April 15, 2013

Taxes are the worst. And tax day — today, April 15 — can be as dreaded as a cavity filling. To soften the blow, several retailers are swooping in with special offers to relieve tax-related stress. Arby's is handing out free curly fries. Office Depot will shred your documents on the house. But perhaps the most unique tax-day stunt comes from Trojan. The condom-maker will spend the day giving away free vibrators (worth up to $39.99) at "Pleasure Carts" in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Says Bruce Weiss, Trojan's VP of marketing: "It's a stimulus package they will never forget." Lauren Hansen

10:39 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, Vox interviewed nine Republican senators about the Graham-Cassidy bill, the GOP's last-ditch effort to repeal ObamaCare. Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass the bill with a majority vote, but 10 days out they seemed to be struggling to pin down exactly why the Graham-Cassidy bill should pass.

Though senators generally agreed that the bill would return power to the states, they had less to say on the finer points of how this could happen without millions of Americans losing insurance coverage and why the bill calls for such drastic cuts to federal spending.

Below, catch some particularly illustrative tidbits from Vox writer Jeff Stein's sit-downs with the lawmakers. And then head over to Vox to read the rest. Becca Stanek

  • Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on why Graham-Cassidy makes "things better" for Americans:

Pat Roberts
"Look, we're in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we're headed toward the canyon. That's a movie that you've probably never seen — "

Jeff Stein
"I do know Thelma and Louise, sir."

Pat Roberts
"So we have to get out of the car, and you have to have a car to get into, and this is the only car there is." [Vox]

  • Sen. Richard Shelby, on the bill's proposed cuts to federal funding for states by 34 percent over the next decade: "But it wouldn't cut Alabama, though."
  • Roberts on why Republicans are pushing a bill that could cause millions to lose insurance: "If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections."
  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) Kennedy on what this bill does "right, policy-wise":

John Kennedy
"I think it's an improvement over Obamacare."

Jeff Stein

John Kennedy
"My position has always been that, number one, I think Obamacare has been a failure.

Number two: First chance I get to vote for repeal it, I'll do it.

And number three: If it's replacement, if replacement is better than Obamacare, I will vote for it." [Vox]

  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on how he knows the "savings" from federal funding cuts "will be close to enough to protect everyone": "Well, nothing protects everyone."
9:44 a.m. ET

Fox News host Tucker Carlson had a "witch" on his show Tuesday night. He wanted to explore whether President Trump doesn't keep his promises to his supporters because he's "unpredictable," or whether there could "be another cause, perhaps a magical one."

As it turns out, Amanda Yates Garcia, self-described "oracle of Los Angeles," among other things, just helped cast a binding spell on Trump to "prevent him from causing harm to others." According to the Fox News chyron, the witches used "orange candles, tarot cards, rope, and feathers" to complete the Trump binding spell.

"Is this legal? Can you run around and cast spells? Are you allowed to cast spells on people? Is there any federal regulation of this?" Carlson asked. The "witch" explained that the spell, which is simply a "symbolic action" intended to "galvanize people who resist," isn't intended to cause Trump harm, but rather to stop him from harming others and instituting harmful policies.

With that out of the way, Carlson asked the question he'd clearly been dying to ask: "Since you are the only witch — I have interviewed a lot of people, but I've never interviewed a witch — sincere question: Is eye of newt an actual ingredient?"

The "witch" tried to keep a straight face as she explained to Carlson that the real issue isn't eye of newt, but that we're "about to have some kind of big nuclear extravaganza with North Korea," that "we're punishing immigrant children," and that "we're causing students to go into deep debt."

"Well yeah, there are lots of problems," Carlson agreed, before asking once again if "eye of newt is an actual thing or not."

"Isn't that from Shakespeare?" she replied. "I think he was probably using a bit of poetic license."

Watch it below. Becca Stanek

9:11 a.m. ET

In his Tuesday night monologue, Jimmy Kimmel accused Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) of lying "right to my face," harshly contrasting the Louisiana senator's promises to Kimmel with the terms in the health-care bill he has co-authored with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Earlier this year, Cassidy assured Kimmel that he would follow the "Jimmy Kimmel Test," meaning families with children like Kimmel's son, who required emergency open-heart surgery shortly after birth, shouldn't be denied affordable health care.

Kimmel said the Cassidy-Graham bill fails this test. Cassidy responded Wednesday, saying: "I'm sorry [Kimmel] does not understand."

Under the Republican bill, "more people will have coverage and we protect those with pre-existing conditions," Cassidy told CNN's New Day — a claim critics say is patently false.

"The counterargument will be, pre-existing conditions will be up to the pricing of the particular state and market," CNN's Chris Cuomo replied. "So it's not what it is now, where you can't allow insurance companies to cherry pick and punish people for pre-existing conditions. So the protection is not the same, senator, on that one point." Watch below, and catch up on Kimmel's monologue here. Jeva Lange

9:08 a.m. ET

Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour, made landfall in eastern Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning, and it is expected to lash the U.S. territory with dangerous winds and rain for 12 to 24 hours. Maria, which was a Category 5 hurricane on Monday, is the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico since 1932, and just shy of Hurricane San Felipe, which battered Puerto Rico with 160 mph winds in 1928. "This is going to be an extremely violent phenomenon," said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. "We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history."

Already on Puerto Rico, metal roofs have been seen flying in the wind, a tree fell on an ambulance, and 900,000 people are without power. Maria has been blamed for at least one death, on Guadeloupe, and the island of Dominica, which took a direct hit Sunday night, is still incommunicado but believed to be badly wrecked. Overnight, the hurricane passed over or near St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands that was largely spared by Hurricane Irma. Peter Weber

8:05 a.m. ET

President Trump may have the pockets of the Republican National Committee and his re-election campaign to dip into for legal bills stemming from the Russia probe, but not everyone else is so lucky, Bloomberg reports. Michael Caputo, who only briefly served as an adviser to the Trump campaign, reports that being a person of interest in the Russia investigation has led to more than $30,000 in legal fees, money he's had to pull from his children's college funds. "It's very expensive and nobody's called me and offered to help," he recently told the Washington Examiner.

After all, not everyone gets the same treatment as Donald Trump Jr., who had $50,000 in legal fees paid off by the Trump campaign, Bloomberg reports. Dozens of other more peripheral people may yet be roped into the probe, including staffers like Communications Director Hope Hicks, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and even Jared Kushner's spokesman.

The psychological toll is also not insignificant. Caputo told Bloomberg that he has bought a new security system and several guns due to threats. Internally, staffers and aides must also cope with the paranoia that comes from lawyers advising them not to talk to each other about the investigation.

"Everyone is facing this," said Caputo. "I talk to them all. I know they are worried and I think it is awful. We heard about this happening during the Clinton investigations. Those stories loom heavily over us." Read more about the financial and psychological toll of the Russia investigation at Bloomberg. Jeva Lange

7:28 a.m. ET

From Sept. 13 to Sept. 15, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price flew a charter jet on five separate flights to Maine, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania for HHS business, and current and former HHS staffers say he's been flying on private jets for months, Politico reports. Price's travel in those three days cost somebody at least $60,000, charter jet companies said, and HHS spokespeople declined to address who footed the bills. The last two HHS secretaries, Sylvia Matthews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, flew only commercial inside the continental United States, and often coach. "Price, a frequent critic of federal spending who has been developing a plan for department-wide cost savings, declined to comment," Politico notes, a bit archly.

All three organizations Price traveled to address — IT firm athenahealth and Goodwin Community Health Center in New Hampshire and Mirmont Treatment Center outside Philadelphia — said they did not pay for Price's travel. "Secretary Price travels on occasion outside Washington to meet face to face with the American people to hear their thoughts and concerns firsthand," an HHS spokesperson told Politico. "When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel."

Politico did some digging, and found commercial flights from D.C. to the places Price traveled at around the time he flew, for much less money. The Wall Street Journal's Tim Hanrahan rounded up some options for the Washington-Philadelphia leg, a 135-mile trip that cost $25,000 on Price's chartered plane.

Price, a millionaire former orthopedic surgeon and congressman from Georgia, didn't always think private-jet travel was in the best interest of taxpayers, as he showed in this CNBC interview of himself he posted in 2009. (Also, he apparently used to think Congress should read bills before voting on them.)

President Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are under investigation by their respective departments' inspector generals for their frequent travel or use of government planes. You can read more about Price's travel at Politico. Peter Weber

6:18 a.m. ET
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

A series of opinion polls in the past week have shown President Trump's approval rating ending its summer slide and edging up a few points, following his handling of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and his nods toward bipartisanship. In Gallup's weekly tracking poll, Trump is up to 38 percent approval, from a low of 35 percent in late August, following his comments on the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll has Trump at 43 percent, after hitting 39 percent last month, and a Marist poll from last week clocked Trump at 39 percent approval, from 35 percent in August.

Different polls have Trump recovering among Republicans and/or independents, but staying essentially unchanged among Democrats. His decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program polls poorly, but he got good marks for his handling of recent natural disasters. Trump's RealClearPolitics average is 40 percent, up 2.5 points from last month. All those numbers are historically low for a first-term president. Peter Weber

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