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September 22, 2017

The National Weather Service of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is reporting an "extremely dangerous situation" due to a dam failure that threatens Isabela Municipality and Quebradillas Municipality in the territory's northwest. "Buses [are] currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can," the agency reported, adding: "Move to higher ground now. Act quickly to protect your life."

The flooding follows Hurricane Maria's thrashing of the Caribbean; Puerto Rico remains completely without power, and it's expected to get as much as 35 inches of rain in some areas by Friday. Now a Category 3, Maria was packing winds of up to 125 miles per hour as it slammed the southeastern Bahamas on Friday. Jeva Lange

September 22, 2017

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced Friday that he will not vote for the Republican health-care bill, effectively killing the GOP's last chance at passing legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare before their Sept. 30 deadline. McCain already stunned his colleagues in the Senate earlier this year when he torpedoed another Republican health-care bill with a tie-breaking no vote in July.

Named for sponsors Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), the bill would convert ObamaCare's subsidies and Medicaid payments to block grants to states plus cut Medicaid sharply. "I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal," McCain said in a statement. "I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried."

The GOP can only lose three votes, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have also already come out against the bill. Jeva Lange

September 22, 2017
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Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced Friday that she's "leaning against" voting for the Graham-Cassidy health-care bill. Collins said that as she's "reading the fine print" of the GOP's latest effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare, she's realizing that insurers "could charge sky-high rates to people with pre-existing conditions," The Portland Press Herald reported. "The premiums would be so high they would be unaffordable," Collins said.

Still, Collins said she'll wait on an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office before she makes her final call. However, the CBO has said its complete analysis likely won't be complete until after Sept. 30, Republicans' deadline to pass the bill by a majority vote.

Already, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has announced his opposition, and three 'no' votes would kill the bill. Republicans are angling for a vote next week. Becca Stanek

September 22, 2017
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President Trump is set to replace his ban on travel from six majority-Muslim countries with new, more specific restrictions as soon as this weekend, The New York Times reports. The new regulations will vary by country, and come at the conclusion of a 90-day review period that the administration used to assess security threats from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. "In the end, officials said that some of those countries added measures to improve security for passports and to better identify potential terrorist threats," the Times writes. "Those countries will not be included in the new restrictions."

Trump's travel ban also restricted refugees anywhere in the world from entering the U.S. The forthcoming restrictions will not alter that policy. The Supreme Court could still make a decision about America's policy on refugees when they hear the case next month.

Overall, though, "the changes to be announced this weekend could have a profound impact on the court case," the Times writes, "complicating the review by the justices and potentially making parts of the case moot even before the oral arguments, which are scheduled for Oct. 10." Read more about the new restrictions at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

September 21, 2017
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Facebook will give Congress copies of the more than 3,000 ads purchased through Russian accounts during the 2016 election, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch announced Thursday in a blog post. "We believe the public deserves a full accounting of what happened in the 2016 election, and we've concluded that sharing the ads we've discovered, in a manner that is consistent with our obligations to protect user information, can help," Stretch wrote.

Though Facebook gave the ads to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the social networking site took back select ads shown to congressional investigators before they could be thoroughly examined, citing privacy concerns. The move sparked complaints from government officials and the public.

In a Facebook Live event after the announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to "make sure that Facebook is a force for good ahead in democracy." Becca Stanek

September 20, 2017
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The Senate plans to vote on the latest iteration of the Republican health-care bill next week, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. "It is the leader's intention to consider Graham-Cassidy on the floor next week," the spokesperson told Politico.

The bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), would convert ObamaCare subsidies and Medicaid payments into block grants to states, allowing each state ample leeway to decide coverage rules and patient protections, plus cut Medicaid sharply. On Tuesday, a group of 11 governors, including five Republicans and independent Gov. Bill Walker (Alaska), urged the Senate to drop Graham-Cassidy, joining the AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and other patient advocacy groups, plus Jimmy Kimmel.

Efforts to write an alternative, bipartisan health-care bill proved fruitless. Republicans have a Sept. 30 deadline for passing a health-care bill with only 50 votes. Three GOP defections would kill the bill. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are believed to be opposed to the bill; Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) remain undeclared swing votes. Jeva Lange

September 19, 2017
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A copy of an Adolf Hitler speech was found in the home of a man accused of killing two black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last week in what authorities now suspect were racially motivated attacks, The Associated Press reports.

Donald Smart, 49, a dishwasher, and Bruce Cofield, 59, who was homeless, were at first thought to have been killed randomly two days apart. Police have since charged Kenneth Gleason, 23, who is white, with two counts of second-degree murder as well as for allegedly shooting into the home of a black family in an incident where no one was injured. Gleason's DNA was found on shell casings in his car that matched ammo used in the attacks, The Advocate reports.

If Gleason had not been arrested last week, "he could have potentially created a tear in the fabric that holds this community together," said Baton Rouge Interim Police Chief Jonny Dunnam on Tuesday.

District Attorney Hillar Moore said that if Gleason is convicted, his case "would qualify for the death penalty."

"It appears to be cold, calculated, planned [against] people who were unarmed and defenseless," Moore said. "We don't need to prove motive. There are a lot of things that are unanswered." Read more about the case at The Advocate. Jeva Lange

September 18, 2017

On Monday, Hurricane Maria strengthened into a Category 3 storm, packing maximum sustained winds of up to 120 mph. The storm is expected to cross over the Leeward Islands, the eastern Caribbean islands recently ravaged by Hurricane Irma, before moving over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Wednesday.

Hurricane warnings are now posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as the islands of Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, St. Lucia, and Martinique, many of which were hit by Irma. The National Hurricane Center says "additional rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours," with winds potentially reaching 140 mph.

Puerto Rico is already bracing itself for another potentially devastating storm. "We have an extremely weak infrastructure that has already been hit by one storm," Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Monday. "This is going to be a catastrophic event."

It's not yet clear whether Maria poses a threat to Florida, though it remains a possibility. Becca Stanek

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