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September 19, 2017

Louisiana Secretary of Health Rebekah Gee sent a letter on Monday to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) expressing her "deep concerns" about his proposed Graham-Cassidy bill. "In its current form, the harm to Louisiana from this legislation far outweighs any benefit," Gee wrote about the health-care bill, which was introduced last week by Cassidy and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as the Republican Party's last-ditch effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Gee wrote that she's particularly concerned about the consequences that ending Medicaid expansion in 2020 would have for Cassidy's home state. She noted that in "only one year," Louisiana has been "able to provide more than 433,000 Louisianians with coverage, resulting in more than 100,000 primary care visits, tens of thousands of screenings for cancer, and thousands of new mental health services." "This would be a detrimental step backwards for Louisiana," she wrote, warning that the bill's proposal to end the expansion could cause "thousands" of Louisianians to "lose coverage and access."

She also worried that the Graham-Cassidy bill includes the "same per capita cuts" as the summer's failed health-care bill, which would have resulted "in profound cuts to Louisiana's most vulnerable citizens, including children, the disabled, and pregnant women." Also problematic, Gee wrote, is the fact that the plan makes it easier for states to waive essential health benefits and price protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions or "complex and costly conditions." "Finally, this bill, like ones before it, uniquely and disproportionally hurts Louisiana," she wrote.

Republicans have until Sept. 30 to pass the bill with a majority vote. Three 'no' votes in the Senate would kill it. Already, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has come out firmly as a 'no,' and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is expected to oppose it, too.

Read Gee's letter in full below. Becca Stanek

2:34 p.m. ET

Salsa is supposed to bring the heat to a chip-and-dip combination. But at a Texas factory, it's the tortilla chips that are on fire.

Earlier this month, firefighters responded to the "spontaneous combustion of tortilla chips" twice in three days at an Austin factory, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The factory was trying a new waste management method which "suffice it to say, didn't work out so well," the fire department said on Facebook. (The newspaper dryly notes that "officials were unclear about how the new process could have led to the fire.") When responding to the first blaze, firefighters watched as boxes of discarded chips kept lighting up. Three days later, it happened again.

Luckily, no chips were toasted inside the factory — this all happened outside. And fear not: Firefighters doused the remaining boxes to make sure the blaze didn't triple dip. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:18 p.m. ET
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump is "not happy" with rising interest rates from the Federal Reserve.

CNBC reported Thursday that Trump is frustrated with the central bank and concerned that interest rate hikes could disrupt the economic growth that he so often touts.

"I'm not thrilled," he told CNBC in an interview that the network will air on Friday. "Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again. I am not happy about it. But at the same time I'm letting them do what they feel is best." Trump claimed that the rate hikes were damaging his administration's efforts, saying he doesn't "like all of this work that we're putting into the economy and then I see rates going up."

It's essentially unprecedented for a president to criticize the Fed this way, but Trump's comments are also unusual given his past views on interest rates. Previously, Trump said that low interest rates were creating a "false economy" under the Obama administration, but he also called the Fed's decisions part of a partisan plot to help Democrats look good.

Former Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher said that "no president should interfere with the workings of the Fed," citing the "hallmark" independence of the central bank. Trump acknowledged that most officials wouldn't publicly criticize the Fed, but shrugged off any negativity. "So somebody would say, 'Oh, maybe you shouldn't say that as president,'" he said. "I couldn't care less what they say," he continued, because "I'm just saying the same thing that I would have said as a private citizen." Read more at CNBC. Summer Meza

2:00 p.m. ET

When Mariia Butina was indicted on conspiracy charges Monday, her name wasn't new to the House Intelligence Committee.

In fact, committee Democrats tried to question Butina, but the Republican majority apparently shut it down so she wouldn't "tarnish" the National Rifle Association, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Thursday on CNN's New Day.

"We didn't know whether she was an agent of a foreign power, but certainly had deep concerns over her activities," Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, said of Butina, who's charged with conspiracy against the U.S. as an unregistered Russian agent. The intelligence committee also suspected Russian agents were funneling money through the NRA, Schiff continued, leading members to suggest questioning Butina.

"But like many other things, when it got too hot, the Republican reaction was 'we don't want to know,'" Schiff said. So Republicans have told and are still telling witnesses "'do not come in'" to intelligence committee hearings and "'don't tell the Democrats anything,'" Schiff alleged. "That's the action of a majority that's burying its head in the sand and acting to protect the president rather than to protect the public interest."

Schiff tweeted a similar accusation after Butina's indictment was unsealed Monday, saying "no wonder GOP members" of the House Intelligence Committee "refused our request to bring her and others in." The "others" likely refers to Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative with alleged ties to Butina. Intelligence committee Democrats similarly tried to bring Erickson in for questioning, Schiff said on New Day, but Republicans refused. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:02 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Even without giving definitive answers, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is drawing plenty of scrutiny.

While attending the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Nielsen was forced to immediately backtrack on her claim that Russia didn't favor President Trump when interfering in the 2016 election. On other matters, however, she opted to double down rather than 'fess up.

Vice reports that Nielsen was asked about Trump's comments about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, where white nationalist demonstrators were confronted by counterprotesters. When violence broke out, a counterprotester was killed, and multiple people have since been charged with malicious wounding of a black man who was protesting the rally.

Trump was widely criticized for saying that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the incident, a comment that Nielsen was asked about Thursday. She reportedly said that "it's not that one side was right and one side was wrong," and added that "anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate."

Nielsen additionally dodged a question about the Trump administration's focus on countering white supremacist violence overall. GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe reports that Nielsen instead addressed "Islamic radicalism," again noting that she takes all violence seriously. Summer Meza

12:06 p.m. ET

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday claimed that she hadn't "seen any evidence" that Russian interference in the 2016 election was intended to help President Trump win, despite the U.S. intelligence community concluding that Russia's efforts favored Trump.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, Nielsen said, "I don't think there's any question that Russians attempted to infiltrate and interfere with our electoral system," adding that "we should all be prepared that they'll do it again." However, when NBC News' Peter Alexander gave her the chance to clarify her thoughts on Russia's preferred outcome, she contradicted intelligence officials' findings by saying Russia merely sought to create "chaos."

"I haven't seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party," she said. She expanded on that theory to say that Russia simply wanted to "cause chaos on both sides. Whether it was in Charlottesville, where we saw them on both sides, whether it's in Syria — both sides. So, no, I would not necessarily say that was the purpose." Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said he wanted Trump to win the election.

Later, Nielsen backtracked and said "I do not disagree" with the intelligence community's assessment. It seems the rest of Nielsen's appearance at Aspen didn't go very smoothly, either, as her speech elicited laughs when she said that Trump "loves diverse opinions" and "craves different points of view." Watch her denial of Russia's favoring of Trump below, via Bloomberg. Summer Meza

11:39 a.m. ET

President Trump has been under fire since Monday for his press conference in Helsinki alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he suggested Moscow didn't interfere in the 2016 election — contrary to the conclusions of U.S. intelligence. So he backtracked Tuesday, and affirmed Russia did actually meddle in the election, though it "could be other people also."

But just in case that wasn't enough, Trump on Thursday tweeted video proof of him holding Russia accountable for hacking "MANY TIMES."

Approximately half of the Fox News video comes from a single press conference, held before Trump was even inaugurated. During that event, held Jan. 11, 2017, Trump suggested that the U.S. faced "much hacking" from Russia — as well as other countries. Likewise, Trump attributed meddling to Russia and "other countries" in the two other examples, dated July 6, 2017, and March 6, 2018.

Those few — er, "MANY" — examples are the same ones found in a set of White House talking points sent to Republicans on Tuesday. Those points also included one time Trump said he stands with U.S. intelligence, which has undeniably traced election interference back to Russia.

A quick look back finds Trump has questioned Russian meddling at least six times and flat out denied it once. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:13 a.m. ET

An 8-year-old with a robotic hand is close to realizing her dream of becoming the first person to throw out the first pitch at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums. Hailey Dawson has Poland syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that caused her to be born without part of her right hand. But with a 3D-printed hand built by a team at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Dawson can do anything she wants — including toss balls at MLB batters. She notched her 21st stadium last week with a pitch at Fenway Park. "I want people to know that if I can do it you can do it," Dawson told ABC News. Christina Colizza

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