a replacement that will cover the millions of people who have insurance thanks to the law.

But insurance companies and health care analysts are worried.

"I don't see how you talk to any [insurance] carrier and give them any desire to hang around to see what they replace it with," says Dr. Kavita Patel, an internist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Why would you stick around for that?"

Patel worked in the White House and helped create the Affordable Care Act. But she's not alone in her concern.

Last month the health insurance trade group America's Health Insurance Plans sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to keep in place many of the financial incentives that are central to the law — including subsidies for patients to help them buy insurance and cover copayments, and a provision that eliminates some taxes on insurers.

The American Academy of Actuaries also warned in its own letter that a repeal of the ACA without replacing it would be dangerous to the long-term health of the insurance market.

Still, Republicans appear determined to move ahead with the vote as soon as this week.

Some history:

Democrats rammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010 with no Republican support.

It was a huge, complicated law and, like most legislation, it was flawed. Over the subsequent six years, Republicans, who were angry at the way the Affordable Care Act was passed, refused to cooperate in any actions that would be seen as helping it succeed. Instead, they promised in speeches and television interviews to repeal it entirely. In fact, the House has voted more than 60 times over the years to do just that.

 

Then-Speaker of the House John Boehner stands next to a printed version of the Affordable Care Act during a Capitol Hill news conference on May 16, 2013.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"There's no getting around the fact that lots of Republicans campaigned hard against the ACA and a lot of them won, including the person at the top of the ticket," says James Capretta, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

But even with control of both chambers of Congress and with Trump in the White House, Republicans can't simply repeal Obamacare. They would need the help of at least a handful of Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats can't, however, filibuster budget bills. So Republican leaders have decided to defund Obamacare, eliminating the tax penalties for those who don't buy insurance and the subsidies to help people pay their premiums. Essentially, that guts the law's main elements.

The problem for Republicans is that today, an estimated 20 million people get their insurance through Obamacare. About 10 million buy policies through the exchanges set up by state and federal governments, and most of those patients get subsidies to help pay the premiums.

And millions more are covered because the law allows states to expand the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor.

So people who had pre-existing conditions that shut them out of the insurance market before the ACA passed, or people who had reached insurer-imposed lifetime benefit limits, generally like the law.

But, then there are people like Will Denecke, who is mad because his insurance costs have gone up since Obamacare passed. Before the law was enacted, he spent about $340 a month on health insurance.

"Incredibly, we got a notice from my health care company, Moda, which has been having financial problems, that my premium was going up to $930," he said last October.

He's a self-employed urban planning consultant in Portland, Ore., and, unlike most people in Obamacare, he makes too much money to qualify for government subsidies.

"I've had health insurance my whole life, but it's just offensive in principle to think of spending $1,000 a month on health care insurance when there is a good chance I won't need it," he said.

He was considering just letting his coverage lapse.

And, on the other side, you've got people like Leigh Kvetko of Dallas. She takes 10 medications every day because she's had two organ transplant procedures, and the drugs are part of her daily regimen to survive. After Obamacare passed, she was able quit her job at a big company and start a business with her husband, because she could finally get individual insurance.

"This particular plan, the fact that they cannot discriminate against me because of how I was born, was a lifesaver, literally," she says.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told the Washington Times last month that consumers needn't worry. "We can assure the American public that the plan they're in right now, the Obamacare plans, will not end on Jan. 20, that we're going to be prepared and ready with new options tailored for them," he said.

 

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http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/01/02/506446779/obamacare-is-first-item-on-congress-chopping-block

 

 
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