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March 10, 2017

Things can get pretty loopy when Congress debates a bill for more than 12 hours straight — Wednesday night, for example, the House Ways and Means Committee featured a debate about taxing ice cream and sunlight. Over at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the other panel getting a first crack at the GOP's health-care bill, the debate lasted 27 hours, and while there was no discussion of solar taxation, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) did have a little debate about à la carte health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are proposing to replace, requires health insurance plans to cover certain core benefits, like hospital care, prescription drugs, and pregnancy and childbirth. Republicans were complaining about ObamaCare's "mandates," and Doyle asked GOP committee members to name one mandate they take issue with. “What about men having to purchase prenatal care?” Shimkus offered. "Is that not correct? And should they?"

This is not the first time House Republicans have asked about men having to buy maternity coverage, The Washington Post notes, and it isn't always men asking. Nancy Metcalf, an insurance expert and Consumer Reports columnist, answered the question in 2013:

Health insurance, like all insurance, works by pooling risks. The healthy subsidize the sick, who could be somebody else this year and you next year. Those risks include any kind of health care a person might need from birth to death — prenatal care through hospice. No individual is likely to need all of it, but we will all need some of it eventually.

So, as a middle-aged childless man you resent having to pay for maternity care or kids' dental care. Shouldn't turnabout be fair play? Shouldn't pregnant women and kids be able to say, "Fine, but in that case why should we have to pay for your Viagra, or prostate cancer tests, or the heart attack and high blood pressure you are many times more likely to suffer from than we are?" Once you start down that road, it's hard to know where to stop. If you slice and dice risks, eventually you don't have a risk pool at all, and the whole idea of insurance falls apart. [Consumer Reports]

Metcalf's answer also, incidentally, would have been helpful reading for House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said this about ObamaCare on Thursday.

Health care, as President Trump says, is an "unbelievably complex subject." Peter Weber

1:22 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, word came that "President Trump might be supporting a ban on bump-stocks and the strengthening of background checks — which is weird, right?" Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show. "Trump might do something good. You know you don't know how to feel about that." Maybe Trump is softening his opposition to gun laws because "he's watching the same kids we've all been watching over the past few days — survivors of the shooting" in Parkland, Florida, Noah suggested.

"Most people who see those kids are impressed by how articulate they are and they're inspired by their passion," Noah said, but others "think it's suspicious that these kids say they don't want to be shot in the face." He focused on that second group, swatting down their various conspiracy theories.

"Here's what I find funny about this whole debate," Noah said: "Most of the arguments boil down to one idea — teenagers are too young, too emotional, too inexperienced to talk about guns. But as soon as they turn 18, they can own as many of those bad boys as they want. And I guess in a way, this is now you know these students having an effect: You've never seen gun advocates so desperate that they'd start attacking the victims of a mass shooting."

"There are always crackpots in situations like this who come out of the woodwork with this irrational, this paranoia-fueled nonsense — it happened after Sandy Hook, too," Jimmy Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. But it isn't normal for people like Donald Trump Jr. and NRA board member Ted Nugent to be "perpetuating this kind of stuff."

Kimmel asked viewers, especially Trump supporters, if they believe these students "are actors who are part of some kind of deep-state, left-wing conspiracy," and if the answer was yes, he had "some bad news": "You're crazy. You're a crazy person." If not, he said, "you can't just sit there and let these scumbags spread these lies about these kids." Peter Weber

12:08 a.m. ET

For about an hour on Wednesday afternoon, President Trump sat and listened as students, parents, teachers, and others directly affected by school shootings begged him to act before the next mass shooting. The participants in the White House meeting had ties to the shootings in Parkland, Florida; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; and Columbine High School in Colorado. They offered solutions including limiting assault rifle sales to people 21 and over, arming teachers and other school employees, ramping up mental health screening, and drilling students for active-shooter situations. "It's not going to be talk like it has been in the past," Trump told them. "Too many instances, and we're going to get it done."

Trump did not commit to any of the proposals, though he said "we're going to be very strong on background checks" and "we're going to go strong on age of purchase and the mental aspect." The proposal he seemed most enthusiastic about was arming teachers and coaches, an idea that got a mixed reception. Arming teachers "is an emotional response that we have heard before," Richard Myers, head of the law enforcement group Major Cities Chiefs Association, told Trump. "I don't know of any police chief who believes this is a good idea." The NRA, meanwhile, opposed raising the age limit for purchasing AR-15 and other assault rifles, on the grounds that doing so would deprive people 18 to 20 of "their constitutional right to self-protection."

The listening session was mostly polite and frequently emotional. "It's very difficult, it's very complex, but we're going to find the solution," said Trump, holding notes reminding him to say "I hear you" and ask participants about their experiences. "There are many different ideas. Some, I guess, are good. Some aren't good. Some are very stringent, as you understand, and a lot of people think they work, and some are less so." Peter Weber

February 21, 2018

It seems there are some fans of the world's most beautiful game lurking on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, a group of nearly 50 senators sent a letter to President Trump asking him to support an effort for the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to jointly host the FIFA 2026 World Cup. In the letter, the bipartisan group wrote that the so-called "United Bid" is "an exceptional opportunity to showcase our nations' shared passions for soccer" and praised soccer's "positive impact on our local communities and on the international stage."

The joint North American bid is expected to include at least 12 cities across the three countries, and the senators wrote that "[dozens] of U.S. cities that we represent have conveyed their interest in being part of the United Bid." The 2026 World Cup will expand from a 32-team bracket to a 48-team bracket, which the website for the United Bid notes "will require world-class facilities and infrastructure to ensure a successful tournament."

Some of the letter's more notable signatories include Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The deadline for bid proposals to be submitted is March 16, and FIFA will vote on the submissions June 13. Read the senators' letter below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 21, 2018
iStock.

What does a star look like just before it explodes? Scientists have been asking this question for a long time — and thanks to the efforts of a self-taught astronomer from Argentina, they're one step closer to the answer.

Victor Buso, a locksmith from the Argentine city of Rosario, managed to capture an image of a rare, momentary celestial phenomenon known as a "shock breakout." It's the moment that marks the transition from a star into a supernova — something that scientists have theorized about but never actually witnessed before.

During a shock breakout, energy travels from the core of the star to its outer edge, creating a burst of light that directly precedes the star's explosion. Buso happened to be in his self-constructed observatory on Sept. 20, 2016, taking images of the night sky, when he noticed an extra blip of light in his pictures that didn't match up with any known celestial body. After confirming his suspicion that the bright spot was a shock breakout with another amateur stargazer, the two alerted professionals and sent along what they had seen. The discovery was finally published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

Buso's findings could help to answer "the fundamental question," said Melina Bersten, the lead author of the report: "What is the structure of the star at the moment of explosion?" Bersten added that Buso had only about a 1 in 10 million chance of capturing an image of a shock breakout like he did. Read more about the discovery at The Washington Post. Shivani Ishwar

February 21, 2018
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Life after the White House has been kind to Keith Schiller, President Trump's former bodyguard and close confidante.

CNBC reported Wednesday that the Republican National Committee is paying Schiller's private security firm, KS Global Group, a handsome $15,000 a month. CNBC noted that Schiller's pay is apparently coming from the RNC's convention fund, rather than its campaign coffers, though former special counsel for the Federal Election Commission Stephen Spaulding warned that such accounts "are notorious for being operated as slush funds."

The RNC's most recent financial disclosure reveals that Schiller's firm has received $75,000 from the party since October, CNBC reported, which is apparently for "consulting on the site selection process" for the 2020 Republican convention. Spaulding said the sum was more akin to "a fat payout from the RNC and its deep-pocketed donors."

KS Global Group got its gig with the RNC only a few weeks after Schiller left the White House in September, CNBC said. The firm is apparently providing the RNC with "security services" in addition to its purported assistance with the 2020 convention. Read more about Schiller's cushy gig at CNBC. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 21, 2018
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's in-laws may have benefited from one of his least favorite immigration policies.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Melania Trump's parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs, are green card-holders with legal permanent resident status, which they very possibly received through their daughter's sponsorship. The sponsorship policy is known as family reunification — but the president prefers to call it "chain migration."

Under current U.S. immigration law, U.S. citizens can sponsor close relatives like their parents or siblings for green cards. President Trump, however, wants to restrict green card sponsorship to only the spouses and non-adult children of U.S. citizens. "Chain migration," the president recently tweeted, is an "outdated [program] that [hurts] our economic and national security."

Although the Knavses could have been sponsored for permanent residence by an employer, this is "unlikely," the Post reported, given that the first lady's father, 73, and mother, 71, are thought to be retired. Immigration lawyer David Leopold told the Post that sponsorship through Melania Trump, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, would have been "possibly the only way" to get the Knavses their green cards.

Neither the White House nor a spokesperson for the first lady commented to the Post. An attorney for the first lady and her family confirmed to the Post that the Knavses had obtained permanent legal status, but declined to elaborate on how that status was obtained, citing privacy concerns. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 21, 2018
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's administration apparently sees political opportunity in the deaths of Russian mercenaries.

Bloomberg Politics reported Wednesday that the White House is thinking about touting the deaths of "scores" of Russian fighters, who were recently killed by U.S.-backed forces in Syria, as proof that the president is, in fact, hard on Russia. The U.S.-backed forces reportedly killed the Russian troops in self-defense in an encounter on Feb. 7, after they were attacked by a "battalion-sized formation supported by artillery, tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems and mortars."

However, the attack by the Russians "may have been a rogue operation," Bloomberg reports, and the U.S. apparently believes that this attack was not done with the permission or prior knowledge of the Russian military. It is also "unclear when the White House learned of the attack," Bloomberg notes — all of which could make it difficult to claim the counterattack as proof of the president's tough stance towards Russia. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referenced a vague "incident" in her Tuesday press briefing that was "another way that this president was tough on Russia," but she did not offer details.

The strategy reportedly stems from the fact that the Trump administration is feeling the squeeze to stand up to Russia after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians last week for meddling in the 2016 election. The president has long called the idea of Russian meddling "a hoax" and has been reluctant to criticize Russia. Kelly O'Meara Morales

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