Shulkin: New VA law essential for reform

The new law to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire problem employees is essential to reforming the troubled agency and veterans services, VA Secretary David Shulkin said Friday.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the George W. Bush Institute and moderated by POLITICO, Shulkin said accountability legislation signed Friday by President Donald Trump will help the VA "fix issues that we know have been broken for a long time."

"I believe to be able to move people out who have lost their way is going to be part of the solution in fixing the VA," Shulkin said. "In fact, without that, without the ability to get the right people in these jobs and the right people in our leadership positions, I don’t think we’re going to be able to reform the VA."

"So after today," he added, "I think we’re going to be able to change that course in VA, and it will be a positive step forward."

The accountability legislation is the first measure in nearly three years to beef up accountability at the VA. Before reaching a compromise on an expedited firing and appeals process as well as new whistleblower protections, the House and Senate had proposed competing bills, in the meantime leaving in place a process Shulkin called frustrating for its slowness and tendency to overturn firings.

The legislation, approved by Congress by wide margins, makes it easier to discipline poor-performing employees with a quicker appeals process for both senior and non-senior civil servants. It also allows the VA to recoup improperly earned bonuses and claw back pensions for senior executives who are convicted of felonies. And it gives the VA secretary direct hiring authority for directors of VA medical centers.

Shulkin also called overhauling the department’s Choice program a major priority in the coming months. The original program, set up in 2014 to allow veterans facing high wait times or long distances to seek private medical care, is "amazingly complex," Shulkin said.

The VA and lawmakers are seeking a broader overhaul of the Choice program, but must address an immediate, and unexpected, funding shortfall in the program before it runs out of money in the coming months.

Asked about a push by veterans’ groups to reclassify marijuana to allow research into whether it could help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, Shulkin said he was interested in learning from research data, but added that the department can’t do any research of its own until federal law is changed. Instead, he added, states that loosened their restrictions on marijuana will be leading on the issue.

Other priorities for the VA, Shulkin said, include enactment of legislation to overhaul the disability claims appeal process and expanding the VA’s caregiver program to provide financial assistance to caregivers for veterans of all eras.

Shulkin also estimated the VA has a $50 billion capital deficit, adding that the department is attempting to save money by seeking to close 1,100 vacant or underutilized buildings.

Who Killed Otto Warmbier?

When Otto Warmbier visited North Korea for a New Year’s trip in December 2015, he joined Young Pioneer Tours, a group that promises “fun, thrill seeking and adventure at great price.” But according to several people on that fateful tour—which would see the then 21-year-old junior at the University of Virginia imprisoned for more than 17 months, later to die just days after his return to the United States—the guides might not have done enough to keep the participants safe in North Korea, a totalitarian state known mostly for its nuclear provocations and cruelty to its own people.

Two people I spoke with described a culture of recklessness and intoxication throughout the trip. “It seems partying was a bigger part of the job description than taking care of us,” said one participant, who asked to speak anonymously. Throughout the day, there would be “a fair degree of sobriety and propriety,” but during the evenings, the Western tour guides would be drinking heavily, a second participant told me. “That is another piece of the whole story, that these tour guides bear some responsibility and carried on in a less than 100 percent cautious and duly diligent manner.”

Pyongyang accused Warmbier of trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel at 1:57 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 1, 2016. In a highly choreographed February 2016 news conference, a tearful Warmbier tearfully confessed to the “very severe and pre-planned crime” of trying to steal the poster, an act he said, reading from notes, was intended to “harm the motivation and work ethic of the Korean people.” After a sham trial several weeks later, Pyongyang convicted Warmbier of “hostile acts against the state” and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor. A State Department spokesman called the sentencing “unduly harsh,” and, hours later, the Obama administration released a new, broad set of sanctions against the country – to “apply sustained pressure to the North Korean regime,” the White House said in a statement.
Not long after his sentencing, for unknown reasons, Warmbier fell into a coma. Pyongyang released him on June 13, 2017, and he died six days later; doctors say he suffered extensive brain damage. “The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement. On Thursday, a North Korean newspaper responded, calling Trump a “psychopath,” who they alleged was considering a strike on North Korea to distract from the problems he faces in the United States. (No one answered repeated phone calls to the North Korean mission to the United Nations.)

Tens of thousands of foreigners visit North Korea each year. Many are Chinese. The exact number of Americans is unknown, but it’s likely around 1,000 annually. Although the State Department strongly warns against it, and Congress is considering legislation to ban American tourism to North Korea, most of the dozens of Americans tourists I have spoken to who have visited Pyongyang over the last decade consider it to be a safe and worthwhile experience. It’s also surprisingly simple. Getting a visa, which I did before my two trips to the country in 2008 and 2011, requires sending in basic information to one of the several Western tour companies that operate in North Korea. Unguided tourism is prohibited. The Western tour guides are mostly British, and they work with North Korean tour guides – who also serve as minders, keeping a close watch on the tourists, the other guides and any North Koreans they encounter. That’s not to say entering North Korea is risk-free: Fifteen Americans are known to have been detained in the country since 2009, with the majority of those held after the current leader Kim Jong Un came to power in December 2011. The reasons the 15 were likely detained varied: some snuck into the country, while some proselytized—violating the cruel norms of North Korea. But Warmbier was the only one to die as a result of his experience.

Warmbier had taken the tour “for the same reason everybody else was there,” an American who was on the tour, and who asked to remain anonymous, told me. “He wanted to have an interesting adventure.” Ria Westergaard Pedersen, a Dutch journalist who was on that tour, recalls standing with Warmbier in front of the Mansu Hill Grand Monument, where gargantuan statues of founding leader Kim Il Sung and his son, the country’s second leader Kim Jong Il, loom over the city. Like other Western tourists to North Korea, the guides had warned them not to take photos of the military. “We really wanted just a few photos of all those uniforms,” Pedersen told a Dutch TV station. The participant and Warmbier would take turns standing next to the officials, pretending to photograph each other when in reality they were surreptitiously photographing soldiers. “We were like, ‘Oh, we’re doing a bad thing,’” Pedersen said. “He was so nervous about it! This feels so tiny compared to what were accused of, and he was nervous about it!” Interviews with six of the people who joined Warmbier on the tour paint a fuller picture of the atmosphere in the days leading up to his detention – and help answer the question of what, if any, responsibility the Western tour guides shoulder for Warmbier’s death. “I don’t know if Otto did what he was supposed to have done, or if his detention was a result of poor tour guide guidance,” the second participant told me. “But all of the tour guides were young people who get very drunk. It was sort of like there were few or no adults around.”

Consider these two incidents, the first of which has not been previously reported. The tourists celebrated New Year’s Eve by carousing in Kim Il Sung Square, a major public space in Pyongyang. The participants described it as a very pleasant evening, and a rare occasion to interact with North Koreans. “It was quite playful,” said a third participant said, who also asked to speak anonymously. The evening was “really special,” Ben Johnson, an Australian who was on the tour, told me.

But then something “fucking crazy” happened, the American told me. Danny Gratton, a Brit in his mid-forties, “takes a balloon on a string from some kid, waves the balloon up and down, and, like the Pied Piper, a bunch of North Koreans start following him,” says the American, who says he was the only foreigner who joined along. The two men, engaging with the North Koreans, happy and laughing, strolled around the area for roughly half an hour. The American than decided to turn back and rejoin the group. But Gratton kept walking, and found himself on a dark street, alone.

In any other part of the world, this would not be noteworthy. But North Korea is the world’s most closed country, and guides tightly monitor Western tourists. This kind of vanishing act is extremely rare. Over the last decade, I’ve spoken with dozens of Western tourists who have visited North Korea, and I have never heard of anything like this happening.

“The North Korean guides were panicked. They were so scared, asking us, ‘Have you seen him, have you seen him?’ and we, including the Western guides, were too drunk to realize the seriousness of the situation,” the first participant told me. “Danny got separated from the group,” Ben Johnson, who now works with Young Pioneer as a guide, confirmed. “There was really thick fog that night.”

The American remembers the North Korean guides concerned and angry. They asked him, “Where’s Danny? Is he drunk? What do you mean he’s gone?” The tourists waited in the square for hours, until their guides eventually returned them to the hotel. Gratton took several taxis and made it back sometime early in the morning, according to the American, who says he saw him walk back into the hotel.

What makes this event especially notable is that the British tourist disappearance roughly coincides with the time Warmbier allegedly tried to steal the propaganda poster from the hotel, raising questions about whether those two events are related. North Korea is an incredibly opaque place, and at this stage it’s impossible to draw conclusions. And yet, the rough overlap of Gratton’s disappearance and Warmbier’s alleged theft is bizarre. “The one thing that definitely surprised me about the trip was that how on New Year’s Eve, [the North Koreans] pretty much let us roam free and disperse, especially after watching us pretty closely up until that point,” the American said. “That’s how Danny and I ended up being able to walk off by ourselves.”

I spoke with a former Obama administration official, who asked to speak anonymously, about the Gratton incident. “In every other city on the planet, I would interpret it differently,” he told me. “But in Pyongyang, it is just so hard to figure out sometimes what is real and isn’t – because it can all be so uncertain.”

Warmbier and Gratton roomed together during the tour. “I got to know Otto really, really well,” Gratton told the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin, in what appears to be his only interview about the trip. “He was such a mature lad for his age.” Rogin’s story doesn’t include any mention of Gratton’s New Year’s odyssey, and Gratton didn’t respond to multiple Facebook requests for comment.

Another incident raises questions about the judgment of one Young Pioneer Tours guide. On the train ride back into China from Pyongyang, a Canadian friend of one of the Western tour guides hid the passport of one of the Young Pioneer tourists, a man from Hong Kong. North Korean soldiers took the man into a different area of the train, and began interrogating him. “I actively sought help from YPT guide and went to guide’s cabin. YPT guide proceeded to tease and embarrass me,” the tourist’s wife wrote on a TripAdvisor review, which she published on Jan. 5, 2016, several days after leaving North Korea.

Two people confirmed the story to me; one was the second participant, who heard it from the Hong Kong woman who found herself mocked by her tour guide as North Korean guards interrogated her husband. “It was very traumatic for them,” this person told me. And a person familiar with the matter, who wasn’t on the train but heard the story from one of the perpetrators, confirmed what she wrote in the Trip Advisor posting, and called it “a joke that went a bit wrong.” The Hong Kong woman didn’t respond to repeated messages on Facebook; two of the Young Pioneer Tour guides who went on the trip, and the founder Gareth Johnson, didn’t respond to repeated requests for comments. Johnson’s Chinese cellphone appears to be disconnected, and no one answered repeated calls to the company’s office, which is in the central Chinese city of Xian.

***

While her colleague was taking some of the tourists out of the country on the train, the guide Charlotte Guttridge, who was responsible for Warmbier, took a plane back to Beijing. “When it became clear that [Warmbier] wasn’t coming, I had to board the flight before it departed,” Guttridge told Reuters in January 2016. “I was the last to board the flight.”

And yet, two of the tour participants dispute this. It was “this kind of Home Alone moment, when people realized Otto wasn’t on the plane,” the second participant said. “The plane is pulling off, and everyone is saying, ‘Holy shit, where is Otto?’ the second participant added. “If you had to point your finger at something [the tour company did wrong] besides the drinking – if I were running a tour I would be the last one on the plane, to make sure everyone gets on the flight!” The first participant said. “She [Guttridge] was on the plane, before everyone was on the plane, and she didn’t notice before someone said, ‘Hey, where’s Otto?’” According to what Gratton told The Washington Post, in the airport two North Korean security officials took Warmbier to a private room. Gratton claims he was the only person to see Warmbier detained. Gratton then boarded the flight to Beijing.

One participant shared with me the private Facebook group on which the tourists discussed what happened to Warmbier after the trip. “There was a small issue with Otto,” Guttridge, the guide responsible for Warmbier, wrote on Jan. 3, the day after the tour ended. “Gareth stayed in the country to help fix, it’s currently being dealt with.” Several days after his arrest, one member of the Facebook group wrote, “Hey, I have heard that Otto was supposed to get out today – January 8. Any news?” Guttridge responded, “We expect it to be resolved soon, but at the moment please be patient until we send news.”

Of the dozens of people I reached out to who visited North Korea on the trip with Warmbier, several declined to comment because Warmbier’s family had asked participants to not speak with the press. No one answered the phone at the Warmbier house when I called on Thursday.

Several of the participants had a positive experience on the trip. Although Gareth Johnson “was prone to drinking,” that was “only at the hotel and after ‘working’ hours, so to speak. He still managed to wrangle it together the next day and take us on the tours,” the third participant said. This participant added that although “it was like being on a school trip,” the tour “felt safe.” The Western guides “were really nice, passionate people who were great to be around,” the Australian tourist Ben Johnson said. “I always felt safe in North Korea.” A sixth participant spoke briefly, and had only positive things to say about Young Pioneer Tours; since the North Korea experience, this participant said he has done two other tours with the company: one to Cuba, and one to Turkmenistan.

***

Although Warmbier’s father Fred hasn’t spoken publicly about the tour company, he has criticized Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” – inaction coupled with regional diplomacy – and credited President Trump with freeing his son. The two men spoke on the phone, an experience Warmbier, in a June 15 news conference, called “gracious.” June 20, Trump implicitly blamed Obama for the incident, saying, “it’s a disgrace what happened to Otto. It’s a total disgrace.”

And yet, it’s difficult to blame the Obama administration until more gets revealed about what occurred. “Were people aware? Yes. Was this something the White House was working on? Yes,” said the former Obama administration official. “Was there a lot of information flowing when we had those discussions? No, because we didn’t have all that much information.”

The State Department’s special representative for North Korea, Joseph Y. Yun, reportedly first learned about Warmbier’s medical condition on June 6. “In hindsight, and without knowing all the details of his medical condition, maybe the administration lacked a sense of urgency, but it was not for lack of effort,” the former administration official said. Pyongyang released Warmbier a week later, the same day that Dennis Rodman – the only person alive known to have relatively warm relations with Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un – arrived in Pyongyang. It’s unknown whether those two events are related; a National Security Council spokesperson denied that they are, while Rodman said he and his representatives asked Kim three times to release Warmbier. Perhaps someone in Pyongyang decided it was time to improve relations with the United States, after months of growing tensions following successive missile tests. (Reached by email, Yun declined to comment.)

After Warmbier’s June 19 death, relations between Washington and Pyongyang further deteriorated. “The United States cannot and should not tolerate the murder of its citizens by hostile powers,” Senator John McCain said in a statement. Perhaps someone in Pyongyang had realized how much worse it would have been if Warmbier had died in North Korean custody. What caused his coma, North Korea insisted this week, is a “mystery.”

***

Despite Warmbier’s death, I believe North Korea remains a safe place for adventurous, but cautious American travelers. It’s unclear, however, if Warmbier’s tragic death was an aberration or the start of a new, more dangerous normal. Moreover, Young Pioneer Tours promotes a riskier vibe: “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.”

These are “binge drinking tours,” says Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean Studies at Tufts University. “That’s part of the lure of going to a place like North Korea: You can just go nuts. You can’t do drugs, or go to a brothel, so you get smashed.” While drinking is socially respectable in North Korea, that isn’t the right way to sell the country, the former CNN journalist Mike Chinoy told me. “People need to go with their eyes open, and play by North Korean rules,” said Chinoy, who has visited the country 17 times and is the author of The Last P.O.W., a book about Merrill Newman, one of the other Americans recently imprisoned in North Korea.

Others say it’s not fair to hold YPT responsible. “There has been an arrest now with almost every single Western tour agency,” said Chad O’Carrroll, who runs the site NK News. “It’s bad luck for Gareth now that people are connecting the dots with partying and drinking to the death, but if Merrill Newman or Matthew Miller [two other American tourists recently detained in North Korea] had died, there would also be outrage – but not that connection.” He added, North Korea is “to blame for this death, ultimately.”

“I don’t know everything, and probably never will,” one of the participants on the Facebook group wrote after the news of Warmbier’s sentencing in March 2016, “but I know he’s a good guy with shitty luck.” Warmbier, in other words, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“When I first met [Warmbier], I remember sitting next to him and talking, and the way he described Beijing made me think he was pretty overwhelmed,” the first participant told me sadly. “And my first thought was, ‘he’s in way over his head.’”

Trump administration dissolves Afghanistan-Pakistan unit

The Trump administration on Friday moved to eliminate the State Department unit responsible for dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan — transferring its duties to a regional bureau whose leadership ranks have been decimated, two sources told POLITICO.

The development came with less than a day’s notice. It deeply rattled U.S. officials who say the shift leaves unclear who is responsible for handling diplomacy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time when the Trump administration is considering ramping up military efforts in that region.

The phase-out of the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) was put in motion under the Obama administration. But diplomats are concerned that the Trump administration has yet to name people to lead the South and Central Asia Bureau, leaving a leadership vacuum. That State Department bureau has seen unusually high levels of senior staff departures since Trump’s inauguration in January.

“The Afghanistan and Pakistan function is being dissolved and transferred into a structure that has been dissolved itself,” a U.S. diplomat familiar with the issue told POLITICO. “We’ve long planned for SRAP to go away, but the intention was for the policy to be transferred responsibly. This happened on less than 24 hours notice.”

The State Department press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump administration defends Texas anti-sanctuary-city law

The Trump administration went to court Friday to defend a newly-passed Texas law aimed at so-called "sanctuary cities" that decline to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

The Justice Department is siding with the state in a legal fight with local jurisdictions insisting that the new law is unconstitutional because it intrudes on areas governed by federal law and by seeking to commandeer local officials as federal agents.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the "statement of interest" filed Friday in one suit over the issue advances President Donald Trump’s goals of toughening immigration enforcement.

"President Trump has made a commitment to keep America safe and to ensure cooperation with federal immigration laws. Texas has admirably followed his lead by mandating state-wide cooperation with federal immigration laws that require the removal of illegal aliens who have committed crimes," Sessions said in a statement. “The Department of Justice fully supports Texas’s effort and is participating in this lawsuit because of the strong federal interest in facilitating the state and local cooperation that is critical in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws.”

The first suit against the law was filed last month by the small border city of El Cenizo. Several other localities, including Texas’ four largest cities—Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin—are backing the El Cenizo challenge or pursuing other suits,

U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, has scheduled a hearing for Monday on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction against the measure. The law is not set to kick in until September 1.

Much of the dispute revolves around how localities deal with requests immigration authorities make to detain individuals in the custody of local police or sheriffs. The new law requires local governments to honor such requests in most circumstances, although existing federal law imposes no such requirement.

"Parties may disagree with the state legislature’s policy determinations in enacting SB 4, but nothing in federal immigration law precludes a state from directing law enforcement officers in the state to cooperate with the federal government, rather than merely permitting them to do so on an ad hoc basis," the Justice Department filing says.

Justice Department lawyers also say that local authorities with a policy of enforcing immigration "detainers" are not running afoul of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable detention of individuals.

"Compliance with such detainers does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Speculation that a detainer request might be issued in contravention of federal policies, and might be constitutionally improper, provides no basis for the facial invalidation of a state law that provides for cooperation with a system of warrants authorized by Congress," the Justice Department wrote.

Justice Department lawyers say they also plan to show up at the court hearing on Monday and will seek to argue the federal government’s position in favor of the Texas law.

De Blasio: I’m ‘much less hopeful’ about working with Trump

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that he has largely given up hope that he will be able to work with the Trump administration on any policy issues.

“I am much less hopeful,” de Blasio, a Democrat, told POLITICO New York’s Laura Nahmias in an on-stage interview in Miami. “Look, I had massive disagreements with the platform Donald Trump ran on and the things he said about the people of this country and obviously the people of my city. But again, there was that hope immediately after the election that maybe there would be moderation, maybe some things were rhetoric, other things would be different in practice.”

“Sadly, we have not seen that,” he continued. “The rhetoric has actually played out in practice.”

“The hope for some moderation, for some balance, is largely gone,” he added, citing Trump’s actions on immigration and the health care proposal making its way through Congress.

De Blasio said he last spoke with a representative from the administration about six weeks ago, when he discussed issues including health care, infrastructure, the budget and tax policy with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The mayor said he raised his concerns that the administration’s proposals, like those on health care and the budget, would harm the economy.

The mayor said he intends to keep a dialogue open “to the extent I can” on issues such as security for Trump Tower, “but if you’re talking about the big policy areas, I think the action is entirely in the Congress, from my point of view.”

“It’s clear the White House is not trying to work with mayors,” he said.

De Blasio, who is trying to work with other mayors to lobby against the Republican health care bill unveiled in the Senate on Thursday, offered a sharp critique of that proposal, arguing that it represents a “clear and present danger” for cities and their residents.

“You’re talking about fundamentally undermining health care in our cities,” he said.

The mayor criticized Republicans for pushing to vote on the bill next week and urged them to slow down and moderate the proposal.

De Blasio also sounded off on the current state of the Democratic Party. He said Democrats need to unite behind a “consistent” progressive economic message to win in 2018, which he said they failed to do in 2016 despite having what he described as the right platform.

Asked who the party’s de facto leader is right now, he said there isn’t one, though he praised Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, as the most visible leader in the party who has “really rallied the troops effectively.”

“We don’t have a singular leader at this moment, and we don’t have a singular message,” de Blasio said.

He declined to weigh in on whether New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, frequently discussed as a possible presidential candidate, would be the right person to run in 2020.

Conaway: Trump tweets don’t satisfy Comey tapes request

The Republican leading the House’s Russia probe says he’s still waiting for the White House’s response to his request for any recordings of President Donald Trump’s conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.

Trump tweeted yesterday that he didn’t create any recordings of those meetings, nor does he know whether any exist. But Rep. Mike Conaway said those tweets don’t constitute an official response from the White House.

“I don’t think tweets are ever official,” the Texas Republican said. “We’d like something on letterhead.”

Conaway and his Democratic counterpart on the House intelligence committee, Rep Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), requested any tapes of the president’s conversations with Comey two weeks ago and gave the White House counsel Don McGahn until June 23 to respond.

“Today’s the day,” Conaway noted, adding that he’s still heard nothing from the White House.

He declined to say if he would issue a subpoena for the tapes if he doesn’t get an answer. “I don’t talk about stuff I might do,” Conaway said. But some Democrats have signaled that’s their preferred response if the White House continues to stonewall.

Questions about the existence of such tapes arose after Trump tweeted in mid-May, days after he fired Comey, that such tapes might exist. Details of Comey’s meetings with the president — in which he described feeling prodded by Trump to back off the agency’s Russia investigation — had begun to emerge in press accounts.

That led Trump to tweet on May 12: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

For more than a month, Trump has refused to clarify whether such tapes exist.

On Thursday, a day before the House committee’s deadline, Trump issued a statement on Twitter.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea … whether there are "tapes" or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings,” he wrote.

Trump’s critics, though, said the tweets themselves fail to clear up the matter and say they want to understand why Trump would hint at the existence of tapes in the first place. In an interview on Fox & Friends that aired Friday morning, Trump suggested his goal was to prevent Comey from changing his story.

In sworn testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, Comey indicated that it was Trump’s tweet about tapes that prompted him to go public with details of conversations with the president, which he memorialized in memos that he kept contemporaneously.

Spicer hits back at Obama: Obamacare is dead

Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Friday disagreed with former President Barack Obama’s statements on the new Republican health care bill, saying Obama’s signature legislation is "dead."

Obama expressed disapproval Thursday of the bill on social media, saying it has a “fundamental meanness at the core of the legislation” and urged Senators to heavily consider the repercussions of the bill beyond partisan lines.

“The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill,” Obama wrote in his op-ed style post. “It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else.”

However, Spicer said the new bill benefits all Americans, since Obamacare was not doing what it proposed to do. Spicer also emphasized how the bill emulated Trump’s goals of making healthcare accessible and affordable for everyone, which was a large grievance for those who advocated against Obamacare.

“I don’t know how it’s mean to provide people healthcare, and that’s what we’re doing here,” Spicer said Friday morning on Fox News. “The real meanness is allowing the American people to believe that Obamacare is still alive.”

Spicer said Obamacare is not an option for Americans anymore.

“Obamacare has died – it is over – it is in need of its own healthcare,” Spicer quipped. “Luckily, we are coming to the rescue on that.”