Trump to unveil order aiming to boost Medicare health program, woo seniors

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will unveil an executive order on Thursday aimed at strengthening the Medicare health program for seniors, seeking to improve its fiscal position and offer more affordable plan options, administration officials said.

The order, which Trump will discuss during a visit to a retirement community in Florida known as the Villages, is the Republican president’s answer to some Democrats who are arguing for a broad and expensive expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, proposals that Republicans reject.

It follows measures rolled out in recent months by the administration designed to curtail drug prices and correct other perceived problems with the U.S. healthcare system, though policy experts say those efforts are unlikely to slow the tide of rising drug prices in a meaningful way.

The Medicare program covers Americans who are 65 and older and includes traditional fee-for-service coverage in which the government pays healthcare providers directly and Medicare Advantage plans, in which private insurers manage patient benefits on its behalf.

Seniors are a key political constituency in America because a high percentage of them vote, and Florida is a political swing state that both parties woo in presidential elections.

The order is designed to show Trump’s commitment to keeping Medicare focused on seniors, administration officials said ahead of the announcement.

The order pushes for Medicare to use more medical telehealth services, which is care delivered by phone or digital means.

One administration official, who described the order to Reuters, said that would reduce costs by cutting down on the number of expensive emergency room visits by patients; lower costs would help strengthen the program’s finances.

The order directs the government to work to allow private insurers that operate Medicare Advantage plans to use new plan pricing methods, such as allowing beneficiaries to share in the savings when they choose lower-cost health services.

It also aims to bring payments for the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program in line with payments for Medicare Advantage.

Trump’s plans contrast with the Medicare for All program promoted by Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist who is running to become the Democratic Party’s nominee against Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Sanders’ proposal, backed by left-leaning Democrats but opposed by moderates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, would create a single-payer system, effectively eliminating private insurance by providing government coverage to everyone, using the Medicare model.

“Medicare for All is Medicare for none,” said Seema Verma, the administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, on a conference call with reporters, calling the proposal a “pipe dream” that would lead to higher taxes.

Sanders has argued that Americans would pay less for healthcare under his plan.

The White House is eager to show Trump making progress on healthcare, an issue Democrats successfully used to garner support and take control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections. Trump campaigned in 2016 on a promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, his predecessor President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law also known as “Obamacare,” but was not successful.

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it would propose a rule for imports of cheaper drugs from Canada into the United States. A formal rule has not yet been unveiled.

The administration also issued an executive order in June demanding that hospitals and insurers make the prices they charge patients more transparent, as well as another in July encouraging novel treatments for kidney disease.

Trump considered other proposals that did not reach fruition.

A federal judge in July shot down an executive order that would have forced drugmakers to display their list prices in advertisements, and Trump scrapped another planned order that would have banned some of the rebate payments drugmakers make to payers.

The administration is also mulling a plan to tie some Medicare reimbursement rates for drugs to the price paid for those drugs by foreign governments, Reuters reported.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Caroline Humer and Carl O’Donnell; Editing by David Gregorio)

Trump freezes all Venezuelan government assets in bid to pressure Maduro

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a ceremony to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Battle in the Vargas Swamp at the National Pantheon in Caracas, Venezuela July 25, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Matt Spetalnick and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a freeze on all Venezuelan government assets in the United States on Monday, sharply escalating an economic and diplomatic pressure campaign aimed at removing socialist President Nicolas Maduro from power.

The executive order signed by Trump goes well beyond the sanctions imposed in recent months against Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA and the country’s financial sector, as well as measures against dozens of Venezuelan officials and entities.

Trump’s action, the toughest yet against Maduro, not only bans U.S. companies from dealings with the Venezuela government but also appears to open the door to possible sanctions against foreign firms or individuals that assist it.

Russian and Chinese companies are among those still doing significant business in the South American OPEC nation.

“All property and interests in property of the Government of Venezuela that are in the United States … are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in,” according to the executive order released by the White House.

The scope of the announcement came as a surprise even to some Trump administration allies. “This is big,” said Ana Quintana, senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

Quintana said it appeared the order would be a sweeping embargo on doing business with Venezuela, although she was awaiting further details.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond immediately to a request to comment.

The United States and most Western nations have called for Maduro to step down and have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president.

Guaido, accused by Maduro of mounting a U.S.-directed coup attempt, appointed a board for Citgo Petroleum, Venezuela’s most important foreign asset, earlier this year.

DRAMATIC ACTION

Trump said on Thursday he was considering a quarantine or blockade of Venezuela, although he did not elaborate at the time on when or how such a blockade would be imposed.

He is taking more dramatic action after numerous rounds of sanctions failed to turn Venezuela’s military against Maduro or make significant progress in dislodging him.

U.S. officials have long said they had other weapons in their economic arsenal, even as they privately expressed frustration that European partners and others had not taken stronger steps and that the months-long pressure campaign had not made more headway.

Trump said in a letter to Congress the freezing of assets was necessary “in light of the continued usurpation of power by the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime, as well as the regime’s human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens, curtailment of free press, and ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaido.”

His executive order also threatened sanctions against anyone assisting Maduro or his loyalists, suggesting that Washington could resort to so-called secondary sanctions against third-country companies and individuals.

Fernando Cutz, a former top Trump adviser on Latin America, said the executive order could be applied to non-U.S. firms and entities, limiting their ability to do business with Venezuela if they wanted to continue to deal with U.S. companies or banks.

China and Russia continue to trade oil with Venezuela. The move could escalate tensions with China, already inflamed by a tit-for-tat trade war, said Cutz, now a senior associate with the Cohen Group, a consulting firm.

China and Russia – together with Cuba – have continued to back Maduro, prompting U.S. national security adviser John Bolton to warn Beijing and Moscow on Monday against doubling down in their support for him.

Bolton is slated to give a speech on Tuesday morning at a gathering of more than 50 countries in Lima, Peru, that would outline a planned U.S. initiative to lead to a peaceful transfer of power in Venezuela.

Moscow and Beijing turned down invitations to attend.

A White House official declined to comment on the implications of the order for foreign companies doing business in Venezuela, where an economic crisis has driven more than 3 million people to emigrate, fleeing hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.

Trump’s order allows exceptions for the delivery of food, medicine and clothing “intended to be used to relieve human suffering.”

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Eric Beech, Matt Spetalnick, Roberta Rampton and Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Angus Berwick in CARACAS; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Tait)

Trump considers executive order to add citizenship question to U.S. census

FILE PHOTO: Balloons decorate an event for community activists and local government leaders to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday said he may issue an executive order in an effort to add a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census as his administration faces a Friday afternoon court deadline to reveal its plans.

“We’re working on a lot of things including an executive order,” Trump told reporters outside the White House as he left for his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.

He also suggested that a query about citizenship could be added at a later date even if it is not on the questionnaire currently being printed.

Maryland-based U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel wants the administration to state its intentions by 2 p.m.

A White House spokesman said on Thursday that officials are examining “every option” available to add the query to the decennial population survey.

Trump administration officials have been scrambling in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling on June 27 that blocked the inclusion of the question, saying administration officials had given a “contrived” rationale for including it. But the court left open the possibility that the administration could offer a plausible rationale.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Tuesday said the Census Bureau had started the process of printing the census questionnaires without the citizenship query, giving the impression that the administration had backed down.

But Trump then ordered a policy reversal via tweet on Wednesday, saying he would fight on, although the government has said the printing process continues.

The census is used to allot seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.

Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not participating and engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant populations. They say that officials lied about their motivations for adding the question and that the move would help Trump’s fellow Republicans gain seats in the House and state legislatures when new electoral district boundaries are drawn.

Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country. His hard-line policies on immigration have been a key element of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.

A group of states including New York and immigrant rights organizations challenged the legality of the citizenship question, arguing among other things that the U.S. Constitution requires congressional districts to be distributed based on a count of “the whole number of persons in each state” with no reference to citizenship. Three different federal judges blocked the administration before the Supreme Court intervened.

The Supreme Court ruled that in theory the government can ask about citizenship on the census, but rejected the rationale given by the Trump administration for adding.

The administration had originally told the courts the question was needed to better enforce a law that protects the voting rights of racial minorities.

Administration officials had repeatedly told the Supreme Court they needed to finalize the details of the census questionnaire by the end of June.

Even if a citizenship question is not included, the Census Bureau is still able to gather data on citizenship, which the Trump administration could provide to states when they are drawing new electoral districts.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and David Morgan; Editing by Grant McCool)

Trump imposes new U.S. sanctions on Iran, including supreme leader

U.S. President Donald Trump displays an executive order imposing fresh sanctions on Iran in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Steve Holland and Stephen Kalin

WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions on Iran on Monday following Tehran’s downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called “the hostile conduct of the regime.”

“Sanctions imposed through the executive order … will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader’s office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support,” Trump said.

The Trump administration wants to force Tehran to open talks on its nuclear and missile programs and its activities in the region.

Iran said on Monday U.S. cyber attacks on its military had failed, as Washington sought to rally support in the Middle East and Europe for a hardline stance that has brought it to the verge of conflict with its longtime foe.

Washington has blamed Tehran for attacks on tankers in the Gulf in recent weeks, which Iran denies. On Monday, the United States said it was building a coalition with allies to protect Gulf shipping lanes.

A coalition of nations would provide both material and financial contributions to the program, a senior U.S. State Department official said, without identifying the countries.

“It’s about proactive deterrence, because the Iranians just want to go out and do what they want to do and say hey we didn’t do it. We know what they’ve done,” the official told reporters, adding that the deterrents would include cameras, binoculars and ships.

The United States accuses Iran of encouraging allies in Yemen to attack Saudi targets.

In a joint statement on Monday, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Britain expressed concern over Middle East tensions and the dangers posed by Iranian “destabilizing activity” to peace and security in Yemen and the region.

The confrontation between Iran and the United States heated up last Thursday when Iran shot down an American drone, saying it had flown over its air space.

Washington, which said the drone was in international skies, then appeared to come close to attacking Iranian military targets, with Trump saying that he aborted a retaliatory air strike 10 minutes before it was to go ahead.

Trump said he decided the strike, to punish Iran for shooting down the drone, would have killed too many people.

U.S. media have reported that Washington launched cyber attacks last week even as Trump called off his air strike. The Washington Post said on Saturday that the cyber strikes, which had been planned previously, had disabled Iranian rocket launch systems. U.S. officials have declined to comment.

FEARS OF WAR

Iran dismissed the cyber attacks as a failure.

“They try hard, but have not carried out a successful attack,” Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, said on Twitter.

“Media asked if the claimed cyber attacks against Iran are true,” he said. “Last year we neutralized 33 million attacks with the (national) firewall.”

Allies of the United States have been calling for steps to defuse the crisis, saying they fear a small mistake by either side could trigger war.

“We are very concerned. We don’t think either side wants a war, but we are very concerned that we could get into an accidental war and we are doing everything we can to ratchet things down,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East to discuss Iran with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two Gulf Arab allies that favor a hard line. Pompeo met King Salman as well as the king’s son, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, visited Oman and was headed to Europe to explain U.S. policy to allies. He told European reporters on a phone call ahead of his arrival that Trump was willing to sit down with Iran, but that Iran must do a deal before sanctions could be lifted.

CONCESSIONS

U.S.-Iran relations have deteriorated over the past year since the United States abandoned a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

U.S. allies in Europe and Asia view Trump’s decision to abandon the nuclear deal as a mistake that strengthens hardliners in Iran and weakens the pragmatic faction of President Hassan Rouhani.

France, Britain and Germany have sent an official diplomatic warning to Iran if Tehran reduces its compliance with the accord, two European diplomats said on Monday.

It was not immediately clear what consequences Iran might face for non-compliance.

Washington argues that the agreement known as the JCPOA, negotiated under Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, did not go far enough, and new sanctions are needed to force Iran back to the table to make more concessions.

Both sides have suggested they are willing to hold talks while demanding the other side move first. In the latest comment from Tehran, an adviser to Rouhani repeated a longstanding demand that Washington lift sanctions before any talks.

But the adviser, Hesameddin Ashena, also tweeted a rare suggestion that Iran could be willing to discuss new concessions, if Washington were willing to put new incentives on the table that go beyond those in the deal.

“If they want something beyond the JCPOA, they should offer something beyond the JCPOA; with international guarantees.”

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and Stephen Kalin in Jeddah; Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Writing by Peter Graff and Grant McCool; Editing by Jon Boyle and Howard Goller)

As U.S. shutdown ties record, Trump weighs emergency declaration

President Donald Trump salutes a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter as he stands with U.S. Border Patrol agents as it flies over the Rio Grande River during his visit to the U.S. - Mexico border in Mission, Texas, U.S., January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, facing the prospect of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, is considering declaring a national emergency that would likely escalate a policy dispute with Democrats over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall into a court test of presidential power.

To escape a political trap of his own making, Trump on Thursday suggested that he might declare an emergency so he can bypass Congress to get funding for his wall, which was a central promise of his 2016 election campaign.

As the partial government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim in an early-morning tweet, saying Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall, without offering any evidence. It would become the longest U.S. shutdown on Saturday.

He originally pledged Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. But the Mexican government has refused. Trump is now demanding that Congress provide $5.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding for the wall.

Democrats in Congress call the wall an ineffective, outdated answer to a complex problem. The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees staying home on furlough or working without pay set to miss their paychecks.

With no Capitol Hill compromise in sight, Trump publicly ruminated on Thursday during a trip to the Texas border about declaring an emergency.

A close Trump confidant judged the time for such a step had come. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement: “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works.”

The Wall Street Journal, NBC and the Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, reported that the White House had asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look into diverting money from its budget toward the wall and to explore how fast construction could begin under an emergency declaration. Reuters could not immediately verify the accuracy of the reports.

BOXED IN

Critics of the national emergency strategy have said it may be illegal. In any case, it was almost certain to trigger an immediate court challenge from Democrats, including an accusation of trying to circumvent Congress’ power over the national purse strings.

That would push the wall impasse into the courts, allowing the government to be fully reopened while the judges weigh the case, which could take months.

“After the emergency announcement, the path toward construction via executive order may be as unclear as a storm at midnight. But it will at least allow the president to move out of the corner he’s boxed himself into,” said Charles Gabriel, analyst at strategy firm Capital Alpha Partners.

Partial government funding expired on Dec. 22, leaving departments ranging from Justice, Agriculture and Treasury to Commerce and Homeland Security without money to operate programs and pay their workers.

An emergency declaration would come with risks. Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress have signaled worries about such an action. Given that the Constitution gives Congress the power to set spending priorities and appropriate money, they worry about a tough legal fight and an unwise precedent.

‘CROSSING THE RUBICON’

“If Trump crosses this Rubicon, what would prevent a Democratic president from declaring a ‘national emergency’ on Day 1 of their administration on climate change and/or healthcare?” Chris Krueger, an analyst at strategy firm Cowen Washington Research Group, asked in a commentary note.

Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who has had good relations with Trump, said declaring a national emergency would be “wrong, but I think that’s his only way out.”

Manchin predicted that if Trump made the declaration, Congress would immediately move to pass bills funding the various agencies, knowing that the president would then be able to sign them into law.

While some Republican senators have begun clamoring for an end to the shutdown, party leaders toeing Trump’s line this week have ignored passage in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives of funding bills for government agencies. The House was expected to pass more such bills on Friday.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

U.S. judge orders migrant families to be reunited

A Honduran family seeking asylum waits on the Mexican side of the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge after being denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers near Brownsville, Texas, U.S., June 26, 2018. Picture taken June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Jonathan Stempel and Doina Chiacu

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. judge has blocked the Trump administration from separating immigrant parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border, and ordered that those who were separated be reunited within 30 days.

The nationwide injunction issued late Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego will not be the final word on a heated battle over the treatment of immigrant families who cross the border illegally. A government appeal is likely.

Sabraw’s preliminary injunction also requires the government to reunite children under the age of five with their parents within 14 days, and let children talk with their parents within 10 days.

More than 2,300 migrant children were separated from their parents as a result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that began in early May and sought to prosecute all adults crossing the border without authorization, including those traveling with children.

The separations sparked widespread condemnation in the United States, including from within President Donald Trump’s own Republican Party, and abroad.

Although Trump issued an executive order on June 20 to end the family separations, the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the San Diego case, said it contained “loopholes” and did little to fix the problem. Some 2,000 children remain separated.

Sabraw, an appointee of former Republican President George W. Bush, rebuked the administration.

“The facts set forth before the court portray reactive governance responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making,” he wrote. “They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution.”

The White House had no immediate comment.

LAYING BLAME

In opposing a preliminary injunction, the government had argued that Trump’s executive order “largely” addressed the concerns of the ACLU.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a Senate hearing earlier on Tuesday that most separated children could not be reunited until the Republican-led Congress passed necessary legislation.

He also laid blame for the problem on the families, saying that “if the parents didn’t bring them across illegally, this would never happen.”

The ACLU hailed Sabraw’s decision.

“This victory will be bring relief to all the parents and children who thought they may never see each other again,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said in an email. “It is a complete victory.”

Sabraw ruled several hours after 17 generally Democratic-leaning states and Washington, D.C. sued the Trump administration in Seattle federal court over the family separations, calling them “cruel” and motivated by “animus.”

LEGISLATIVE SOLUTION

After issuing his executive order, Trump called last week on Congress to pass legislation that addressed immigration issues. But although Republicans control Congress, disagreements between moderates and conservatives in the party have impeded a speedy legislative fix to the border crisis.

An immigration bill favored by conservative Republicans failed to pass the House last week. The House planned to vote on Wednesday on a broad immigration bill that would bar the separation of children from their parents at the southern border

In a Twitter post written in capital letters throughout, Trump said House Republicans should pass the bill, even though he said Democrats would stop it from passing in the Senate, where Republicans have a slimmer majority.

“PASSAGE WILL SHOW THAT WE WANT STRONG BORDERS AND SECURITY WHILE THE DEMS WANT OPEN BORDERS = CRIME,” the president wrote on Twitter.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday he would not rule out the possibility of bringing a vote on a narrower bill addressing only the detention of immigrant families, if the broader bill did not pass.

The ACLU had sued on behalf of a mother and her then 6-year-old daughter, who were separated for four months after entering the country to seek asylum and flee religious persecution in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The ACLU case is Ms. L et al v U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, No. 18-00428.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Alison Frankel in New York; Yasmeen Abutaleb and Doina Chiacu in Washington, D.C.; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump backs down, signs order to end family separations at U.S. border

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration policy in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump backed down on Wednesday on an immigration policy that sparked outrage at home and abroad, signing an executive order to end the separation of children from their parents when immigrant families are caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

The order requires that immigrant families be detained together when they are caught entering the country illegally, although it was not immediately clear for how long.

It also moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings. The order does not end a “zero tolerance” policy that calls for criminal prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally.

“It’s about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border,” Trump said as he signed the order in a hastily arranged Oval Office gathering.

Videos of youngsters in cages and an audiotape of wailing children had sparked anger in the United States from groups ranging from clergy to influential business leaders, as well as condemnation from abroad, including Pope Francis.

Trump, a frequent viewer of cable television newscasts, had recognized the family separation issue was a growing political problem, White House sources said. First lady Melania Trump, in private conversations with the president, urged him to do something, a White House official said.

“The first lady has been making her opinion known to the president for some time now, which was that he needed to do all he could to help families stay together,” an official said.

Wednesday’s move marked a rare instance since Trump took office in January 2017 in which he has changed course on a controversial policy, rather than digging in.

Trump has made a tough stance on immigration central to his presidency. In recent days, the Republican president had insisted his hands were tied by law on the issue of family separations and had sought to blame Democrats, although it was his administration that implemented the policy of strict adherence to immigration law.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress is also considering legislation to address the issue. The House of Representatives planned to vote on Thursday on two bills designed to halt the practice of separating families and to address other immigration issues.

But Republicans said they were uncertain if either measure would have enough support to be approved. Trump told House Republicans on Tuesday night he would support either of the immigration bills under consideration but did not give a preference.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell, Amanda Becker and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bill Trott and Frances Kerry)

Trump says will sign something ‘pre-emptive’ on immigration border policy

U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a Cabinet meeting, where he discussed immigration policy at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millli

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would sign something “pre-emptive” soon to solve the problem of immigrant families being separated at the U.S. southern border, which has sparked outrage in the United States and abroad.

It was not immediately clear what Trump, who had previously blamed the family separations on Democrats, would sign. An earlier report from Fox News Channel said the Trump administration was considering an executive order that would allow immigrant families who cross the border illegally to stay together longer than is currently permitted.

Videos of youngsters in cages and an audiotape of wailing children have sparked anger at home from groups ranging from clergy to influential business leaders, as well as condemnation from abroad.

Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said he hoped his measure would be matched with legislation in the U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives was to vote on Thursday on two bills designed to halt the practice of separating families and to address other immigration issues. But Republicans said they were uncertain if either measure would have enough support to be approved.

Trump campaigned on stopping illegal immigration and has fiercely defended his administration’s actions. He had called on Democratic lawmakers to stop the family separations, even though his fellow Republicans control both chambers in Congress and his own administration implemented the current policy.

A Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll released on Tuesday showed fewer than one in three American adults supporting the policy.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Cornwell, Amanda Becker and Mohammad Zargham; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Trott)

Trump to order mental health aid to prevent suicide among military veterans

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (L) after signing the Veterans Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 12, 2017.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday was set to sign an executive order that will direct government departments to try to prevent suicide among military veterans by treating mental health problems before they become more serious.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told reporters on a conference call that Trump wants to address an alarming trend, that of 20 veterans a day taking their own life.

“That is just an unacceptable number and we are focused on doing everything we can to try to prevent these veteran suicides,” Shulkin said.

Trump’s order will direct the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to develop a plan in 60 days to provide access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for uniformed service members in the first year following military service.

The new order will cost about $200 million year to implement, money that will be diverted from the agencies’ current budget, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio)

Trump scraps key Obamacare subsidies, urges Democrats to fix ‘broken mess’

Trump scraps key Obamacare subsidies, urges Democrats to fix 'broken mess'

By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday urged Democrats to make a healthcare deal after cutting off Obamacare subsidies to health insurance companies for low-income patients in a forceful move that sparked threats of legal action and concern of chaos in insurance markets.

“ObamaCare is a broken mess,” Trump tweeted early on Friday. “Piece by piece we will now begin the process of giving America the great HealthCare it deserves!”

The decision is the most dramatic action Trump has taken yet to weaken the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law, which extended insurance to 20 million Americans.

The move drew swift condemnation from Democrats and threats from state attorneys general in New York and California to file lawsuits. Trump, a Republican, urged opponents to reach out to him.

“The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!” Trump said in another tweet on Friday.

Trump has been frustrated by Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace the law known as Obamacare, thwarting a promise he made during his successful 2016 presidential campaign.

His decision is likely to please those among his political base who detest the Obamacare system, which many Republicans have attacked for years as an unneeded government intrusion in Americans’ healthcare.

In a nod to that same constituency, the president signed an executive order earlier on Thursday to make it easier for Americans to buy bare-bones health insurance plans exempt from Obamacare requirements.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi derided the subsidies cut-off in a joint statement, saying Trump would single-handedly push Americans’ healthcare premiums higher.

“It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America,” they said. “Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it.”

Insurers and proponents of Obamacare have implored Trump for months to commit to making the payments, which are worth billions of dollars. Several insurers have cited uncertainty over the payments when hiking premiums for 2018 or exiting insurance markets altogether.

Healthcare stocks have edged lower in recent days. Ending the payments could hurt shares of insurers such as Anthem Inc, Molina Healthcare Inc, Cigna Corp and Centene Corp, which are offering plans on Obamacare markets for 2018.

Trump has made the payments, guaranteed to insurers under Obamacare to help lower out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income consumers, each month since taking office in January. But he has repeatedly threatened to cut them off and disparaged them as a “bailout” for insurance companies.

For Kathryn Haydon and her husband, who bought insurance under the law’s marketplace three years ago as struggling college students in Arkansas, the subsidies reduced the cost of their $310 plan by about $250, leaving them to pay $60 each month.

“If the subsidy was not there, we would have gone without health insurance,” she said. “Our finances were extremely tight at the time for us… we would have just hoped there were no catastrophes.”

LAWSUITS

The White House said late on Thursday that it could not lawfully pay the subsidies anymore.

A White House statement said that based on guidance from the Justice Department, “the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies under Obamacare.”

“In light of this analysis, the Government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments,” it said.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement he was prepared to lead other attorneys general in a lawsuit.

“I will not allow President Trump to once again use New York families as political pawns in his dangerous, partisan campaign to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act at any cost,” he wrote.

The payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans against the Obama administration that alleged they were unlawful because they needed to be appropriated by Congress. A judge for the federal district court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Republicans, and the Obama administration appealed the ruling.

The Trump administration took over the lawsuit and had delayed deciding whether to continue the Obama administration’s appeal or terminate the subsidies, but in April Trump began threatening to stop the payments.

That case became more complicated in August when a U.S. appeals court allowed 16 Democratic state attorneys general to defend the payments and have a say in the legal fight.

The political turbulence has affected insurers’ decisions.

Anthem Inc, one of the largest remaining Obamacare insurers, in August scaled back its offerings in Nevada and Georgia and blamed the moves in part on uncertainty over the payments.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina earlier this year raised premiums by more than 20 percent, but said it would have only raised premiums by about 9 percent if Trump agreed to fund the payments.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that cutting off the payments would cause premiums to rise 20 percent in 2018, and that 5 percent of Americans would live in areas that do not have an insurer in the individual market in 2018.

Trump has taken other steps to undermine Obamacare. Last week, his administration allowed businesses and non-profit organizations to seek exemptions from Obamacare’s mandate that employers provide birth control in health insurance with no co-payment.

The administration also slashed the Obamacare advertising and outreach budget and halved the open enrollment period.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Brendan O’Brien and Susan Heavey and; Editing by Michael Perry and Bernadette Baum)