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Police Officers in Helicopter Attack Venezuela’s Supreme Court – New York Times

A rogue faction of the Venezuelan police attacked the country’s Supreme Court in Caracas on Tuesday, dropping grenades from a helicopter, government officials said. It was a rare uprising by government personnel in a country that has been on edge from mass protests and economic crises.

A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard.

Another video posted on social media on Tuesday showed a uniformed man identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men in uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. The speaker said he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who opposed what he called “this transitional, criminal government.”

“We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists,” the man said. “This fight is not against other state security forces. It is against the impunity imposed by this government. It is against tyranny. It is against the death of young people fighting for their legitimate rights.”

It was not clear if the assault resulted in any casualties or where the attackers were on Tuesday night. Despite Mr. Pérez’s claims, it could not be determined how much support, if any, the attackers had. In any case, they did not come close to overthrowing the government.

In pictures of the helicopter attack that circulated online, a man who looks like Mr. Pérez appeared to be piloting the aircraft as a second man, in a balaclava, held a sign that said, “Art. 350, Libertad.”

Experts said it was a reference to Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which encourages people to “disown any regime, legislation or authority that runs counter to democratic principles and guarantees, or that undermines human rights.”

Elsewhere in Caracas, opposition members of the National Assembly said they were being besieged by armed government supporters.

Ernesto Villegas, Venezuela’s minister of communications and information, said on national television that President Nicolás Maduro had been briefed on “an act of violence” launched from a helicopter that belongs to a law enforcement agency.

Mr. Villegas characterized the event as an “uprising against the republic, the Constitution.”

Mr. Maduro condemned the attack in a televised address, calling it part of a “coup plot.”

He said the assailants had launched grenades, including one that did not explode, while a “social event” was taking place in the court complex. The gunmen fired from the helicopter into offices and then flew over the building, he said.

“They could have left several dozen deaths,” Mr. Maduro said.

The president added that he had “activated the entire national armed forces to defend people’s right to serenity.”

Mr. Maduro said “sooner or later, we will capture the helicopter and those who have committed this armed attack.” His remark suggested the assailants were at large and in control of the aircraft.

Adding to the mystery around Mr. Pérez is a 2015 Venezuelan film called “Muerte Suspendida,” or “Suspended Death,” in which he plays a police officer and is listed as a producer.

The trailer tells the story of a kidnapping in which a gang armed with automatic rifles and rocket launchers captures a wealthy man at a gas station. The family pleads for the help of the police, who mount an ambitious rescue. Mr. Pérez appears at the end of the trailer, apparently part of the rescue team, emerging from water in scuba gear.

“A story based on true events,” the trailer’s opening says.

Venezuela has been shaken for weeks by large protests against the government, some of which have turned violent. It has resorted to increasingly heavy-handed tactics, including torture, to beat back demonstrations, according to accounts by detained demonstrators and human rights activists. More than 70 people have died.

The Supreme Court, the target of Tuesday’s attack, has become a focus for the rallies, chiefly because its bench is stacked with allies of the president who are seen as doing his bidding.

On Tuesday, the court appeared to be chipping away at the power of the attorney general’s office, transferring many of its investigative abilities to Tarek Saab, a high-ranking official in Mr. Maduro’s party. The move was seen at curbing the authority of Luisa Ortega, the attorney general, who has become famous during protests for openly opposing the president, the highest-ranking official to do so.

The protests themselves were set off by another ruling by the court that essentially dissolved the opposition-controlled National Assembly in March and transferred lawmaking power to the justices themselves. Mr. Maduro eventually ordered the court to reverse much of its ruling after an outcry both outside and within Venezuela, including a public rebuke by Ms. Ortega.

Attempted coups have shaken Venezuelan politics in recent decades. Hugo Chávez, who later became the country’s president, made a failed attempt to seize power by force in 1992 when he was a lieutenant colonel in the army. The uprising was crushed by the military, and Mr. Chávez was jailed.

In 2002, a few years after Mr. Chávez was elected president, senior military officers who opposed the new socialist government’s policies tried to overthrow Mr. Chávez.

But few in Venezuela saw Tuesday’s attack as having any chances of immediately succeeding in its stated goals.

But these are anxious times for the country. For more than two years, Venezuelans have been reeling from the nation’s worst economic crisis in generations. The price of oil, which long bolstered the economy and paid for Mr. Chávez’s social programs, has plummeted. Inflation is at record levels, and supermarket shelves are empty.

Ana Vanessa Herrero contributed reporting.

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The Latest: McConnell says good progress made on health bill – Washington Post

By Associated Press,

WASHINGTON — The Latest on the Republican legislation overhauling the Obama health care law (all times EDT):

5:55 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says “good progress” was made during a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Republican senators.

Trump invited them to meet after McConnell decided to delay a vote on a Senate health care bill because there aren’t enough votes to pass it.

McConnell said after the meeting there’s a “really good chance” of passing the bill, but it won’t happen before July Fourth as he originally planned.

McConnell says Republicans must come up with a solution because that’s why the American people elected them. He says negotiating with Senate Democrats won’t produce any of the changes sought by Republicans, including to the health markets and Medicaid.

___

4:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump says that if the health care bill fails to pass in the Senate, he won’t like it — but “that’s OK.”

Trump spoke Tuesday at a gathering of Senate Republicans after their leaders shelved a vote on their prized health care bill until at least next month.

Trump says, “This will be great if we get it done and if we don’t get it done it’s going to be something that we’re not going to like and that’s OK and I can understand that.”

He adds, “I think we have a chance to do something very, very important for the public, very, very important for the people of our country.”

___

4:30 p.m.

Add three more names to the list of Republican senators saying they oppose the GOP health care bill.

But these three get an asterisk. They released statements of flat-out opposition after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was delaying the vote in hopes of rounding up enough support for passage.

Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia have persistently criticized the bill’s cuts in Medicaid, and have sought billions more to combat opioid abuse. Both said for the first time Tuesday they opposed the measure.

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said last week he would examine whether the proposal was good for his state. He said Tuesday the bill did not have his support, saying he wanted more affordable and better quality health care.

___

4:25 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he wants the replacement of the 2009 health insurance law to increase the number of insurance coverage choices and lower premiums, a senior White House official says.

The president was stressing these goals in a meeting Tuesday with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican who opposes the Senate’s planned replacement of the government’s health insurance expansion under former President Barack Obama. The official insisted on anonymity to describe private conversations.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has delayed a vote on that replacement, which has been unable to attract sufficient support from Republican lawmakers. The replacement would reduce funding for Medicaid, cut taxes on investments and cause 22 million fewer people to no longer have health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

— Josh Boak

___

4:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are hosting Republican senators at the White House to discuss flailing efforts to pass a new health care bill.

Most of the GOP senators arrived at the White House Tuesday after Senate Republican leaders shelved a vote on their prized health care bill Tuesday until at least next month.

A GOP rebellion left them lacking enough votes to even begin debate.

Trump said Tuesday that “we’re getting very close but for the country we have to have health care.”

Trump invited the GOP senators for a meeting in the East Room to discuss efforts to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s signature health care bill.

He says “I think the Senate bill is going to be great.”

___

2:40 p.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he is delaying a vote on a Senate health care bill while GOP leadership works toward getting enough votes.

He says they are “still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.”

Republican senators are headed to the White House Tuesday afternoon to talk to President Donald Trump about the future of the bill.

McConnell says the White House is “very anxious to help” and encouraged senators to go to the meeting.

McConnell said health care is “a big complicated subject,” and complicated bills are “hard to pull together and hard to pass.” He told reporters on Tuesday that he was very optimistic.

__

1:50 p.m.

Sources tell the Associated Press that Senate Republican leaders have abruptly delayed the vote on their health care bill until after the July 4th recess.

That’s the word Tuesday as the GOP faced five defections from its ranks just hours after the Congressional Budget Office said the bill would force 22 million off insurance rolls.

It was a major blow for the seven-year-old effort to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Separately, President Donald Trump has invited all GOP senators to the White House Tuesday afternoon.

__

1:10 p.m.

New analysis shows that millionaires would get tax cuts averaging $52,000 a year from the Senate Republicans’ health bill.

Middle-income families would get about $260.

The analysis was done by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. It found that half of the tax cuts would go to families making more than $500,000 a year.

At the other end, families making $20,000 a year would, on average, get a $190 tax cut.

The Republican health bill would repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health law. The law imposed a series of tax increases mainly targeted high-income families. The Senate Republican bill would repeal the taxes, though not all at once.

___

12:20 p.m.

Major veterans’ organizations are voicing concerns about a Senate Republican bill to repeal the nation’s health care law. They fear the impact of rising insurance costs and are worried the underfunded Department of Veterans Affairs won’t be able to fill the coverage gap.

Paralyzed Veterans of America is one of the six biggest nonpartisan veterans’ groups. In a letter to senators Tuesday, it criticized an “opaque and closed” legislative process and proposed cuts to Medicaid that could lead to hundreds of thousands of lower-income veterans losing their insurance.

The organization joins a Democratic-leaning group, VoteVets, in opposing the bill. VoteVets launched a six-figure ad campaign in two states to pressure senators.

Disabled American Veterans and AMVETS also are expressing concern about the Senate legislation backed by President Donald Trump.

___

11:45 a.m.

One of a handful of Republican senators opposing the Senate health care bill is headed to the White House to talk with President Donald Trump about the measure.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul tweeted about his visit, saying he was: “Headed to meet with @realDonaldTrump this afternoon.” He added that the current bill is “not real repeal and needs major improvement.”

Paul has said it is worse to “pass a bad bill than to pass no bill.”

Senate leaders are scrambled to rescue their health care bill in the face of defections after Congress’ nonpartisan budget office said the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been aiming to win Senate passage for the bill his week.

__

11:34 a.m.

The New York attorney general is threatening to file a lawsuit to block the implementation of a Republican health care overhaul.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Tuesday that the evolving Senate bill violates women’s constitutional rights by de-funding Planned Parenthood. It also violates New York’s state’s rights, he said, by targeting a New York-specific Medicaid provision.

Schneiderman said, “If the version of the health care bill proposed last week ever becomes law, I am committed to going to court to challenge it to protect New Yorkers from these wrong-headed and unconstitutional” policies.

The Democrat made the comments in a speech to state business leaders. He later said his office is “doing the research” to prepare for possible litigation.

Senate Republican leaders planned to pass the bill this week, but so far lack the votes to take up the measure.

___

11:20 a.m.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee has become the fifth Republican senator to oppose starting debate on the GOP health care bill. That deals another blow to party leaders hoping to push the top-priority measure through the Senate this week.

Lee was among four conservative senators who announced last week they oppose the bill’s current version. Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said Tuesday that the lawmaker will not vote for a crucial procedural motion allowing the Senate to begin debate on the legislation, unless it’s changed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can lose the votes of only two of the 52 Republican senators to begin debate and ultimately pass the bill. All Democrats oppose it.

Lee has favored a fuller repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law than the current GOP bill.

__

10:25 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has faith in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ability to round up the votes for the Republican health care bill despite growing opposition in the Senate.

Ryan told reporters on Tuesday: “I would not bet against Mitch McConnell.”

The Wisconsin Republican said he has every expectation that the Senate will move ahead on the bill, which the Congressional Budget Office says would kick 22 million off the insurance rolls. The bill would cut taxes, reduce the deficit and phase out the Medicaid expansion implemented by Barack Obama’s health law.

Ryan said every Republican senator campaigned on repealing and replacing Obama’s law.

The speaker said House members are waiting to see what happens in the Senate. The House could try to vote after the Senate to push the bill and get it to President Donald Trump before the weeklong July 4th recess.

__

7:45 a.m.

Senate Republican leaders are scrambling to rescue their health care bill. It’s in trouble as opposition from rebellious Republicans grows.

The defections came as Congress’ nonpartisan budget referee said the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than President Barack Obama’s law, which Republicans are trying to replace.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was hoping to staunch his party’s rebellion, a day after the Congressional Budget Office released its report. He’s been aiming at winning Senate passage this week, before a weeklong July 4 recess that leaders worry opponents will use to weaken support for the legislation.

__

4:02 a.m.

Congress’ nonpartisan budget referee says the Senate Republican health care bill would leave 22 million additional people uninsured in 2026 compared to President Barack Obama’s law.

And now, disgruntled centrist and conservative GOP senators are forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to scramble to rescue the measure before debate even begins.

The Kentucky Republican was hoping to staunch his party’s rebellion on Tuesday, a day after the Congressional Budget Office released its report. He plans to suggest revisions to the legislation in hopes of rounding up votes.

McConnell wants to win Senate passage this week. But three GOP senators are threatening to vote against a procedural motion to begin debate, a vote expected Wednesday. To be approved, no more than two of the 52 GOP senators can vote against it.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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On Senate Health Bill, Trump Falters in the Closer’s Role – New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump began his all-hands meeting with Republican senators at the White House on Tuesday by saying they were “very close” to passing a health care bill, just as efforts to fast-track a vote this week collapsed.

If Republicans do manage to broker a deal — as Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, pledged to do during a lively East Room back-and-forth with the president — it is not likely to be because of Mr. Trump’s involvement. Until Tuesday afternoon, the president was largely on the sidelines as the fate of one of his most important campaign pledges played out.

Mr. McConnell, who kept the president at a polite arm’s length while he oversaw negotiations over the bill, asked Mr. Trump to arrange the meeting with all 52 Republican senators during a morning phone call, in part to show senators the White House was in fact fully engaged, according to two people with knowledge of the call.

When asked by reporters clustered on the blacktop outside the West Wing if Mr. Trump had command of the details of the negotiations, Mr. McConnell ignored the question and smiled blandly.

Mr. Trump and his staff played a critical role in persuading House Republicans to pass health care legislation in May, with the president personally calling dozens of wavering House members. But the Trump team’s heavy-handed tactics have been ineffective in the Senate, and White House officials determined that deploying Vice President Mike Pence, a former congressman with deep ties to many in the Senate, was a better bet than unleashing Mr. Trump on the half-dozen Republicans who will determine the fate of the Senate bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Trump, who is fond of telling friends he is a “closer,” became more involved over the past few days, reaching out to a few reluctant conservatives like Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who emerged from an Oval Office meeting on Monday saying he was more optimistic about getting to a yes.

“The White House has been very involved in these discussions,” Mr. McConnell said in announcing that a vote on the bill was postponed until after the Fourth of July recess. “They’re very anxious to help.”

Yet over the past few weeks, the Senate Republican leadership has made it known that it would much rather negotiate with Mr. Pence than a president whose candidacy many did not even take seriously during the 2016 primaries. And some of the White House’s efforts have clearly been counterproductive.

Over the weekend, Mr. McConnell made clear his unhappiness to the White House after a “super PAC” aligned with Mr. Trump started an ad campaign against Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, after he said last week that he opposed the health care bill.

The majority leader — already rankled by Mr. Trump’s tweets goading him to change Senate rules to scuttle Democratic filibusters — called the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to complain that the attacks were “beyond stupid,” according to two Republicans with knowledge of the tense exchange.

Mr. McConnell, who has been toiling for weeks, mostly in private, to put together a measure that would satisfy hard-liners and moderates, told Mr. Priebus in his call that the assault by the group, America First, not only jeopardized the bill’s prospects but also imperiled Mr. Heller’s already difficult path to re-election.

Mr. McConnell and “several other” Republican senators expressed their irritation about the anti-Heller campaign during the White House meeting, according to two people, one of them a senator, who were present.

The move against Mr. Heller had the blessing of the White House, according to an official with America First, because Mr. Trump’s allies were furious that the senator would side with Nevada’s governor, Brian Sandoval, a Republican who accepted the Medicaid expansion under the health law and opposes the Republican overhaul, in criticizing the bill.

According to the senator, the president laughed good-naturedly at the complaint and signaled that he had received the message.

A few hours later, America First announced it was pausing its advertising assault against Mr. Heller, insisting it was doing so because of his willingness to come to the White House meeting with Mr. Trump.

America First was founded by a group of Mr. Trump’s loyalists — many of them with deep connections to Mr. Pence, including Nick Ayers, a Republican consultant who is regarded as the vice president’s top political adviser. The group compared Mr. Heller to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, and vowed a seven-figure advertising campaign against him.

Mr. Heller, the only Senate Republican who will face voters next year in a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, is the top target for Democrats facing a Senate map with few opportunities in 2018. And there were already seven groups — a mix of health care advocacy organizations and more partisan Democratic efforts — on the air in Nevada assailing the Republican health care overhaul, according to a Republican ad buyer tracking the ad traffic.

Neither Mr. McConnell’s office nor his top outside political advisers were warned about an impending attack on one of their most endangered incumbents. “They didn’t check in with anybody,” said Josh Holmes, Mr. McConnell’s former chief of staff. “There was no clearing of channels, no heads-up, nothing.”

Republican senators across the ideological spectrum have indicated their unease with the health bill. But Mr. Trump has few ties with the group, and several Republicans who remain on the fence have tangled with Mr. Trump, either during the presidential campaign or since.

Top Trump lieutenants like Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, who lobbied members on the House bill, have been all but sidelined. Mr. Priebus has also played a much diminished role.

Mr. Pence has been far more active in seeking out Republican senators. Seema Verma, Mr. Pence’s former adviser in the Indiana Statehouse and now a top administration health care official, has also been trying to reassure senators that their states will have flexibility on Medicaid under the bill, while Mr. Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, now the White House legislative affairs director, has been quarterbacking the effort from his hideaway in the Capitol.

Until Tuesday’s meeting at the White House, Mr. Trump had spoken with only a few members of the Senate, according to an administration official. The pace was nothing like the dozens of calls he made to help pass the House’s health bill, aides said.

A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.

Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later, ignoring the repeal’s tax implications, the staff member added.

After the meeting, Mr. Trump played the role of cheerleader on Twitter, encouraging his weary Republican allies to keep working.

“I just finished a great meeting with the Republican Senators concerning HealthCare,” he wrote. “They really want to get it right, unlike OCare!”

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