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California rebukes Trump with health care push for immigrants

California is poised to become the first state in the nation to offer full health coverage to undocumented adults even as the Trump administration intensifies its crackdown by separating families at the border.

The proposal — which would build on Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2015 decision to extend health coverage to all children, regardless of immigration status — is one of the most daring examples yet of blue-state Democrats thumbing their nose at President Donald Trump as they pursue diametrically opposed policies, whether on immigration, climate change, legalized marijuana or health care.

“California has never waited for the federal government, or for a political climate, to be able to take leadership on a whole host of issues,” state Sen. Ricardo Lara, author of the state Senate bill to extend Medicaid coverage to all adults, told POLITICO.

But at a time when Trump is already attempting to re-energize state Republican voters — he met with California conservatives at the White House last week to strategize against the state’s sanctuary policies — the initiative might be risky. For starters, it will be costly: The annual price tag to expand Medicaid benefits to poor adult immigrants without legal status is projected at $3 billion annually. Some also worry that extending health coverage could make California a magnet for undocumented immigrants from other states.

“It would give Republicans relevance in California they would never have before,” said David McCuan, a political analyst and political science professor at Sonoma State University. He suggested the proposal would energize Republican voters, who make up a quarter of the electorate, as well as conservative-leaning unaffiliated voters.

Any meaningful opposition could slow the plan’s progress through the state Legislature despite its strong backing from Democrats, providers and advocates for the poor.

Brown, who is leaving office later this year and has not yet committed to the plan, is required by law to sign or veto bills passed this session by Sept. 30, just five weeks before the midterm elections. And the injection of immigration politics into the universal health care debate will likely provide talking points for both parties.

“It seems to me astounding that California could consider an expansion like this at this particular moment,” said Paul Ginsburg, director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy. He described the plan as “fiscally very dangerous” given California’s fragile long-term financial outlook and the potential negative effects of the Republican tax overhaul on the state’s budget.

But Lara, the son of undocumented Mexican immigrants who grew up without health coverage, contended the state is already paying for health care for the undocumented in the most expensive way possible, through hospital emergency rooms. He pushed unsuccessfully for a single payer health plan for California last year, and argues California needs to be a laboratory for social change by taking the lead on progressive causes.

“We are trying to address the fact that, whether you like it or not,” he said, “our undocumented community needs the care, and we are paying for it anyway.”

Democrats say they want to build on the coverage gains made under Obamacare by targeting the state’s nearly 3 million remaining uninsured — about 60 percent of whom are undocumented immigrants and 1.2 million of whom would qualify for the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal, based on their incomes. Companion bills in the state Assembly and Senate have easily passed their respective health committees with party-line votes.

Three survivors after airliner with 110 aboard crashes in Cuba

HAVANA — A 39-year-old airliner with 110 people aboard crashed and burned in a cassava field just after taking off from the Havana airport Friday, leaving three survivors in Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades, officials said.

The Boeing 737 went down just after noon a short distance from the end of the runway at Jose Marti International Airport while on a short-hop flight to the eastern city of Holguin. Firefighters rushed to extinguish the flames that engulfed the field of debris left where Cubana Flight 972 hit the ground.

“There is a high number of people who appear to have died,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said from the scene. “Things have been organized, the fire has been put out, and the remains are being identified.”

Relatives of those aboard were ushered into a private area at the terminal to await word on their loved ones.

“My daughter is 24, my God, she’s only 24!” cried Beatriz Pantoja, whose daughter Leticia was on the plane.

State TV said the jet veered sharply to the right after takeoff, and Diaz-Canel said a special commission had been formed to investigate the cause of the crash.

“The only thing we heard, when we were checking in, an explosion, the lights went out in the airport and we looked out and saw black smoke rising and they told us a plane had crashed,” Argentine tourist Brian Horanbuena told The Associated Press at the airport.

Skies were overcast and rainy at the airport at the time of the incident, with winds reportedly around 4 mph.

Authorities said there were 104 passengers and six crew members on the flight operated by the Cuban state airline. Mexican authorities said the Boeing 737-201 was built in 1979 and rented by Cubana from Aerolineas Damojh, a small charter company that also goes by the name Global Air.

A statement from the country’s Transportation Department identified the pilot and co-pilot as Capt. Jorge Luis Nunez Santos and first officer Miguel Angel Arreola Ramirez. It said the flight attendants were Maria Daniela Rios, Abigail Hernandez Garcia and Beatriz Limon. Global Air said maintenance worker Marco Antonio Lopez Perez was also aboard.

In November 2010 a Global Air flight originating in Mexico City made an emergency landing in Puerto Vallarta because its front landing gear did not deploy. The fire was quickly extinguished, and none of the 104 people aboard were injured. That plane was a 737 first put into service in 1975.

In Mexico City, two women who said they were relatives of Global Air crew members appeared at the company’s offices. They declined to identify themselves or their relatives and said they were still awaiting information from Global Air.

Cubana has had a generally good safety record but is notorious for delays and cancellations and has taken many of its planes out of service because of maintenance problems in recent months, prompting it to hire charter aircraft from other companies.

Four crash survivors were taken to a Havana hospital, and three remained alive as of mid-afternoon, hospital director Martinez Blanco told Cuban state TV.

State media reports stopped short of openly declaring the rest on board were dead, but there was no word of other survivors by Friday evening.

Cuban First Vice President Salvador Valdes Mesa had met with Cubana officials on Thursday to discuss improvements to its service. The airline blames its spotty record on a lack of parts and airplanes because of the U.S. trade embargo against the communist-run country.

It was Cuba’s third major aviation accident since 2010.

Last year a Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight soldiers. In 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in what was the country’s worst air disaster in more than two decades.

The last deadly accident involving a Cubana-operated plane was in 1989, when a charter flight from Havana to Milan, Italy, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board and at least two dozen on the ground.

Cubana’s director general, Capt. Hermes Hernandez Dumas, told state media last month that the airline’s domestic flights had carried 11,700 more passengers than planned between January and April.

He said 64 percent of flights took off on time, up from 59 percent the previous year.

McCain unlikely to tank Trump’s CIA pick

When John McCain speaks, his fellow senators listen. Yet his call to reject Gina Haspel may not halt momentum for her bid to lead the CIA.

The Arizona Republican declared that Haspel’s “refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying” as he urged the defeat of President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee. As a decorated veteran who endured brutal interrogations as a prisoner of war, his moral authority has an undeniable hold on still-undecided senators.

But Haspel’s prospects for confirmation had already significantly brightened before McCain spoke out. Just hours earlier, she secured two critical swing votes from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who were pleased with her performance at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing.

In order to bring down her nomination, Haspel critics now have to keep other politically vulnerable red-state Democrats in the “no” camp and persuade one more Republican to join Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in opposition. The veteran CIA official has drawn resistance from most Democrats for her involvement in the harsh interrogation program of the George W. Bush era.

Among the crop of potential GOP opponents is Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a close friend of McCain’s.

“I’m glad he’s spoken up, and this is consistent with how he’s always felt on the subject,” Flake said Thursday. He added that he didn’t speak to McCain about Haspel during a recent visit with his state’s senior senator, who is absent from Washington while receiving cancer treatment.

Asked whether he would consider voting against Haspel as a proxy for McCain, who is unlikely to be able to return to the Capitol for the vote, Flake said: “I have my own franchise, but I certainly respect his voice on this and always have. I’ve always shared his views, so his voice is important.”

Both Collins and Manchin also acknowledged McCain’s outsized influence on the Senate — particularly on military and intelligence matters. Still, neither suggested that his entrance into the debate would change their position.

“His words always have a powerful impact, particularly given his experience in Vietnam,” Collins said. “Each senator has to make his or her own decision.”

Before his return to Arizona in December, McCain used his influence to rally opposition to Steven Bradbury, a Trump administration nominee who had authored memos that provided legal underpinning for the use of waterboarding and other means of torture against detained terrorist suspects. Though Bradbury ultimately won confirmation as general counsel of the Transportation Department, a personal call from McCain changed Manchin’s mind on the nomination.

Manchin, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, left little room for a similar turnabout on Haspel on Thursday even as he hailed McCain for “what he has done for our country.”

“We’re all very sensitive about that,” Manchin told reporters. “But I happen to see, in a deep dive, the things that gave me the confidence to vote for Gina. And I think she’s the right person for the job.”

Had McCain been well enough to return to Washington for the confirmation hearing, he would have been able to ask Haspel questions as an ex officio member of the committee.

Some in the Trump administration are dismissing McCain’s opposition. “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” special assistant Kelly Sadler said at a White House communications meeting Thursday, according to a source in the room. Sadler’s comments were first reported by The Hill.

Sadler called Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter, on Thursday to discuss the remarks but the call did not go well, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), also on the intelligence panel, said there is “no way to be able to tell” if McCain’s comments on Haspel would affect the outcome in the Senate, where a final vote is expected as soon as this month.

“I wish he could have been here to be able to meet with her face to face,” Lankford said in an interview. He also criticized Democrats by noting the support they gave to John Brennan, former President Barack Obama’s CIA chief, despite his status as a senior spy agency official during the Bush-era interrogation program.

“I think there are a lot of people making much ado about something that has already been resolved and that they didn’t make about John Brennan,” Lankford said.

Haspel returned to the Senate Thursday for meetings with Ohio Republican Rob Portman as well as three still-undecided Democrats: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Another Democrat up for reelection whom Haspel supporters consider a potential “yes” vote, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, plans to meet with her next week but said in a brief Thursday interview that he “would use any piece of advice from Sen. McCain.”

The intelligence committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, said that he would submit written questions to Haspel before making his decision on her nomination.

“Listen, I have huge respect for Sen. McCain, but we all have to reach an independent judgment,” Warner told reporters.

Perhaps McCain’s closest friend in the Senate, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, said Thursday that he and the Arizonan didn’t discuss Haspel during a visit earlier this week. “He knew where I was,” said Graham, who backs the CIA nominee.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) affirmed that he is still undecided but “reading a lot” about Haspel’s background. Similarly, Heitkamp said that she has “just started” reviewing classified material about Haspel that the CIA has made available. Among the few Republicans still seen as potentially swayable to vote “no,” beyond Flake, is Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).

Flake wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday asking that all senators get access to another classified Haspel document, a Department of Justice report from a special prosecutor who declined in 2010 to charge CIA officials in connection with the destruction of 92 videotapes said to depict brutal detainee interrogations.

Haspel wrote the cable ordering the destruction of the tapes and has acknowledged that she supported that move — which was reportedly opposed by White House lawyers — but she said Wednesday that she would not make the same decision again.

“Experience is a good teacher, and the piece that was missing from the tapes was making sure that we had all the stakeholders’ concurrence,” Haspel told senators during her confirmation hearing. Haspel, who oversaw a secret CIA prison where detainees were waterboarded, also pledged that she would not restart the program if confirmed.

Members of the intelligence panel and party leadership are currently permitted to read the DOJ report on the tapes‘ destruction, but not other senators, according to Flake and a half-dozen Democrats who have made the same plea.

While Haspel continues to make the rounds in the Senate, opponents who align with McCain are left to hope that one of the chamber’s last larger-than-life figures might be able to make the difference.

“I don’t see, right now, her losing. I mean, I think she’ll have the votes,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who joined McCain in authoring a 2015 amendment that formally restricted CIA interrogations to the Army Field Manual and effectively banned torture. “But this is a very big consideration, and we are essentially then putting somebody in charge of the CIA that participated in the torture program, which is looked at very badly in terms of what American values are by people abroad.”

McCain is “the conscience of the Senate when it comes to this,” Feinstein said. “So we’ll see how many people listen to the conscience.”

Golden spike marks transcontinental breakthrough, May 10, 1869

Workers for the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads on this day in 1869 watched as a golden spike was driven into the rails at Promontory Summit, Utah. Coming some four years after the Civil War, the event marked completion of the first transcontinental railroad: Henceforth, the United States would be connected by rail from coast to coast, cutting a prior journey of at least four months to a week.

In anticipation of the ceremony, Union Pacific No. 119 and Central Pacific No. 60, known as the Jupiter, locomotives were drawn up face-to-face. It’s not known how many people attended the event; estimates range from as low as 500 to as many as 3,000.

Under the aegis of Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, the Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, prepared the first maps and reports describing the topography of the trails and passages from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.

From 1835 onward, many Americans wrote and spoke about their belief that it was the “manifest destiny” of the United States to expand its territory over the whole of North America to extend and enhance the nation’s political, social and economic influence.

Congress, buying into the need for westward expansion, authorized a Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1838. In the 1850s, the Senate ordered the printing of 10,000 copies of topographical surveys, known as the Pacific Railroad Route Reports, including one by John Charles Fremont, a member of the corps.

Expansionist-minded legislators such as Sen. Thomas Hart Benton (D-Mo.), Fremont’s father-in-law, saw that railroad builders would rely on such reports to cross the continent and unify the nation from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Congressional leaders also recognized that, in the event of a war between the North and the South, whichever side had the best transportation system and access to the West would hold a military advantage.

Several members of Congress owned stock in The Credit Mobilier of America, formed in 1864 as the agent for the construction of the Union Pacific Railway’s portion of the transcontinental line. In 1868, Rep. Oakes Ames (R-Mass.) distributed shares to his fellow lawmakers, along with cash bribes — though the scandal did not come to light until 1872.

Leland Stanford, president of Southern Pacific Railroad and, beginning in 1861, Central Pacific Railroad, drove the golden spike. Stanford also served as a Republican governor and senator from California. He founded the prestigious university that bears his name. The spike is now displayed in the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford.

Nowadays, the Golden Spike National Historic Site, 32 miles west of Brigham City, Utah, receives some 60,000 visitors yearly. The site features auto tours, a hiking trail, and, from May 1 through Columbus Day, steam locomotive demonstrations. This year, on Saturdays and holidays during the summer months, volunteers will reenact the 149th anniversary of the historic linkage.