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July 6, 2017
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The White House and a pair of influential conservative advocacy groups have endorsed a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would allow health insurers to offer cheaper, less-comprehensive plans as long as they also offered at least one plan that includes the essential consumer protections required by the Affordable Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent Cruz's proposal to the Congressional Budget Office for cost-benefit analysis.

Wednesday's endorsement of the Cruz amendment by the leaders of FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth "is significant: Without at least a neutral stance from conservative groups, it could be impossible for McConnell to find the 50 votes needed to pass a repeal this month," Politico reports. "But what the right is asking for may not be able to pass the Senate." The proposal may well violate budget rules that McConnell is using to push through his bill with 51 votes, and more centrist senators and outside insurance experts are concerned that it would essentially price people with pre-existing conditions and other high medical needs out of the insurance market.

"People who have higher health-care needs and need more comprehensive coverage would choose ACA-compliant plans," said Cori Uccello at the American Academy of Actuaries. "People who are healthy now would tend to choose noncompliant plans with really basic benefits. People who want or need more comprehensive coverage could find it out of their reach, because it might become unaffordable." Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who was frequently thanked during July 4 festivities for helping at least slow down the bill, agreed that the Cruz language "would lead to adverse selection in the marketplace," adding: "It would also vitiate the important consumer protection of having a prohibition against annual and lifetime caps" on benefits.

Cruz and his allies argue that the amendment would lower premiums and allow individual consumers to essentially opt out of ObamaCare, but touching the pre-existing condition language may be a deal-breaker for other Republicans. "Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is speaking against it in caucus lunches and Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, a staunch conservative, also vocally opposes Lee and Cruz's idea," Politico says. "Many senators believe that the House made a critical error by allowing states to opt out of pre-existing condition protections and are determined not to touch that part of ObamaCare." A Senate vote could come as early as next week. Peter Weber

5:04 p.m. ET

The number of Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender has been steadily increasing in recent years — last year, 4.5 percent of adults surveyed by Gallup said they identified as LGBT, up from 4.1 percent in 2016.

That percentage represents more than 11 million people in the U.S. In 2012, 3.5 percent of adults identified as LGBT.

The survey found that the increase has been happening most rapidly among millennials, while the share of LGBT individuals in older generations has remained nearly steady. While 8.1 percent of millennials identified as LGBT last year, just 2.4 of baby boomers did. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of LGBT millennials went up by nearly a full percentage point, the biggest increase ever tracked by Gallup.

More women identify as LGBT than men, with 5.1 percent of women and 3.9 percent of men self-identifying as such. The survey also found larger upticks among Hispanic respondents, while white respondents were least likely to identify as LGBT.

The study surveyed 340,604 U.S. adults reached by phone between Jan 2 and December 30, 2017. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.1 percentage point. See more results at Gallup. Summer Meza

2:52 p.m. ET

President Trump paused to reflect on his fond travel memories while discussing the relationship between the U.S. and China on Tuesday.

During a press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump said he was "a little disappointed" because there was a "change in attitude" after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un secretly met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in March. "I don't like that," said Trump. Even though North Korea has walked back its promise to discuss denuclearization during an upcoming summit between Trump and Kim, Trump didn't blame China.

"I have a great relationship with President Xi, he's a friend of mine, he likes me, I like him," said Trump. "I mean, that was two of the great days of my life being in China, I don't think anybody's ever been treated better in China ever in their history."

Trump's apparently amazing trip to China was "an incredible thing to witness and see," but despite his great relationship with "world-class poker player" Xi, there is not yet a deal around Chinese company ZTE. The U.S. banned American businesses from selling to ZTE after the company violated trade sanctions, but Trump last week tweeted that he would help restore lost jobs in China. "We will see what happens," said Trump about ZTE negotiations with Xi. "We're discussing various deals."

Watch Trump's comments below. Summer Meza

2:20 p.m. ET

Time … it's like a flat circle, you know, man?

Or, if you're the glorified-bracelet company Nunc, time is more like a really expensive Italian marble stone shaped like a blank watch face. As the Swedish company explained to one understandably confused Facebook user who made the mistake of pointing out that a watch that doesn't work is just a bracelet, "Nunc is more than a product, it represents a philosophy and a way of life. And for some time we struggled: Should we call it a watch or a timepiece? It clearly doesn't tell the time."

No, it clearly doesn't, but for 160 euro (about $188), it will aggressively remind you that "time is now, and we should make the most of it" by otherwise being totally unhelpful and impractical:

The whole thing seems almost a little too millennial to be true; there is even a "literature & philosophy" page that discusses sophomore-year-of-college philosophy topics like "carpe diem" and "moment mori," and a "spirituality" page that is "coming soon." Go on your own "deep personal journey" to "find meaning and purpose" on Nunc's website here. Jeva Lange

1:57 p.m. ET

When Donald Trump announced he was running for president in 2015, he made a big point about how much smarter China's leaders are than America's presidents. Almost three years later and in the White House, Trump might finally be admitting he underestimated President Xi Jinping, HuffPost's Igor Babic observed Tuesday.

Trump's remarks came during a press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. "I think that President Xi is a world-class poker player," Trump told the press, adding that the North Koreans had "a somewhat different attitude" during negotiations with the U.S. after they met with the Chinese leader. Trump, who admitted that his summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un might be derailed, said of Xi's meeting with North Korea: "I can't say that I'm happy about it."

Compare that with Trump's tone in 2015: "[China's] leaders are much smarter than our leaders, and we can't sustain ourself with that," he said. "There's too much — it's like — it's like take the New England Patriots and Tom Brady and have them play your high school football team. That's the difference between China's leaders and our leaders." Watch below. Jeva Lange

1:24 p.m. ET

President Trump said it would be "a disgrace" for the United States if there were "spies in my campaign" in remarks Tuesday following a Monday meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Trump has demanded that the Justice Department look into whether Obama administration officials coordinated surveillance of his campaign for political reasons following reports that an American academic working as an FBI informant met with several members of his 2016 campaign in the early days of the agency's investigation into Russian election meddling.

"That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone has ever seen," Trump said, although there is no evidence the informant was embedded in his campaign. The president additionally dodged a question about whether he has "confidence" in Rosenstein. Jeva Lange

1:16 p.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The chairman and CEO of New York City's transit system is bound to be a busy man: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority carries millions of people every day, often via outdated infrastructure in a constantly-evolving city.

But that man, Joe Lhota, is even busier than one might expect, because he also has a handful of other jobs. Lhota's position as chief of staff at a major hospital network, along with his seats on eight different boards and additional lobbying work on the side make for potential conflicts of interest, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Lhota has run the MTA since 2017, but delegates much of the work while he juggles his other leadership positions. The Times explains that Lhota's influence in the city has continued to expand, but the amount of time he spends on the troubled subway system has decreased. Lhota is chief of staff at NYU Langone Health, a network of 230 hospitals and clinics. He has reportedly lobbied for NYU Langone while also running the MTA. He is also a paid board member at Madison Square Garden, a major facility tied to MTA decisions about the adjacent Penn Station.

His work at NYU Langone and on eight transportation-related boards earned Lhota $2.5 million last year, while he forfeited his MTA salary to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. Lhota vowed to spend 40 hours a week working for the MTA, but records show he has been spending closer to 22 hours. Lhota denied that his multiple jobs represented any conflicts in his role as MTA chief. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

1:08 p.m. ET

President Trump is tempering expectations ahead of his historic meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, telling the press Tuesday that the planned summit in Singapore "may not work out for June 12." Trump went as far as to say, "[we'll] see what happens, whether or not it happens, if it does, that'll be great … and if it doesn't, that's okay too."

Trump made the comments ahead of his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and added that "whether or not" the North Korea summit happens, "we'll know soon." Jeva Lange

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