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March 17, 2017

The Republican health-care plan narrowly advanced out of the House Budget Committee on Thursday, with three conservative Republicans voting no, but it also hit some new turbulence. Four Republican governors wrote congressional leaders saying the bill would harm their states, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said it "is not a bill I could support in its current form." Including Collins, three senators now say they won't back the bill, leaving it short of the votes it needs to pass. Republicans are turning to President Trump to whip up support, The Associated Press reports, but Trump is suggesting this bill is just an early draft.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the architect of the bill, put on a happy face Thursday, telling reporters, "We feel like we're making great strides and great progress on getting a bill that can pass."

But amid all the talk of changing the legislation to get enough votes, Republicans say they have not even started discussing an aspect of the legislation that hits close to home: What will happen to their own health insurance? Politico explains:

ObamaCare required members of Congress to enroll in the law's health insurance plans. But so far, Republicans aren't planning to require lawmakers to participate in the new insurance market they're proposing.... Health insurance for members of Congress — and their staffs — was one of the most contentious inside-the-Beltway fights in the long, drawn-out battle over ObamaCare. Lawmakers were stripped of the health insurance that other federal employees get and tossed into ObamaCare, initially without a contribution from their employer, the federal government — thanks to a Republican amendment introduced by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. [Politico]

Republicans have some choices: They could put themselves and their staff back on the federal health insurance plan — a politically risky move — or stay on the exchanges set up under ObamaCare (if those exchanges survive the end of federal subsidies for insurance customers), or throw themselves into whatever new market they create. "I haven't given thought to that," Ryan said Thursday. "We have ObamaCare. We wouldn't have ObamaCare." You can read more at Politico. Peter Weber

6:52 p.m.

Actor Jussie Smollett is now considered a suspect in a criminal investigation, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department announced Wednesday.

Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that Smollett is being investigated for filing a false police report, which is a felony, and "detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury." The Empire star said that on Jan. 29, he was attacked by two men, who put a rope around his neck and yelled racist and homophobic slurs. When police began their investigation, they said the incident could be a "possible hate crime."

Two persons of interest were questioned last week and released without charges. Smollett has denied staging the attack. Catherine Garcia

6:03 p.m.

A member of the jury from the Brooklyn-based trial of Sinaloan cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán told Vice News about their experience with the widely publicized case, detailing a daily routine that was rife with both excitement and a constant state of fear.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," the juror, whose identity was withheld, said. "This is the case of the century. Do I want to live it … or do I want to watch it on the screen?"

The juror told Vice News that, while the 12 members were able to return to their homes every night, they had to meet at secret locations every morning and, in teams of five, hop into vans driven by U.S. Marshals to ensure their protection.

Initially, the juror said, the jury stuck to Judge Brian Cogan's orders to refrain from speaking about the case or following it on the news or social media. But curiosity eventually got the better of some members, who would whisper with each other about the next steps of the case during the ride home and follow what reporters were tweeting.

The Vice News report and the apparent violations of the judge's orders garnered a response from Guzmán's legal team, sparking speculation that they could appeal for a new trial, USA Today reported. Guzmán was found guilty last week on 10 counts that included narcotics trafficking.

"More disturbing is the revelation that the jury may have lied to the court and had seen some deeply prejudicial, uncorroborated and inadmissible allegations against Mr. Guzmán on the eve of the beginning of jury deliberations," Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Guzman's defense attorneys, wrote in an email to Law & Crime. "Above all, Joaquín Guzmán deserved a fair trial."

The juror told Vice News, however, that the conversations and media exposure did not change anyone's mind. Tim O'Donnell

4:24 p.m.

There's apparently a wide swath of cell phone users begging to be confused by a baffling array of camera lens options, and Samsung's got the market cornered.

Samsung put on a literal show on Wednesday, streaming the unveiling of its newest line of smartphones online for the world to see. The most startling new development in its line is the Galaxy Fold, a smartphone that literally folds into a tablet and back again, which would allow the user to view three apps at once, which is nothing compared to the Fold's six — yes, six — built-in cameras.

It is not, apparently, the first foldable smartphone produced, but it is expected to be the first made widely available when it hits shelves on April 26, per The Verge. And while some of the features may seem gratuitous, particularly the $1,980 price tag, Bloomberg reported that the Fold represents "a leap that rivals the category shifts not seen since smartphones took off with a broad audience more than a decade ago." For prolific amateur photographers, snap-happy tourists, and angle-working selfie lovers alike, the innovation may be welcome news. Tim O'Donnell

4:01 p.m.

A woman who left America four years ago to join the Islamic State won't be allowed back into the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

In 2014, Hoda Muthana left her family in Alabama to marry an ISIS fighter in Syria. Now a widow living in a refugee camp, Muthana told The Guardian earlier this week she "deeply regret[s]" her decision and asked to come back and face the American justice system. But in contrast to what a lawyer for Muthana's family claimed, Pompeo said on Tuesday that Muthana is "not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States."

The Muthana family's lawyer countered Pompeo's statement, telling The Associated Press Muthana was born in New Jersey. Muthana was a student at the University of Alabama when she flew to the Middle East, telling her family she was going on a school trip, per CBS News. Instead, she married an ISIS fighter and had a son. "I know I've ruined my future and my son's future," she told The Guardian when asking for a chance to return.

Muthana is one of about 1,500 women and children staying at the refugee camp in northern Syria, and The Guardian says she's probably the only American. A British citizen and "ISIS bride" similarly tried to return home, but the U.K. revoked her citizenship on Tuesday, AP reports. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:56 p.m.

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is apparently a new correspondent for Extra, and he's making his debut by ... chatting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Bohemian Rhapsody.

That is not a Mad Libs but rather a real description of events that happened Wednesday, when Extra teased a clip from an upcoming interview with Pompeo. It's conducted by Spicer, who Extra casually dubs their "special D.C. correspondent." Spicer hit Pomepo with a hard-hitting question to start, asking what he listens to on iTunes — Pompeo named AC/DC and Toby Keith. His wife, Susan, added that he's a big fan of Queen, though, so much so that they saw Bohemian Rhapsody opening weekend.

This led to a conversation about the Oscars. President Trump may think the Academy Awards are "a sad joke," but Pompeo apparently watches them every year and will even make sure he can do so during his flight this Sunday. And what's his pick for Best Picture? While Susan mentioned that they saw A Star Is Born, the secretary of state threw his weight behind Bohemian Rhapsody, which he "loved." The Queen biopic has been criticized for a wide variety of reasons, including its minimization of Freddie Mercury's sexuality, although considering Pompeo has suggested homosexuality is a "perversion," perhaps that wasn't a concern.

Watch the clip below. Brendan Morrow

3:49 p.m.

Several Democratic members of Congress are preemptively pushing back on Attorney General William Barr's handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report.

Barr could reportedly announce the completion of Mueller's probe "as early as next week," bringing the investigation into whether President Trump's campaign was involved with Russian election interference to a close. But he will reportedly withhold the majority of the findings, and will instead only provide Congress with a summary.

House Democrats have already launched an effort to combat that. Appearing on CNN, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said that “the full report needs to be available — not just to Congress — but the American public." He added that Congress will need to hold its own public hearings based on the report.

Some of Garamendi's Democratic colleagues have already taken to Twitter to echo the demand, including Reps. Gwen Moore (Wisc.), Shiela Jackson Lee (Texas), and Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.).

President Trump himself weighed in on the matter, insisting that the timing and manner of the report's release "will be totally up to the Attorney General."

The timing of the announcement has also stirred a reaction, with some speculating that Barr (who has criticized the Mueller investigation in the past) might be shutting the special counsel's office down prematurely. Tim O'Donnell

3:15 p.m.

Jussie Smollett is not being written out of Empire, 20th Century Fox says.

Fox said in a statement Wednesday that Smollett "continues to be a consummate professional on set," and the network reiterated that he's "not being written out of the show." This followed reports from Deadline and TMZ that Smollett was having his role on Empire reduced. When these reports first emerged, Fox declined to comment.

Still, the original reports did not exactly claim that Smollett was being written out of the series entirely. Rather, the reporting was that his role was being minimized, with TMZ saying that scenes focused on Smollett were being cut but that the actor would still have a presence in ensemble scenes.

These questions about Smollett's future come as questions emerge about his claims that he was the victim of a hate crime last month. CNN has reported that Chicago police believe he paid two men to assault him, while Smollett continues to deny these claims. Brendan Morrow

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