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10 things you need to know today: October 18, 2017

Senators reach deal to stabilize ObamaCare, judge blocks most of Trump's latest travel ban, and more


Senators reach bipartisan deal to extend ObamaCare subsidies

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have reached a bipartisan deal aiming to extend subsidy payments to insurers to help low-income Americans pay out-of-pocket costs, Alexander said Tuesday. The deal struck by Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, and Murray, the panel's ranking Democrat, would extend the payments for two years and give states more leeway to change rules on insurance coverage. Trump said he could support the "short-term" deal, although he said his recent executive order increasing flexibility for state insurance markets would do more to improve health coverage. Democrats expressed support but some conservatives said they would oppose anything that would "prop up" ObamaCare, which they made a campaign promise to replace.


Judge blocks most of Trump's latest travel ban

A federal judge in Hawaii blocked most of President Trump's third travel ban on Tuesday. The ruling by Judge Derrick K. Watson came hours before the measure was to take effect early Wednesday, barring certain travelers from Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea, and Venezuela. Watson's order temporarily stops the ban for people from all of the countries except North Korea and Venezuela. Watson said the new ban "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor," saying it "plainly discriminates based on nationality." The administration is sure to challenge the ruling, as it did after decisions against the previous versions of the ban. The White House called Watson's order "dangerously flawed," saying it "undercuts the president's efforts to keep the American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States."


GOP advances budget in Senate

Senate Republicans advanced the GOP budget plan Tuesday, a key move toward passing President Trump's tax cuts later this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed the measure forward on a party-line, 50-47 vote despite reluctance expressed by some conservatives over the $1.5 trillion in deficit-financed tax reductions. The Senate is expected to hold a final vote on the budget next week, although some Republican deficit hawks say they still might vote no. Senate Republicans, once they resolve differences with their House counterparts to get the budget approved, will be able to use special rules to sidestep a potential Democratic filibuster and pass the tax cuts with a simple majority.


Dow briefly rises over 23,000 for first time

The Dow Jones Industrial Average pierced the 23,000 mark for the first time on Tuesday, before edging back and closing just below it. The Dow got a lift from strong earnings from UnitedHealth and Johnson & Johnson that sent their stocks surging. The blue-chip index has gained 2.6 percent this month and logged three previous 1,000-point milestones already in 2017. Analysts, however, say it might take a while for the Dow to close above 23,000 and stay there for an extended time. "Right now, you're contending with earnings season and the fact that the market has run up leading up into the earnings season," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth in New York.


U.S.-backed rebels say they have taken control of Raqqa from ISIS

U.S.-backed Syrian rebels said Tuesday that they had seized control of the Syrian city of Raqqa, long the de facto capital of the Islamic State. The news marked a major setback for ISIS, although Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, cautioned that pockets of the city were still controlled by ISIS fighters, and that militants had booby-trapped the city with explosives. A spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, Moustapha Bali, said ISIS suicide bombers still could be waiting to strike.


Trump's drug czar nominee withdraws name after damaging opioid report

President Trump announced Tuesday that Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) had withdrawn his name from consideration for the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Tom is a fine man and a great congressman," Trump tweeted. On Sunday night, 60 Minutes and The Washington Post reported that Marino had worked for two years to push through a bill promoted and apparently written by the pharmaceutical industry that stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its biggest tool to fight prescription opioids entering the black market. Trump said Sunday that "we're going to look into the report" and that a long-delayed declaration of the opioid crisis as a national emergency could come next week.


Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team interviews Sean Spicer

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for an interview on Monday, Politico reported Tuesday, citing multiple people familiar with the meeting. Spicer reportedly faced questions on President Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey, and Spicer's statements about the move. Mueller's team is investigating Russia's effort to influence last year's election, and possible collusion by Trump associates. The interviewers also asked Spicer about Trump's meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials. Spicer's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Spicer left the White House in August after his main ally there, former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, was forced out.


Trump faces backlash over remarks about fallen soldiers

President Trump faced criticism from Democrats who accused him of insensitivity in his remarks about fallen soldiers on Tuesday. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) said Trump told the pregnant widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson, one of four Green Berets killed recently in Niger, that "he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway." "How insensitive can you be?" said Wilson. Trump denied the report on Twitter. Allies of former President Barack Obama also accused Trump of politicizing tragedy by citing the death of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's son in Afghanistan to support his claim that he always called the families of fallen soldiers but Obama didn't. "You could ask General Kelly," Trump said, "did he get a call from Obama?"


China launches week-long, twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to build a "modern socialist country" in remarks opening the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress on Wednesday. Xi indicated there were no plans for reform, and that China would continue to be ruled by the party but open to the world in what he repeatedly described as a "new era." He emphasized that progress would hinge on fighting such problems as corruption, industrial overcapacity, and pollution. "With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era," he said. The week-long congress will end with the selection of a new Politburo Standing Committee that is expected to help Xi consolidate power through the next congress, in 2022.


Ireland assesses damage from rare, deadly storm

Authorities in Ireland on Tuesday began cleaning up after one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the northeastern Atlantic, which killed at least three people. A weakened former Hurricane Ophelia ripped roofs off buildings in Dublin and Cork and knocked out power to 245,000 homes and businesses. Tens of thousands of people were without water. Ophelia made landfall as a post-tropical storm Monday on the southwestern coast of Ireland, with top wind speeds of 109 miles per hour. Two people were killed when their cars were struck by falling trees, and another died when a tree fell on him as he cleared debris with a chainsaw.


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