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White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, one of President Trump's closest aides and advisers, has said she's stepping down. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Alex Pappas, John Roberts
White House communications director Hope Hicks is resigning, it was announced Wednesday.
“There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump,” Hicks said in a statement. “I wish the president and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country.”
Hicks, 29, is Trump’s longest serving aide, having worked with him before he announced his candidacy, through the campaign and into the second year of his administration.
“Hope is outstanding and has done great work for the last three years,” Trump said in a statement provided by the White House. “She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person. I will miss having her by my side but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood. I am sure we will work together again in the future.”
Hicks’ exact departure is to be determined but it will be sometime in the next few weeks, an aide said.
“When I became Chief of Staff, I quickly realized what so many have learned about Hope – she is strategic, poised and wise beyond her years,” chief of staff John Kelly said in a statement. “She became a trusted adviser and counselor and did a tremendous job overseeing the communications for the President’s agenda including the passage of historic tax reform. She has served her country with great distinction. To say that she will be missed, is an understatement.”
Hicks joined the White House after the campaign, and was promoted to communications director over the summer. She is credited by the White House with leading strategic messaging for tax reform effort and working with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to stabilize the press and communications teams.
Hicks’ resignation was first reported by the New York Times.
Unchallenged liberalism leaves homelessness, drug needles and garbage in its wake Tammy Bruce ANALYSIS/OPINION:
Liberal policy failure is all around us and destroys lives every day. In California, the destruction of society and individual lives has become so overwhelming, the state’s liberal overseers now spend their time covering up where they can and normalizing the chaos as much as possible.
Since 2013, when now-liberal icon Eric Garcetti was elected mayor of Los Angeles, and the nation had just re-elected Barack Obama as president, Los Angeles’ homeless population skyrocketed 46 percent. During the Obama years, where unchallenged liberalism was pushed and accepted (wrongly) as the new normal, we saw the leftist economic menace rage through the entire nation, destroying businesses and the full-time jobs that went with them.
In California, the destruction is particularly acute. As the social structure in major cities continues to break down, the state focuses on banning plastic straws, whether to release from prison a mass murderer from the Manson family, while cheering at becoming as sanctuary state.
Just this week, the Los Angeles Times issued an editorial titled, “Los Angeles homeless crisis is a national disgrace.” Actually, it’s not — it’s a California disgrace. The editorial exemplifies the refusal of liberals to not just admit their responsibility to social destruction, but an inability to even relate to reality.
The Times editorial board chided, in part, “Today, a greater and greater proportion of people living on the streets are there because of bad luck or a series of mistakes, or because the economy forgot them — they lost a job or were evicted or fled an abusive marriage just as the housing market was growing increasingly unforgiving.”
They refer to the “economy” as though it’s a mean thing with a life of its own, and simply “forgot” people. There’s no need to consider the actual people in charge of policy and the economy. That lost job, or domestic strife, a mean housing market are all pointed at, as though they were all dropped on earth by Martians.
The other factor is, of course, the social justice issue: “All the great social issues of American society play out in homelessness — inequality, racial injustice, poverty, violence, sexism. …” Never mentioned: idiotic and incompetent liberal leadership that destroys business and jobs; regulations, waste, fraud and abuse that leave human beings on the street because the theory of socialism is all that matters.
Fox News reported that 25 percent of the nation’s half million homeless live in California, the largest of any state. Why is California in such trouble? Todd Spitzer of the Orange County (California) Board of Supervisors “blames the problem on two issues: legislation signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown over the past several years that has eroded the penalties for drug use, possession and petty crimes to where police often don’t bother making arrests; and the change in a law so that treatment is no longer forced for drug abuse or mental health issues.”
For liberals, social chaos is their friend. They need it to prey on the emotions of others, while then using it as an argument for more government control of our lives.
As if living in those conditions is just another life choice, the ACLU tried to stop Mr. Spitzer’s effort to clean up a homeless camp of 700 people living along a riverbed next to Angels’ Stadium. He prevailed, but so dangerous was the environment, it took hazmat crews to clear out the encampment.
“Trash trucks and contractors in hazmat gear have descended on the camp and so far removed 250 tons of trash, 1,100 pounds of human waste and 5,000 hypodermic needles,” the report said.
The left has a history of working hard to hide their failure, malevolence and destruction of society. Years ago, this column brought to you the effort by San Francisco to move their homeless to an island. Now the story is about how the city spends $30 million trying to clean city streets of hypodermic needles and human feces.
“[An] Investigation reveals a dangerous mix of drug needles, garbage, and feces throughout downtown San Francisco,” reported NBC Bay Area. Their “Investigative Unit photographed nearly a dozen hypodermic needles scattered across one block, a group of preschool students happened to walk by on their way to an afternoon field trip to city hall. ‘We see poop, we see pee, we see needles, and we see trash,’ said teacher Adelita Orellana. ‘Sometimes they ask what is it, and that’s a conversation that’s a little difficult to have with a 2-year old, but we just let them know that those things are full of germs, that they are dangerous, and they should never be touched.”
As Democratic leadership tries to normalize their degradation of society, others have had to adapt. One person created the “Human Wasteland” map that, according to the Daily Caller, “charts all of the locations for human excrement ‘incidents’ reported to the San Francisco police during a given month. The interactive map shows precise locations of the incidents by marking them with poop emojis.”
Having used needles and human waste on your sidewalks isn’t just a disgusting inconvenience, it’s a deadly biological hazard and an indicator of the breakdown of civil society. So the next time a Democrat tells you they know best, laugh and let them know your family deserves better than poo maps, hazmat homeless camps, and little girls having to avoid drug needles on the sidewalk.
Three members of the notorious Salvadoran gang MS-13 showed no remorse as they laughed and joked while the family of one the Long Island high school teenage girls they are accused of killing grimly looked on.
Enrique Portillo and brothers Alexi Saenz and Jairo Saenz laughed, smiled and joked with each other as prosecutors said they were waiting to hear from the U.S. Justice Department about whether they can pursue the death penalty.
The family of 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, the Brentwood, N.Y. girl they are accused of slaughtering in cold blood alongside her friend Nisa Mickens, 15, glared at them from the gallery, the New York Post.
Kayla Cuevas, 16, and her friend Nisa Mickens, 15, were killed by MS-13 members in Brentwood, N.Y. in September 2016. (AP)
The two teenage girls were slaughtered in a residential neighborhood near an elementary school on Sept. 13, 2016 - the day before Mickens’ 16th birthday. Her body was found on a tree-lined street in Brentwood, while Cuevas’ beaten body turned up in the wooded backyard of a nearby home a day later.
The two teens were lifelong friends who friends and family said had been inseparable and shared an interest in basketball.
“We shouldn’t be tolerating this type of behavior, at all what so ever. These are kids [getting killed], kids. This should not be tolerated at all,” Cuevas’ mother Evelyn Rodriguez told “Fox and Friends” last July.
Officials said Mickens was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Portillo and two other juveniles were also charged with killing the two teenagers.
“For far too long, MS-13 has been meting out their own version of the death penalty,” Capers said at the time of their arrests.
The three suspects were among 13 gang members charged with a serious of crimes including seven murders in March 2017.
'Today marks the beginning of healing for the families and the community," he said. "It's a great day for justice... but the job is not done," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini told Fox News at the time of their arrest in March 2017.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has emphasized the Trump administration’s commitment to combating MS-13, and has allowed prosecutors to pursue any legal avenue to target the gang – although he has not yet stated whether capital punishment is on the table for Portillo and the Saenzes, the Post reported.
Meanwhile, reputed MS-13 members Mario Aguilar-Lopez and Jose Suarez, who also appeared in court Tuesday, are accused of killing a rival gang member and injuring an onlooker.
Judge Joseph Bianco offered to hear the case for Aguilar-Lopez and Suarez separately, although their lawyers have yet to file the proper motions to do so. They do not face the death penalty, the paper reported.
MS-13 was started by Central American immigrants, mainly from El Salvador, in Los Angeles in the 1980s, but has since expanded to include several other Central and South American countries. The gang is believed to be responsible for 25 killings in New York City's Long Island suburbs in the past two years.
Fox News' Lucia Suarez contributed to this report.
New York City will have to pay out $180,000 to three Muslim women after forcing them to take off their hijabs for mugshots.
Three lawsuits were settled Monday in Brooklyn federal court stemming from the NYPD policy of photographing people wearing religious head coverings, the New York Daily News reported. The three women settled for $60,000 each.
Some cases date to 2012, when a high school girl – identified as “G.E.” – was arrested after a brawl with two other girls whom she thought spread gossip about her.
G.E. was initially brought to a local police station and was told to take off her hijab. G.E. refused and was taken to a secluded room where a female police officer took her photo outside the presence of any men, the Daily News reported.
But at Brooklyn Central Booking the police could not accommodate the girl’s religious needs, telling her that there were not any female officers available and that the camera is in a fixed spot, thus the mugshot could not be taken in a private room.
The girl alleged that a male officer then took her photo without a hijab, making her feel “exposed, violated and distraught” as she was forced to be without the Islamic garb for 20 minutes while male officers and prisoners looked at her.
Police issued an order in March 2015, according to court filings, changing the policies regarding people who refuse to take off their religious head coverings. Officers who perform the arrest had to tell the person that the NYPD offers a choice of getting a private photo – without the head garb and with an officer of the same gender.
Two other cases were filed in 2015 and 2016 by G.E.’s lawyer, Tahanie Aboushi, and involved a similar situation.
One woman claims to have been forced to remove her veil at Brooklyn Central Booking police station and was denied a female photographer. Another accuser said her hijab was removed at the scene of her arrest.
Aboushi told the Daily News on Tuesday that the police department issued additional policies regarding religious headwear in December 2017.
“We did our best to establish good precedent,” Aboushi said. “On the one hand, it gives officers guidance, and on the other hand, it protects the exercise of religious freedom.”
SAN FRANCISCO — Federal immigration agents arrested more than 150 people in California in the days after Oakland’s mayor gave early warning of the raids, it was announced Tuesday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced that agents made the arrests in a three-day sweep starting Sunday that covered cities from Sacramento in the north to Stockton in the Central Valley. About half of those arrested for being in the country illegally had criminal convictions, the agency said.
On Saturday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents that “credible sources” had told her a sweep was imminent, calling it her “duty and moral obligation” to warn families.
California lawmakers from Gov. Jerry Brown down to local mayors have resisted a Trump administration immigration crackdown that they contend is arbitrarily hauling in otherwise law-abiding people and splitting up families that include U.S.-born children.
Acting ICE director Thomas Homan lambasted Schaaf and her city in a statement that suggested the sweep targeted so-called “sanctuary cities” that limit cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions like San Francisco and Oakland shield dangerous criminal aliens from federal law enforcement at the expense of public safety,” Homan said. “Because these jurisdictions prevent ICE from arresting criminal aliens in the secure confines of a jail, they also force ICE officers to make more arrests out in the community, which poses increased risks for law enforcement and the public.”
Defenders of sanctuary city practices say they actually improve public safety by promoting trust among law enforcement and immigrant communities and reserving scarce police resources for other, more urgent crime-fighting needs.
ICE said those arrested included several people with convictions for crimes such as assault with a deadly weapon, including a man who had been previously deported to Mexico eight times.
Schaaf defended her decision Tuesday night.
“I do not regret sharing this information,” Schaaf said. “It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together.”
The ICE sweep was the second since a statewide sanctuary law took effect last month. ICE arrested more than 200 people earlier this month in the Los Angeles area.
A sharply divided Supreme Court has concluded that certain immigrants or asylum seekers do not have an automatic right to periodic custody or bail hearings.
The 5-3 decision comes as the Trump administration looks to shore up rules governing those seeking permanent entry into the country.
At issue is whether aliens requesting admission to the U.S. who are subject to mandatory federal detention must be afforded court status hearings, with the possibility of release into the country, if the detention lasts more than six months. That could include lawful permanent residents charged with a crime; those detained at the border seeking entry who might lack valid documentation; or those claiming fear of persecution if they return to their home country.
The key plaintiff was Alejandro Rodriguez, held for more than three years without any bond hearing. The Mexican national was convicted of misdemeanor drug possession and joyriding, but fought deportation. He eventually was allowed to stay in the U.S. after his release from custody.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, he sued, claiming his constitutional rights were violated.
In the majority ruling, Justice Samuel Alito said the government’s authority was clear: “Detention during those proceedings gives immigration officials time to determine an alien’s status without running the risk of the alien’s either absconding or engaging in criminal activity before a final decision can be made.”
Alito also accused the three dissenting justices of ignoring the relevant law. “How does the dissent attempt to evade the clear meaning of ‘detain’? It resorts to the legal equivalent of a sleight-of-hand trick.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, supported the judgment.
But Justice Stephen Breyer said the fact these are immigrants in custody does not diminish their right to a hearing.
“The bail questions before us are technical but at heart they are simple,” Breyer said, in an unusual oral dissent read from the bench. “We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have ‘certain unalienable rights,’ and that among them is the right to liberty.”
Breyer was backed by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan recused from the case back in November, citing an unspecified conflict.
The court avoided resolving other issues raised by the plaintiffs, throwing the case back to the lower courts to decide if the immigration law being challenged is constitutional.
The ACLU said all but about 10 percent of the immigrant claims are settled within six months, and that about 34,000 immigrants on average are being detained at any one time in the U.S.
“The Trump administration is trying to expand immigration detention to record-breaking levels as part of its crackdown on immigrant communities,” said ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham, who argued the Supreme Court case. “We have shown through this case that when immigrants get a fair hearing, judges often release them based on their individual circumstances.”
The Justice Department had no immediate reaction to the court ruling.
Both the Trump and Obama administrations had taken the same position on the bond-hearing question.
Judge who Trump accused of bias clears way for president’s big project In this June 22, 2016, file photo, Border Patrol agent Eduardo Olmos walks near the secondary fence separating Tijuana, Mexico, background, and San Diego in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File) Stephen Dinan
A federal court cleared the way Tuesday for President Trump to build his border wall, ruling the administration has the power to waive a series of environmental laws to speed up construction.
The state of California and environmental groups had been counting on the lawsuit to derail the border wall, and the judge’s ruling to the contrary is a major boost to Mr. Trump.
The ruling is all the more striking because if comes Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, who Mr. Trump famously called biased during the 2016 campaign because of his Mexican heritage.
Judge Curiel said he wasn’t opining on whether a wall was good or bad policy — but had to conclude the government has the power to build it.
“It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,” he wrote in a 101-page ruling.
Last year, it seemed certain that he would be a one-term president—if he even lasted that long. But he has a plausible path to victory in 2020.
To many political observers over the past year, the prospect of President Donald Trump’s reelection looked doubtful at best. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon reportedly gave Trump a 30 percent chance of finishing his term. Mike Murphy, the longtime GOP consultant and NeverTrumper, said that Trump will only be president “until early 2019.” And JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, like many others, bet more modestly: that Trump would be the first one-term president since George H. W. Bush.
These predictions were understandable. In 2017, it seemed, every day brought another Trump scandal, a bombshell in the Russia story, a brawl in the White House, or a diplomatic crisis, which explains why Trump’s approval rating last year was a historic low for a president’s first year in office. By year’s end, Democrats were anticipating a sweeping victory in this year’s midterm elections, with the opportunity to take back the House and perhaps even the Senate, and an enormous field of candidates was unofficially lining up for the party’s 2020 primary.
But recent data should trouble them. Internal polling by the Democratic group Priorities USA showed the president’s approval rating had climbed to 44 percent in early February, which “mirrors Trump’s improving position in public polls.” Gallup finds a narrow majority of Americanssupport his handling of the economy, and the new Republican tax law is getting more popular.
“I think people just kind of assume he’s a goner,” FiveThirtyEight statistician Nate Silver told me recently, “but look, he’s now more in a range where presidents have recovered to win reelection. His approval rating is up to 41 or 42 percent in our tracking. That verges on being a normal number that resembles what happened to Reagan or Clinton or Obama in their second years.” (Silver noted over the weekend that Trump dipped to 39 percent in their tracking.) As Jim Messina, who managed President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, warned earlier this month, “Donald Trump can absolutely be reelected.”
Former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer is even more confident of the president’s chances. “Donald Trump is on track to win reelection,” he argued in Politico Magazine over the weekend. “He’s cut taxes. He’s rolled back regulations. He’s put ISIS on its heels. The economy and the stock market are humming along again, despite recent turmoil.”
No analyst I interviewed would speak as confidently. “Only an an amateur would try to predict the results of a presidential election three years from now,” Roger Stone, the longtime GOP consultant and Trump confidant, told me. But the notion that Trump won’t make it to 2020—whether because he’s impeached, he resigns, or worse—looks increasingly misguided. So does Democrats’ confidence in taking back the White House. “When you think you’re destined to win,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, “you’re halfway to losing.”
Some analysts have been saying for almost a year that Trump could be reelected. Last May, Columbia University sociology fellow Musa al-Gharbi wrote for The Conversation that “Trump will most likely be reelected” due to the “default effect” in presidential politics: Most incumbents win a second term. He also downplayed Trump’s unpopularity. “Trump won his first term despite record low approval ratings, triumphing over the marginally less unpopular Hillary Clinton,” he wrote. “He will probably be able to repeat this feat if necessary.”
It seemed hard to believe at the time. Then, as now, Trump’s approval rating was in the high 30s, and his presidency was in chaos. He’d just fired former FBI Director James Comey and—the day after al-Gharbi’s piece ran—told NBC News that Comey’s firing was because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” Trump seemed to be in a hurry to get indicted or impeached. But al-Gharbi’s argument is much more believable nine months later.
“If you had the election literally today, I think Trump would be an underdog in the popular vote, but I don’t know about the electoral college,” FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver told me. “He’s coming from a low point where he had, approval ratings wise, by far the worst first year of any president. But he’s kind of reverting to some mean, in a way, and the mean is how, on average, incumbent presidents get reelected. You know, on average incumbent presidents are having a rough time two years in and their parties suffer anywhere between mild and humongous loses in the midterms, but the baseline case is that incumbent presidents usually win.”
Trump’s most obvious strength heading toward 2020 is the enduring and enthusiastic support of his base. “I would say the most distinctive thing about him other than his obnoxiousness is that his followers aren’t a base,” Sabato said. “They’re a cult. This is a cult. They’ve ceded their independent thinking to this man. This is the most intense cult that I can remember in American politics.” Though their intensity might not be apparent in this fall’s midterm elections, because Trump isn’t on the ballot, they’ll likely show up in massive numbers to support Trump’s reelection in 2020. “If Trump isn’t removed from office and doesn’t lead the country into some form of global catastrophe, he could secure a second term simply by maintaining his current level of support with his political base,” Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik wrote in The Washington Post in October. “Since Trump’s inaugural address, his focus has been on maintaining his support among this loyal base rather than expanding it. As counterintuitive as it may seem, this could be a winning political strategy.”
Sosnik argued that Trump can’t win a two-person race with this strategy, but wrote that the president might have another pathway: “The lack of voters’ faith in both parties increases the probability that there will be a major third-party candidate on the 2020 ballot. It will also lead to other minor-party candidates joining the presidential race. The multi-candidate field will further divide the anti-Trump vote, making it possible for him to get reelected simply by holding on to his current level of support.”
One prominent Democratic strategist told me Trump is most likely to win if he runs as an independent candidate himself. “I think he’s positioned himself from the beginning to run outside the Republican Party, and frankly I think that’s his best option,” said Tad Devine, who served as Bernie Sanders’s senior strategist in the 2016 presidential primary. (Devine thinks Republicans might distance themselves from Trump after he costs them dearly in the midterms.) “Path number two is that the country moves along for three years and continues to create jobs, and there’s no new war that breaks out, and he wins the Republican nomination without contest, and the Democrats have a long and bitter fight,” he said.
Devine isn’t particularly worried about the latter possibility. He calls Trump “the greatest unifier of the Democratic Party,” and said, “I don’t think there will be a problem for Democrats to get behind whoever wins the nominating process.” But not everyone is so sure. “What are the chances you’re going to have that many Democrats fighting among themselves and not have permanent splits, rifts, and divides in the general election?” asked Sabato. “Just look at Hillary and Bernie.” Sabato also noted the third-party factor, telling me, “Inevitably, they’ll take far more votes from a Democratic candidate than Trump.... The more options you have to vote against Trump, the worse it is for the Democratic nominee.”
Trump could be hurt, however, by a strong challenge from within the Republican Party. As American University historian Allan Lichtman has argued, “an internal nomination contest” is “the single best predictor of presidential election results.” (Ohio Governor John Kasich reportedly is weighing a Trump challenge in 2020, either as a Republican or independent.) Lichtman, who has correctly called the outcome of every presidential election since 1984 except one (2000), bases his predictions on 13 “keys” including incumbency, scandal, charisma, the economy, foreign policy, social unrest, and third-party candidacies. “If Trump wins reelection,” Lichtman told me, “it will be because he quells a revolt in his own party, establishes more of a conservative agenda than just tax cuts, avoids a big foreign policy disaster, and perhaps even achieves a foreign policy success.” At the moment, he said, Trump is “in a precarious position, but the keys are not so firmly aligned that you can make a clear prediction.”
Lichtman said the only variable that Democrats can control in the 2020 election is whether they nominate a charismatic candidate. He noted that the party’s past three presidents—Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter—were all elected as “young unknowns,” which does not describe the top likely candidates to run against Trump in 2020: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. “The Democratic Party increasingly is looking like a nursing home,” Sabato said.
The conventional wisdom says that a strong economy favors the incumbent party in the White House. That didn’t hold true in 2016, but Sean Trende, a senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, thinks the economy will play a key role in how low-information voters evaluate Trump. “The people who really care and are apoplectic or think he’s the greatest guy ever are already voting Democratic or Republican,” he said. “What you’re left with as deciders are these people who don’t follow politics really closely but do know if they got a raise this year of if their cousin got laid off.”
This kind of analysis could help Trump, assuming the economy continues to improve. Silver described precisely how voters could rationalize reelecting the president in such a scenario: “You know what? I was worried about Trump when he was first in office and I don’t like the tweeting, but the fact is things have worked out okay for me personally, the economy seems to be in as good shape as it’s been in many years, and so why not? Why not give him another four years? Nothing blew up.”
Trende told me that “if the election were held tomorrow, Trump would lose,” but warned against overconfidence: “I kind of feel like I’ve seen this movie before.”
Idaho has become ground zero in a new ObamaCare fight, with officials pursuing major changes that could serve as a national model for other states looking to expand insurance options in defiance of the law – even as Democrats warn of higher costs for vulnerable customers.
As soon as April, Blue Cross of Idaho is planning to make new options available.
That’s after Gov. Butch Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little co-signed an executive order asking the Department of Insurance to seek creative ways to make health coverage more affordable. The move opened the door for plans that don’t adhere to ObamaCare coverage requirements – though with the Trump administration testing similar ideas, the state may be unlikely to face much resistance from the White House.
'It is in Idaho’s DNA not to take a federal solution.'
- Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little
“Perhaps the example in Idaho can help chip away at ObamaCare,” Little told Fox News.
The state's insurance department now aims to let insurers sell cheaper, less comprehensive plans that officials project could reduce insurance costs by 30 to 50 percent. Insurance carriers still would have to offer plans on the state’s exchange, Your Health Idaho, while federal subsidies would continue to be available.
Idaho was among the first to act after Congress voted in December to ditch the federal penalty for not buying insurance compliant with the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Though the provision does not take effect until 2019 – and Congress was unable to ditch the ACA as a whole last year – it represented a major swipe at the Obama-era policy.
That’s what congressional Democrats fear, as members from the House and Senate wrote a Feb. 22 letter to Idaho Insurance Director Dean Cameron.
“We strongly oppose efforts that result in higher costs and undermine consumer protections that are guaranteed by federal law that protect women, people with pre-existing conditions, and others facing discrimination in access to health care, and therefore request an explanation of how the Idaho Department of Insurance will regulate insurance plans being sold in the individual market that are not compliant with federal law,” said the letter from Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Richard Neal, D-Mass.
Little, a Republican candidate in the 2018 Idaho governor’s race in which Otter is not seeking re-election, defended the sought-after changes.
“We still recommend ACA plans if someone has high pharmaceutical costs or a pre-existing condition,” Little said. “If you get into these low-costs plans, it isn’t like it used to be. Four of the five plans offer full maternity benefits.”
He suggested the current system isn’t working.
“We lost 70,000 who dropped their health insurance because there was a 100 percent increase in premiums over the last two to three years,” Little told Fox News.
Gov. Butch Otter is pursuing a state-level overhaul of health care policy. (Governor's Office)
Little has doubts that anyone other than the HHS would have legal standing to challenge the policy.And a challenge from the Trump administration seems unlikely, given the federal government is also moving to offer more low-cost plans.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced a new regulation to let health insurance companies sell low-cost, less comprehensive plans that consumers can keep for up to one year. The plans would include a consumer disclaimer that they don’t meet ACA requirements, while insurers could charge customers more based on medical history.
Azar and Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, met with Otter and other governors on Saturday, an HHS spokesperson told Fox News.
Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little says Idaho doesn't want a 'federal solution' on health care. (Bradlittleforidaho.com)
“They expressed empathy with the challenges that states such as Idaho face with Obamacare and highlighted the importance of the recently announced HHS proposed regulation that seeks to provide more choice and competition through short-term, limited duration plans,” the HHS spokesperson said. “HHS is committed to working with Idaho and all states to give them the flexibility, will enforce the law as needed, and looks forward to receiving comments from all states on the recently announced proposed regulation.”
Other state leaders are taking note of what Idaho is doing, including South Dakota GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who attended the National Governors Association winter meeting last weekend in Washington.
“I know that prior to the ACA we had a lot of different health products available in the market place. And I think the national government, through the ACA, tried to set some minimal standards,” Daugaard told Fox News. “In some ways that’s good for the consumers, but in other ways it limits choice. So, if Idaho is trying to provide more choice points that provide less coverage for less cost, again if it’s another item on the menu that consumers can choose with awareness, then I see that as a good thing.”
More local control produces better results, said Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, noting Medicaid flexibility waivers his state and others have gotten.
“Health care is different in our state than it is in another state. Idaho is different than Kentucky,” Bevin told Fox News. “I think the key is to truly use the federalist model. … This is how you get a return on things. Give states more autonomy and more control and you’ll get better results.”
However, Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo opposes any state or federal proposal to weaken the health law.
“In Rhode Island, we have nearly full coverage. Over 95 percent of Rhode Islanders have health insurance,” Raimondo told Fox News. “The Affordable Care Act is working and any attempt to take people’s coverage away is one I would oppose and would hurt Rhode Island families.”
The Iowa state legislature also is considering a bill to allow insurers to offer plans in the individual market that don't meet ObamaCare requirements.
Meanwhile, 20 states are suing the administration to challenge the individual mandate anew – after the penalty’s repeal – and by extension, the ACA itself.
As the law once again comes before the courts, Idaho will plow ahead with its changes.
Blue Cross of Idaho was the first company to step up, though some companies – such as Regence Blue Shield of Idaho – are reportedly reluctant.
“What Idahoans want is a stable, functional market,” Charlene Maher, CEO of Blue Cross of Idaho, said in a statement. “The current marketplace is not affordable for middle-class families. … Our Freedom Blue plans bring more choices and lower prices to consumers.”
Idaho was one of the few red states to establish an exchange after ObamaCare was passed. Little said it has been one of the most efficient, but it still needs help.
“It is in Idaho’s DNA not to take a federal solution,” Little said. “The governor and the legislature invested a lot of capital in developing an Idaho solution to a federal plan.”