Howdy folks-the President's press conference this evening ran close to an hour-all but two questions focused on health care reform. Please check out ABC NEWS' reporting on the presser elsewhere on our ABCNEWS website.
HEALTH CARE/CONGRESS-In his opening remarks in tonight's press conference, the President noted that “(The American people) are counting on us to get this done. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down. We will pass reform that lowers cost, promotes choice, and provides coverage that every American can count on. And we will do it this year.” One thing seems to be clear-that August recess deadline the President talks about for the House and Senate to pass health care reform bills-not looking likely says Jake Tapper. As for trying to determine where the Senate and House are on their respective versions of the bill, Tapper noted on WORLD NEWS, “it depends who you ask, and who’s doing the asking." Let’s take the House-Tapper notes that “to the media, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi insisted everything was smooth sailing.” Pelosi is quoted saying “I think we are moving closer, we are making progress and that I have no question that we have the votes on the floor of the house to pass this legislation.” Not so say Blue Dog Democrats who apparently didn’t get Pelosi’s memo. Tapper: “But a leading conservative Democrat calls that claim questionable. Congressman Mike Ross of Arkansas says the concerns the Blue Dogs have about the current House bill being too expensive and not doing enough to contain costs are widespread.” As for the Senate, George Stephanopoulos noted that a bill by the August recess “is not going to happen.” Stephanopoulos continues: “Dick Durban, a close friend of Barack Obama and a Senator from Illinois told ‘The Hill’ magazine this afternoon ‘initially we had hoped for a full vote by then but I don’t think it’s going to be possible.” Charles Gibson asked the question many of us are dying to know-what’s the big deal if it’s not done by the August recess and it slips into a post-Labor Day move? Stephanopoulos looks to history for a possible reason: “The big bills get done by the August recess, whether it was Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush. That’s when the Presidents have momentum and they fear if Congress goes home, they won’t have the support in September.”
H1N1 SWINE FLU VACCINE TRIALS: The government has issued a call for 2500 volunteers for the initial trial of the swine flu vaccine, which could begin in two weeks. Approximately 1200 of those paid volunteers will be children between the ages of 6 and 17. Researchers hope to have a vaccine by mid-October – just in time for flu season – but they face a series of challenges. Lisa Stark reports: “Vaccine development has proven difficult – this virus grows slowly – and there’s always concern about rare and dangerous side effects with a new vaccine that’s being rushed into production. There’s also concern about how hospitals and schools will handle an onslaught of H1N1 cases. This could overwhelm the health system and force schools to close for a time. More than half of swine flu cases are in those under age 18.” Stark reports that at one hospital in DC, additional masks, respirators and anti-flu medication have been ordered, and there are plans to double-up patients in hospital rooms if needed. (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
MJ CLINIC RAID: Law enforcement officials raided the Houston clinic of Dr. Conrad Murray – one of Michael Jackson’s doctors – in search of evidence that could tie him to the pop star’s untimely death. Dr. Murray’s lawyer acknowledged today that his client is under investigation for manslaughter. Jackson became addicted to painkillers after an accident on the set of his Pepsi commercial in 1984, and investigators believe a doctor – possibly Dr. Murray – aided in providing Jackson with the powerful anesthetic Propofol, which is normally only used in hospitals for patients undergoing surgery. “Law enforcement officials tell ABC News that if any charge is brought against anyone for Jackson’s death, it will likely be ‘involuntary manslaughter’,” Lisa Fletcher reported on WORLD NEWS, “meaning they didn’t intentionally cause the death but knew what they were doing was incredibly risky…but the investigation is far from complete and more developments are expected next week.” (thanks to Marisa Bramwell for this entry)
NRA TASTES DEFEAT-Jon Karl: “The NRA’s impressive winning streak has ended. The Senate narrowly defeated an NRA-backed amendment that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons across state lines if they have a gun permit issued by their home state. Twenty Democrats voted “yes”, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), but the measure fell just two votes short of the 60 needed to pass. Ultimately, the measure was defeated because two veteran Republicans who frequently support gun rights voted against it. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and George Voinovich (R-OH) both surprised the NRA’s allies by voting no. Neither has explained their vote yet.
So far this year, the NRA had prevailed on three major gun-rights bills, including measures to 1) Lift a federal ban on guns in National Parks; 2) Allow stored guns to be carried on Amtrak; and, 3) To strip the Washington, DC City Counsel’s ability to regulate gun ownership.” Karl noted on WORLD NEWS that “this is the first major defeat for the NRA on a Congressional vote in ten years”. But when asked by Charlie Gibson whether today’s vote shows that the NRA’s clout on Capitol Hill may be waning, Karl noted “I wouldn’t say that…I would expect the NRA would be back on this issue and on others.”
LONG ISLAND AL-QAEDA?- Court documents in a federal probe suggest an American got training from al-Qaeda and passed along knowledge of New York City's transit system. Jason Ryan and Pierre Thomas report: “A Long Island man has been charged for allegedly joining Al Qaeda and taking part in a rocket attack against a US base in Afghanistan. Prosecutors from the US Attorney's office in New York, in court papers unsealed today, allege that Bryant Neal Vinas received Al Qaeda training in Pakistan between March and August 2008 and then engaged in a September 2008 rocket attack against US forces. Vinas is a 26 year old Long Island resident who previously worked as a truck driver along the Long Island Railroad.” Ryan goes on to note that Vinas was captured in Pakistan about a month after the rocket attack and was initially indicted on November 14, 2008 according to the court records released today. Ryan picks up the story again: “A court transcript in Vinas' case indicates that he pleaded guilty to the charges at a January 28, 2009 plea hearing. According to the transcript, which is in the court docket, both the prosecution and Vinas' attorney Len Kamdang agreed to seal the proceeds so they could remain secret. The plea deal has been key to ongoing terrorism investigations in Belgium according to US intelligence and law enforcement officials who told ABC News that Vinas identified terrorism suspects that he was with at Al Qaeda training facilities. Vinas information led to a series of terrorism arrests in Belgium in December 2008.”
CYBER ATTACK FOLO-Remember the cyber attacks on US and South Korean government sites earlier this month? Speculation centered instantly on North Korea but the US never publicly accused them of being behind the attacks. The Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair briefed reporters today on a smattering of topics and Luis Martinez reports: When asked if North Korea was behind this month’s cyberattacks on government sites in the US and South Korea, Blair said it still hadn’t been determined who was behind what he called a ‘relatively unsophisticated botnet-type attack.’ He said part of the difficulty in tracking those responsible was because they went through ‘a series of cutouts, different IP’s and the process of going back and sorting that out just takes some time.’ He did say that information about system vulnerabilities that arose from the attacks were shared quickly within the government to ensure protection of other sites. During his remarks Blair had touched on how the US needs to improve its participation in international cybersecurity standards and agreements. Though he said the US is vulnerable to cyberattack he said it wasn’t at a risk comparable to what was seen in Georgia and Estonia when both countries experienced cyberattacks presumably originating from Russia. He attributed the lower risk to an America’s infrastructure that is too big and too complex, and we have practice dealing all the time with a serious number of attacks and other obstacles."
–ELECTRONIC CIGARETTE WARNING- Federal health officials say they have found cancer-causing ingredients in electronic cigarettes, despite manufacturers' claims the products are safer than tobacco cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration says testing of two leading electronic cigarette brands turned up several toxic chemicals, including a key ingredient in antifreeze. Electronic cigarettes produce a nicotine mist absorbed directly into the lungs. No burning is involved. The agency has previously attempted to halt U.S. imports of electronic cigarettes, but has been challenged by manufacturers. The products are made primarily in China.
–VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING-Virginia Governor Tim Kaine says mental health records for Seung-Hui Cho have been found. Those records might contain information on medical treatment he received before going on a 2007 killing spree that left 32 people dead. No word on when the records will be released to the public.
–REPUBLICAN SENATOR GRAHAM TO SUPPORT SOTOMAYOR NOMINATION- Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday that he will vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, breaking with his party's conservative leaders to back President Barack Obama's choice to be the first Hispanic justice. The South Carolinian, who had hinted during Sotomayor's confirmation hearings that he might back the 55-year-old judge, said he would vote yes because "elections matter," and he believes she's a well-qualified jurist with a mainstream record that shows her "troubling" statements on race and gender don't drive her decisions on the bench. (Jon Karl)
–SHUTTLE SPACEWALK CUT SHORT-Two astronauts had to cut short their spacewalk today after a problem was discovered in one of the astronaut’s space suits. Mission Control notified the crew five hours into the spacewalk that the canister for removing carbon dioxide from Christopher Cassidy's suit did not seem to be working properly. Their battery replacement work outside the space station was left unfinished. Only two of four new batteries ended up being installed. It was the third spacewalk in five days for shuttle Endeavour's crew. Two more are planned, on Friday and Monday. More battery work had been planned for Friday, with a total of six new station batteries to be installed by mission's end. Mission Control said the unfinished battery work from Wednesday would be squeezed into one of the next spacewalks. (Gina Sunseri)