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October 14, 2017

President Trump tweeted Friday night and Saturday morning to defend his decision to end ObamaCare subsidy payments to insurance companies:

Trump is correct that stocks for several insurers and hospital operating companies dropped Friday after the subsidy announcement. He is also right that insurance companies have been in what The New York Times labeled a "profit spiral" since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) took effect. Insurers in the ObamaCare marketplaces had their most profitable first quarter ever in 2017 and posted a 29 percent increase in second-quarter profits as compared to last year.

The decision to nix the payments, which subsidized low-cost policies mandated by the ACA, has already come under legal challenge from 18 states. Bonnie Kristian

4:05 p.m.

The cast of Empire wants Jussie Smollett back.

The show's stars on Wednesday penned a letter supporting the reinstatement of Smollett, who Chicago police in February accused of orchestrating a fake hate crime against himself. Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Y. Gray, Trai Byers, Gabourey Sidibe, and Nicole Ari Parker write that "we stand with Jussie Smollett and ask that our co-star, brother and friend be brought back for our sixth season of Empire," per Deadline.

Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts in March, but all charges against him were later dropped. The actor, who said two men attacked him while shouting "This is MAGA country," has continued to maintain his innocence.

The Empire cast writes that Smollett is "innocent and no longer subject to legal uncertainty," also saying the case against him "was dismissed because it would not have prevailed." They go on to defend his character, calling him "honest" and "filled with integrity," and they criticize the "court of public opinion" they say has been made "more unjust" by "the extreme political climate in our country."

The letter's recipients include Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier and Disney TV Studios and ABC Entertainment Chair Dana Walden.

Fox previously removed Smollett from the last two episodes of Empire's current season, but it has not confirmed his potential future on the series as the last episode he filmed is set to air on Wednesday. During an appearance on The View in early April, when asked if Smollett would be returning to Empire, Henson confidently responded, "Yes." Co-creator Lee Daniels has been less definitive, though, recently telling Entertainment Tonight, "We are in discussions about that right now." Brendan Morrow

3:25 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn't formally announced his presidential candidacy yet — he'll reportedly do that on Thursday — but there's already some intrigue around potential prominent endorsements.

The Washington Examiner reported Wednesday that the family of the late Sen. John McCain, who died last August, was planning on backing Biden's bid. The report wasn't entirely surprising thanks to McCain's longstanding feud with President Trump, which Trump has continued even after McCain's death, often trading barbs with the senator's daughter, Meghan. Biden and McCain were also known to be close friends — Biden eulogized McCain at his funeral.

But it would still be a significant announcement given the McCain family's affiliation with the Republican Party. The Examiner reports both Meghan and her mother, Cindy, would remain registered Republicans despite their support of Biden.

However, Cindy McCain has already come out to dash the rumors, albeit with friendly words.

The denial is not necessarily a direct refutation of the Examiner's story, which reports that a McCain family source cautioned against expecting a "formal family endorsement" because some members of the family remain in the military.

The Washington Post reports that Biden's campaign spokesperson said "nothing has been communicated at this point" from Meghan McCain about whether she plans to endorse Biden. Read more at The Washington Examiner. Tim O'Donnell

2:37 p.m.

Michael Cohen is soon headed for prison on charges he's now calling "a lie."

Despite spending more than 100 hours cooperating with investigators, President Trump's former fixer still ended up with a prison sentence, and he's pretty darn upset about it. That sentiment — as well as some more frustrations with Trump and a recanting of one of his guilty pleas — was revealed in a recorded conversation with Cohen that actor Tom Arnold gave to The Wall Street Journal.

Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and tax and bank fraud last August, and was sentenced to three years in prison in December. But in a conversation with Arnold, which the actor says he recorded with Cohen's knowledge, Cohen said there "is no tax evasion" and that "it's a lie." He went on to decry how prosecutors still served him a prison sentence, saying he hoped they'd realize "this guy's lost everything" including "my family's happiness and my law license ... [all] because Trump, you know, had an affair with a porn star." Trump has denied the alleged affair with Stormy Daniels.

Arnold is an outspoken Trump opposer, and told the Journal he first met Cohen last summer before calling him again for this conversation on March 25. Cohen's lawyer Lanny Davis said that Cohen "meant no offense by his statements" and that he would still "report to prison to serve his sentence," which starts May 6. Read more of Cohen's recorded comments at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:35 p.m.

One of the most famous scenes in recent true crime history was actually fairly misleading, new court documents suggest.

HBO's 2015 documentary The Jinx, which investigates whether real estate heir Robert Durst is responsible for several murders, ended with a stunning twist. In the final scene, the filmmakers reveal that they captured audio of Durst seemingly confessing on a hot mic he didn't realize was still on. While in the bathroom, Durst can be heard saying, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." The day before that final episode aired on HBO, Durst was arrested, and he's currently on trial for the murder of his friend Susan Berman.

But court documents have now revealed that Durst's infamous quote was edited, The New York Times reports. According to a transcript of the recording, Durst did not actually say that last line as one thought. Instead, he said "Killed them all, of course," and then later, "What the hell did I do?" The version in the documentary suggests Durst is answering his own question and describing what he did, while the transcript paints a different picture.

The Jinx editor Zac Stuart-Pontier defended the scene, though, telling the Times that "killed them all, of course" was placed where it was simply to "end the series on a dramatic note." He says the filmmakers didn't think of it as being an answer to the question, "What the hell did I do?"

The Times notes that Durst did say other potentially damaging things in that last scene, including "There it is, you're caught," which he said immediately after director Andrew Jarecki confronted him with evidence that seemed it could implicate him in a murder. But the editing of these last lines is now being scrutinized in the Durst trial, with his attorneys looking to have all evidence obtained during the documentary thrown out. Durst's trial is set to begin on September 3. Brendan Morrow

2:33 p.m.

The World Health Organization shared some startling news on Wednesday — kids, it turns out, should spend more time outside than looking at screens.

New guidelines issued by the United Nations agency say that children younger than one year old should not be exposed to any electronic screens, while those in the two-to-four-year age range should have no more than one hour of "sedentary" screen time per day. The Washington Post reports the announcement stems from growing research into the developmental effects computers and mobile devices have on children — notably that the "mesmerizing effects of videos" can reportedly keep children from connecting with their parents. But there are also concerns that too much screen time can affect the development of language skills.

The argument for less screen time didn't appear out of the blue. After all, there is a growing sentiment that all humans, not just children, are too reliant on technology instead of healthy social interaction. But the WHO getting its two cents in on the matter is a bit of a novelty.

"It's extraordinarily important that someone with the authority and reach of the WHO is saying this," Josh Golin of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood told the Post.

The WHO says it's also important, screens or no screens, that infants and young children should not remain sedentary or "restrained" for too long, BBC reports. Instead, physical activity is key.

That said, some researchers aren't quite convinced that the WHO's guidelines are necessary. "The restricted screen time limits suggested by the WHO do not seem proportionate to the potential harm," Max Davie from the The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health in the United Kingdom told BBC. Tim O'Donnell

2:23 p.m.

Pete Buttigieg is no Bernie Bro.

The upstart presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, mayor told The New York Times that he has a "hard time" seeing Americans "ultimately coming together" to vote for his competitor Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in a general election against President Trump in November 2020.

Buttigieg's reasoning, the Times reports, is that Sanders' left-wing proposals are no longer as "provocative" as they were when Sanders ran against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, which he ultimately lost. "People were refreshed by the novelty of that boldness," said Buttigieg. But that was then.

Sanders' campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, responded to Buttigieg's comments, telling the Times the senator's "unifying progressive agenda" best-positioned him to beat Trump in the general election.

The Times also reports that Buttigieg, while speaking to high school students in New Hampshire, went so far as to call Sanders supporters and Trump supporters "two sides of the same coin," suggesting both wanted to "blow up the system" in 2016. Buttigieg, it seems, is aiming to employ more hopeful rhetoric in his campaign, taking a page from former President Barack Obama's book. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

2:21 p.m.

Twenty-nine years ago today, on April 24, 1990, NASA launched its brand-new Hubble Space Telescope into orbit around Earth. Since then, it's been consistent in giving us stunning pictures and data from outer space, having made hundreds of thousands of rounds around our planet. In total, it's traveled over 4 billion miles, made over 1.3 million observations, and contributed to more than 15,000 scientific papers. So today, it's time to celebrate.

To mark the occasion of the Hubble's anniversary in orbit, NASA has released a never-before-seen image of the Southern Crab Nebula, an outer space cloud of dust and gas that lives several thousand light years from Earth. The image shows off the distinct hourglass shape of the Southern Crab Nebula, formed because of the pair of stars in its middle.

This stunning picture is a testament to the incredible trove of data that Hubble has collected over the years, with amazing attention to detail: The telescope's mechanism has the power to detect the equivalent of "a human hair seen at a distance of 1 mile," with the accuracy of "being able to shine a laser beam on President Roosevelt’s head on a dime about 200 miles away," NASA explained.

See the Hubble Space Telescope's latest image, and learn more about its contributions to our study of outer space, in the video below. Shivani Ishwar

Shivani Ishwar

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