News Brief: Health Care Deal, Travel Ban Blocked By Hawaii Judge

Oct 18, 2017
Originally published on October 18, 2017 8:10 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Democratic and Republican senators say they are ready to undo President Trump's undoing of a part of the Affordable Care Act.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

You make it sound so simple, Steve. Yeah. In recent days, President Trump has been saying that the law is finished. It's dead. It's gone. This follows his executive order ending subsidies to insurance companies. Companies use that money to give a break to low-income customers, and ending them is a big reason that premiums are about to soar for everyone in the health insurance exchanges. Well, two senators say they have reached a deal, quote, "in principle to keep those subsidies going for two years." And here's a twist. One of the senators, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee suggested that President Trump supports his deal with Patty Murray of Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAMAR ALEXANDER: During the last several days, I have had encouraging discussions with President Trump who called me on two different occasions, encouraging me to work with Senator Murray to come to a bipartisan agreement.

GREENE: All right, so after everything that has happened, why is President Trump OK with a plan?

INSKEEP: Let's ask NPR's Mara Liasson who's on the line. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So first of all, what's the agreement do?

LIASSON: What the agreement does is it would continue these reimbursements or subsidies...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LIASSON: ...To the health insurance companies to, in effect, reimburse them for the discounts they have to provide to low-income customers. Now, those subsidies would continue. In other words, they have to provide the subsidies to low-income customers. But if they weren't reimbursed, they would probably raise prices for everyone else or exit the marketplaces altogether.

INSKEEP: OK, so we have this....

LIASSON: This keep them going for two years in exchange for some flexibility for states.

INSKEEP: So we have this potential disaster here. But I want to understand this. President Trump said he ended the subsidies because in his view they were illegal. They needed to be approved more explicitly by Congress - so fine. But he didn't say these are great subsidies that are illegal. He said these are terrible payoffs to pet insurance companies. How does he now say they're a good idea?

LIASSON: Well, it's a little confusing. He says he wants - he doesn't mind if they continue for two years. It's a short-term solution. He says in the long term, he still wants to block-grant Obamacare. He likes that Graham-Cassidy plan that failed in the Senate. But maybe he's decided that he doesn't want to be blamed for the collapse of the exchanges, even though his action last week was intended to help the exchanges unravel.

INSKEEP: Well, are more conservative Republicans likely to allow this bipartisan agreement to become law?

LIASSON: Well, that's the big question. This is the usual reaction to any bipartisan plan on Capitol Hill. Conservative Republicans are not too enthusiastic about this, especially in the House. Republicans say we have been voting for seven years to repeal and replace Obamacare. Our donors want us to do this. Our base wants us to do this. And now we're being asked to vote, in effect, to stabilize the exchanges and keep them going for two years. So it's not getting a lot of enthusiastic response from conservative Republicans. But, you know, maybe there are also other Republicans who don't want the Obamacare exchanges to collapse.

INSKEEP: So I guess we have to see if it gets through the Senate and then see if it even comes to a vote in the house.

LIASSON: That's right.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much as always.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, so the president seems open to at least temporarily undoing his executive order on Obamacare. But he's not at all happy with courts blocking his travel ban, which happened again.

GREENE: Yeah. I think for the third time, President Trump's travel ban has been put on hold. The latest version of the ban barred travelers from eight countries, six of which are majority Muslim. This, of course, led to lawsuits. And among those who sued was the state of Hawaii. And now a federal judge there struck down the order, which was set to take effect today. So you have to ask, why aren't these policies holding up to legal scrutiny?

INSKEEP: Hawaii Public Radio's Bill Dorman is on the line now from Oahu. Hey there, Bill.

BILL DORMAN, BYLINE: Aloha, Steve.

INSKEEP: Oh, thank you. Aloha to you. What is the judge's reasoning?

DORMAN: Well, basically, a federal district judge, Derrick Watson, says the president is overstepping his bounds on this. He refers in several places in his 40-page opinion to the president exceeding the scope of his authority delegated to him by Congress. And at one point, he writes the president's latest executive order suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor because it doesn't demonstrate that allowing travelers from these countries in question would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.

INSKEEP: Well, when you say the same maladies as its predecessor, is this the same Hawaii federal judge who blocked one of the earlier versions of the travel ban?

DORMAN: It is. And it's someone familiar to Jeff Sessions certainly prompting comments in the wake of that.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's right. The attorney general said he couldn't believe that some judge out on an island in the Pacific could block the travel ban for the entire country.

DORMAN: Exactly. And that drew some reminders that - it's an archipelago actually, a set of islands and...

INSKEEP: And also part of the United States (laughter).

DORMAN: ...And the 50th state as well, exactly.

INSKEEP: So...

DORMAN: And also, by the way, when when the judge was confirmed by the Senate, it was a unanimous confirmation. And Mr. Sessions was one of the senators from Alabama at the time.

INSKEEP: OK, so granting all of that, this is now a rather confusing situation because we've had multiple travel bans with multiple court rulings. The Supreme Court allowed portions of the earlier travel ban to go into effect. Now we have a new and broader travel ban that is blocked once again. What happens now?

DORMAN: Yes. As you say, it's the third time that the state of Hawaii has challenged a version of the travel ban. It's the third time a court has agreed with it. This is clearly going up the ladder, up the legal food chain. And if you read through the opinion, it's written in that way that anticipates further legal review. And he cites several points, the previous reviews by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in going forward with this. So we certainly anticipate an appeal and anticipate a further fight on this.

INSKEEP: Is this - is the opposition to the travel ban a popular position in Hawaii so far as you can tell?

DORMAN: You know, it's interesting. I think you have to start with Hawaii as an island archipelago with a rich history of immigration and a sense of welcoming. There's a Hawaiian word, ho'okipa, that speaks - it's not only hospitality but also open hearts. That's very much part of the local culture here - goes beyond race and ethnicity. And I think that's part of the picture in Hawaii.

INSKEEP: Hey, Bill. Thanks very much. Take care.

DORMAN: You, too.

INSKEEP: That's Hawaii Public Radio's Bill Dorman this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: And this day is the opening day of China's Communist Party Congress.

GREENE: Right. This is something that happens every five years. It's where the ruling party - I guess we should say the only party selects their leaders in China. To be more precise, though, the leaders are introduced since the decisions are made in advance. China's leader Xi Jinping is to receive a second five-year term. But if there is no drama, people still watch this for some clues to the direction of China.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn has been in Beijing long enough to see a few of these. Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the Communist Party Congress look like and sound like?

KUHN: It sounds very much like the national parliament that meets every year. You have a lot of colorful delegates arriving at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square. There are a lot of red flags around. And it's all very tightly choreographed because it is, as you said, political theater. All the major decisions have been made in advance. And there's not much suspense about the outcome that President Xi Jinping will get his second five-year term.

INSKEEP: And I guess the speeches are not necessarily filled with particularly stirring or surprising rhetoric. And yet there you are watching. So what are the clues that you're seeing that indicate the direction of China's Communist Party and, for that matter, of China?

KUHN: Well, in his speech today, which lasted for three and a half hours, Xi Jinping outlined a lot of themes that I think suggest where he wants to go. First of all, he wants the party to be pretty much in control of everything - politics, the economy, society and particularly ideology. He wants this party to be disciplined and clear about its purpose and values the way it was during the time of his father who was a contemporary of Chairman Mao.

His speech was full of tough words on national security, tough words against dissent. And he outlined an assertive foreign policy and was trying to robustly defend his territorial claims in places like the South China Sea and even added that China could be a model for other developing countries. And that's something that China has been too reticent, too modest to say before, really. So it was very clear that there was just a lot of confidence and assertiveness in the speech.

INSKEEP: Just one other thing, Anthony Kuhn - when the leader of the Communist Party in China gives a speech and it lasts three and a half hours and all the delegates - party delegates are there in front of him, do they all have to act extremely interested and virtually enraptured by the speech the entire time, or can they nod off?

KUHN: They nod off because they know the the Chinese media's cameras are not focusing on them. But the truth is that the party has been building up Xi Jinping over the past few months. Officials have been studying his speeches. The party has put on all these exhibitions trumpeting Xi Jinping achievements over the past five years. So the way it looks to the public is that people are celebrating his achievements. And it's all sort of the rationale to say why he should accumulate even more power in the next second five-year term.

INSKEEP: OK, that's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing, the scene of the latest Communist Party Congress. Anthony, always a pleasure talking with you - thanks very much.

KUHN: You bet, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC LAU'S "LAU'S LAMENT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.