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March 10, 2014

In what is likely a sign that ObamaCare is extending health insurance to more Americans as intended, the uninsured rate fell markedly to start the year, according to Gallup data released Monday. In a little more than six months, the percentage of Americans without insurance has fallen to 15.9, down from the record high of 18 percent Gallup recorded last year.

More from Gallup:

The uninsured rate for almost every major demographic group has dropped in 2014 so far. The percentage of uninsured Americans with an annual household income of less than $36,000 has dropped the most — by 2.8 percentage points — to 27.9 percent since the fourth quarter of 2013, while the percentage of uninsured blacks has fallen 2.6 points to 18.3 percent. Hispanics remain the subgroup most likely to lack health insurance, with an uninsured rate of 37.9 percent. [Gallup]

In other words, demographics with some of the highest uninsured rates — the very demographics ObamaCare is intended to benefit most — are seeing significant improvements in their rates of coverage.

Now, it's still too early to peg all of the drop on the health care law. But the clear trend over the past few months strongly points to the fact that ObamaCare is indeed reducing the number of people without coverage. A continuation of that trend will only make the link that much stronger. And that's why Democrats aren't, despite what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) may say, in any rush to abandon the law: As it begins to take hold, and more people get covered, support for the law could well become an asset for Democrats. Jon Terbush

11:00 a.m. ET
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Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a radio interview Wednesday she is "open" to using a subpoena to procure President Trump's tax records if his "voluntary cooperation" is not forthcoming. Collins has a seat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating allegations of attempted Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

"All of us are determined to get the answers. This is a counter-intelligence operation in many ways," Collins said. "That's what our committee specializes in. We are used to probing in depth in this area." Critics suggest the tax returns could shed light on Trump business dealings in Russia that would be relevant to the election investigation.

Trump's refusal to release his tax records is a break with several decades of presidential tradition but does not run afoul of any laws. Collins' Republican colleagues in House and Senate leadership have shown no indication they share her enthusiasm for subpoenaing a president from their own party. Bonnie Kristian

10:50 a.m. ET
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When Cathleen Cavin first brought her daughter's kitten, Ozzy, home from a Petaluma, California, animal shelter in 2014, she felt guilty about separating the cat from his brother. One day, she promised, she'd reunite the siblings. Two years later, Cavin met Brian Herrera on Tinder. The pair hit it off, she went to his home — and was shocked to find that his cat, Butter, was a dead ringer for Ozzy. A check of shelter records revealed that, indeed, the pets were long-lost brothers. "It's total destiny," says Cavin, who's moving in with Herrera next month. "Yeah, it's fate." Christina Colizza

10:41 a.m. ET

Hundreds of people turned out to protest in Anaheim, California, on Wednesday evening after an off-duty Los Angeles police officer fired his weapon while attempting to detain a 13-year-old boy in an argument about kids walking across his lawn. Some of the protests eventually turned violent.

The altercation happened Tuesday afternoon, and partial video of the incident soon surfaced online. The boy, whose name has not been released, said he spoke to the officer after the cop began using profanity against a 13-year-old girl who walked across his property to get to a nearby school.

All parties agree the officer fired his gun, but the 13-year-old and his family reject the cop's claim that the boy threatened to shoot the officer. They say he threatened to "sue," not "shoot," when he became afraid for his life. Nevertheless, the boy and a 15-year-old friend were both arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats and battery and on suspicion of assault and battery, respectively. The officer was not arrested and is on administrative leave.

Wednesday night, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the officer's home. Most protested peacefully, though 24 people were arrested after a minority of those gathered smashed house and car windows, attempted to enter the officer's home, and spray-painted a garage door. The mayor of Anaheim has promised a full investigation. Watch a local news story below, including footage of the gunfire incident and subsequent protests. Bonnie Kristian

10:07 a.m. ET

Longtime Fox News broadcaster Alan Colmes passed away Thursday morning at the age of 66. His family said in a statement that he had been battling a "brief illness."

Colmes was a fixture on Fox News Channel and for over a decade served as the co-host of Hannity & Colmes alongside Fox host Sean Hannity, serving as Hannity's liberal counterpart. In a statement Thursday, Hannity called Colmes "one of life's most decent, kind, and wonderful people." Colmes' family remembered the longtime political commentator as "a great guy, brilliant, hysterical, and moral."

Fox anchor Bill Hemmer announced the news of Colmes' death in a broadcast Thursday morning. Watch the segment — including the network's touching tribute to its longtime contributor — below. Kimberly Alters

10:06 a.m. ET
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A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reveals the federal government has not been able to determine how to accurately measure what a wall on the southern U.S. border — the very wall President Trump says will begin construction shortly — will or will not accomplish.

As the report notes, Customs and Border Protection "collects data that could be useful to assessing the contributions of border fencing to border security operations," but it "cannot measure the contribution ... because it has not developed metrics for this assessment." CPB was in the process of figuring out how to make this measurement in 2013, but the metric development process was suspended due to funding cuts from sequestration.

Even with restored funding, the GAO report adds, "developing metrics for a single element" of U.S. border security efforts is "challenging" because it is difficult to parse which results are due to digital surveillance, the work of border patrol agents, or the segments of the border wall that already block the more accessible areas of the U.S.-Mexico border. The metric must also account for a complex array of data, including information "on apprehensions, turn backs, got aways, and drive throughs, and border fencing, by type and design."

CPB endorsed the GAO recommendation that a reliable metric be developed to effectively allocate border patrol funding. Bonnie Kristian

9:13 a.m. ET
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stayed largely "offstage" since being confirmed, marking a curious break from traditions that have been honored by past presidential administrations, The Washington Post reports. Despite the fact that daily press briefings have been a fixture for the secretary of state since John Foster Dulles held the role in the 1950s, Tillerson has yet to do a televised Q&A. He has also been conspicuously absent from meetings with world leaders including the Canadian and Japanese prime ministers as well as President Trump's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Many onlookers believe Tillerson's diminished role is not his fault; White House chaos and disarray could simply be leaving him with nothing to say. "Tillerson isn't being purposefully sidelined; he's just caught up in an administration with too many competing power centers and a president who's unwilling or unable to decide who he wants to play the lead role in implementing his foreign policy," said former diplomat Aaron David, who has worked with both Republican and Democratic presidents.

"I think it's hard to go out and talk to the press if you don't know what to say," added Richard Boucher, a diplomat who has also served both parties.

But Tillerson's absence can sometimes mean that the American people are learning about the goings-on of the State Department through foreign governments' briefings to their press:

In some cases, governments of countries that are not democracies have been more transparent than the State Department. Phone conversations Tillerson had with the foreign ministers of Russia and Egypt as well as a phone conversation with Saudi Arabia's King Salman came to light only when the officials told their local press about them.

"It behooves the administration to give our side of any conversation," said Richard Stengel, the undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2014 through 2016 in the Obama administration. "Having someone put points on the scoreboard and not taking the shot yourself seems peculiar to me." [The Washington Post]

The Washington Post notes that it is still early in Tillerson's tenure — but that previous transitions between administrations have managed to seamlessly integrate the new secretary of state. Read the full report at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

8:06 a.m. ET
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President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, might have faced a blackmail attempt from a Ukrainian parliamentarian last summer, Politico reports. The purported evidence comes in the form of hacked communications from Manafort's daughter's iPhone, which includes a text from Ukrainian Serhiy Leshchenko demanding to reach Manafort and threatening the release of damaging information:

Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to "bulletproof" evidence related to Manafort's financial arrangement with Ukraine's former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

"Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise," reads the note. It is signed "Sergii" — an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko's given name — and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko. [Politico]

Leshchenko denied that the texts were from him, telling Politico: "I've never written any emails or messages to … Manafort or his family." Manafort denied brokering the meeting beween Trump and Tulub but confirmed the texts to his daughter are real and said that he had also received texts to his own phone from the same address. A White House official raised questions about the timeline, pointing out that Trump had not partnered with Manafort before the 2016 presidential campaign, muddling the allegation that he had brokered a 2012 meeting between Trump and Tulub.

The hacked text messages were published by a hacktivist collective apparently as an anti-Trump move, although the group "seems like randos, not the nation states we usually track," a cybersecurity analyst noted.

In August, The New York Times published documents from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine that indicated $12.7 million in cash payments was set aside for Manafort, with Leshchenko serving as a key source for bringing the documents to light. Manafort denied the documents are real: "I find it coincidental that I got these texts, and then he released these phony journals," Manafort said. Jeva Lange

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