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Trump replaces embattled Veterans Affairs secretary with White House physician



But the fight had become increasingly personal, particularly in the wake of an inspector general’s report in February that found taxpayers had picked up the tab for Shulkin’s wife when she accompanied him on a European business trip. That provided ammunition to Shulkin’s foes, and because he didn’t trust the Trump-appointed communications staff around him, he retained his own public-relations counsel.

Shulkin’s camp came to believe that Trump political appointees were trying to get him fired, according to reports. He sought White House permission to dismiss them, telling The New York Times earlier this month that he had secured that authority from Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

On Thursday, Shulkin spoke out about his departure in an interview with NPR, and blasted efforts to privatize the VA in an op-ed published in The Times.

“I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization,” he told NPR, adding that he was not allowed to release a statement through the White House Wednesday.

“We’ve gotten so much done,” he said. “But in the last few months, it really has changed. Not from Congress, but from these internal political appointees that were trying to politicize VA and trying to make sure our progress stopped. It’s been very difficult.”

In the op-ed, he wrote that the reforms he initiated “intensified the ambitions of people who want to put the VA health care in the hands of the private sector.”

“They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Shulkin wrote. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

“As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country,” he added.

Jackson, for his part, stepped into the media spotlight earlier this year when he briefed the press on the results of Trump’s yearly physical examination. At the time, he deemed Trump “very sharp” mentally and in “excellent” overall health — though he did recommend a better diet and more exercise for the commander-in-chief.

Jackson has no experience steering a bureaucracy. His rise to the top of the government’s second largest agency comes one week after Trump promoted him to rear admiral.

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The cataclysm of 2020 just added a Supreme Court fight



WASHINGTON — The political cataclysm that is the 2020 presidential election gathered a new and unpredictable energy with the death of liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday.

What’s certain is that an admixture of cultural warfare over abortion, guns and speech will only serve to exacerbate the sense of upheaval wrought by a plague, its damage to the economy and protests over police killings of people of color that have led to unrest in cities across the country.

“Emergency 5X matching has been activated for ALL donations made to protect the White House, keep the Senate majority in Republican hands and ensure the next Supreme Court nominee is selected by President Trump!” Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst’s campaign wrote in an email sent to supporters within an hour of Ginsburg’s death being reported. Ernst said she hadn’t approved it and quickly apologized.

But while President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans now have the collective power to nominate and confirm a conservative justice to succeed the anchor of the court’s liberal wing at any time — fundamentally reshaping the balance of the nine-member panel for the first time in decades — it is already clear that voters motivated by the issues before the high court will be inundated between now and Election Day with appeals to make a confirmation fight their priority at the polls.

“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Friday night. McConnell did not say whether that vote would occur before the election or in a lame-duck session of Congress.

Most current voters have never been asked to select a leader — Trump or Democratic nominee Joe Biden — with so much on the line for their physical health and safety, their economic security, their ideological values and the balance of power at the core of the nation’s republican form of democracy.

A president impeached by the House for abusing the power of his office is vowing to use more of it in a second term as a pandemic works its way toward a death toll of 200,000. As Trump points out, the bottom has never dropped out of the American economy the way it did during what amounted to a national commercial shutdown in an effort to corral the coronavirus earlier this year. The quick but uneven partial recovery has left wide disparities in how segments of the electorate view the current state of the economy — from the newly destitute to elites enjoying a Wall Street recovery — and which candidate is best suited to help them come January.

And the nation has been rocked by protests over police killings and systemic racial injustice that begot arson and vandalism; violent shows of force by federal troops and agents in Washington and Portland, Oregon; and the shooting of protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, allegedly by a teenager who had come from a nearby town in another state to protect property.

“I don’t know if it will change the outcome, but it will raise the temperature,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, of the development. “It adds abortion to the mix, and few issues generate more heat.”

The most fitting analogs come from the most fragile eras in American history — the Civil War and the Great Depression — according to Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian and professor at Princeton University.

“I think the comparisons would be 1864 or 1932/36 when the nation was not just facing fraught time—but the entire nation was all experiencing multiple and pretty epic crises that impacted every level of society, meaning the fallout was total,” Zelizer said in an email exchange with NBC News. “We are also in a moment where the stability of the country—our health, our economy and our democracy—are all in an incredibly fragile state. In 1932, the country felt that way, the bottom had fallen out on everything and we didn’t know what was coming next.”

It is notable that in those precarious times, there was little mystery about which candidate would win the elections: Because the South had seceded, President Abraham Lincoln was competing only for the votes in his base states and took 212 of the 233 available electoral votes. Franklin Delano Roosevelt won with 472 of 531 electoral votes in 1932 and 523 electoral votes — 98.5 percent of them — in 1936.

But U.S. presidential elections in the modern era have become intensely competitive. The last five presidential elections, covering 2000 through 2016, are the first such period since 1884 to 1900 in which none of the victors won with 70 percent of the Electoral College or more. Twice in the last five elections, the winner of the presidency lost the popular vote.

Even before Ginsburg’s death, the combination of competitiveness and atmospheric tumult may have made this election unique in terms of the pressures confronting each voter in the crucible of swing states that will determine the outcome and the stakes of their choices for all Americans.

Adding the political and emotional turmoil of a Supreme Court nomination fight will only intensify them.

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Puerto Rico sees more pain and little progress three years after Hurricane Maria



Angel Perez was on his way to visit his parents in his native Arecibo, a coastal town about an hour west of where he now lives in Trujillo Alto, when an unexpected flash flood blocked his route last Sunday.

“There was some rain, but there was no indication that they were dangerous. All the neighbors were at home. No one expected this,” said Perez, 35. Despite his efforts to gather neighbors and clean up clogged sewers, community members say they have long lacked proper maintenance. Several families lost everything after six feet of water rushed into their homes, he said.

The scene reminded him of Hurricane Maria’s aftermath.

“As a community social worker, I can tell you that Puerto Rico’s recovery, if it can be called that, didn’t come thanks to the government. It came from non-profit associations, it came from the neighbors themselves, it came from foundations, it came from the hands of other people who supported the families that suffered the most,” Perez said in Spanish.

Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory on Sept. 20, 2017, ultimately killing at least 2,975 people; it was the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years.

Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria in Lares, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 6, 2017.Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Over 200,000 Puerto Ricans left for the mainland, many temporarily and some permanently. Island residents had no full power for almost a year. The health system was overwhelmed and an understaffed forensics sciences department couldn’t keep up with the bodies piling up during the hurricane’s aftermath.

Three years later, there’s frustration that crises have only compounded — there’s been a series of destructive earthquakes and more recently the coronavirus pandemic — while the Trump administration and island officials haven’t made any real progress when it comes to updating the island’s antiquated electrical grid and rebuilding destroyed houses.

“If you put somebody in power, here in Puerto Rico or in the U.S., that’s not prepared to lead, it’s going to cost you lives and it’s going to cost you progress,” Miguel Soto-Class, founder and president of the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan think tank, told NBC News. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to talk about this as a life or death issue because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.”

Hurricane Maria resulted in about $90 billion in damages, making it the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Last December, Puerto Rico was hit by a sequence of seismic events that triggered multiple strong earthquakes that brought down hundreds of homes and schools in January. Well over 9,800 tremors have been registered on the island since then.

Coronavirus cases and deaths are also rising in Puerto Rico as the island continues to grapple with austerity measures as it works to get out of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

A man walks pass by downed electricity poles in the Punta Santiago beachfront neighborhood in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 8, 2017.Ricardo Arduengo / for NBC News

The federal government has allocated nearly $50 billion to help the island with multiple disasters. But most of the money, specifically funds for housing and infrastructure relief, haven’t made their way to communities on the island. Puerto Rico has received $16.7 billion, according to Puerto Rico’s Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience.

Over the same time period, President Donald Trump has doubled down multiple times on previous comments opposing disaster funding for Puerto Rico, while also disputing the hurricane’s death toll and failing to acknowledge such deaths.

“We’ve seen so much fanfare around these federal funds in the past that never actually get here or once you look at the fine print, there are so many restrictions, it’s almost as if you haven’t been giving them,” said Soto-Class.

The Trump administration said Friday that FEMA will award almost $13 billion to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and education system in the next five to seven years, “the largest obligations of funding ever awarded.” But Congress had approved such aid in 2018. Trump and members of his administration made it available to Puerto Rico two years later and 43 days before November’s presidential elections.

“It’s very ironic that it happened so close to the elections,” said Soto-Class.

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Boris Johnson to avoid furious nationwide Tory rebellion if he fulfils key Brexit promise



BORIS JOHNSON may be able to completely avoid a rebellion on Brexit if he sticks to one integral promise.

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