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Vox Sentences: A chemical attack in Syria leaves dozens dead and hundreds wounded

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Susan Rice becomes a scapegoat; a deadly chemical attack targets Syrian civilians; Republicans reanimate their health care debate.


“Unmasking” allegations against Susan Rice

President Obama Participates In The Nuclear Security Summit
President Barack Obama talks to Susan Rice in April 2016.
Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images
  • Bloomberg and Fox News published reports yesterday claiming that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice sought to “unmask” — have US intelligence reveal the names of — members of the Trump transition team who were communicating with foreigners under surveillance by the US intelligence community. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • The surveillance was apparently legal, and unmasking requests are too, but even conservative outlets that acknowledge those facts are using the reports to defend Rep. Devin Nunes’s (R-CA) allegations that the Obama administration used the intelligence community for political ends. [Wall Street Journal / Opinion]
  • Rice has spoken out against the accusations — saying the Obama administration never used the intelligence it collected for “political purposes,” and that “unmasking” was part of doing her job, not an attempt to leak classified information. [NBC / Ken Dilanian, Corky Siemaszko]
  • But the Trump administration has latched onto the reports of Rice’s “unmasking” as a way to boost the president’s wiretapping claims, and to deflect from the ongoing investigation into connections between Trump associates and Russia. [New York Times / Peter Baker, Matthew Rosenberg]
  • In a briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer called out the “lack of interest” in the Rice narrative that he claims to have noticed in mainstream media coverage. [Washington Post / Karen DeYoung]
  • Now Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr has indicated that Rice “will be of interest to us” if the reports on her unmasking Trump associates turn out to accurate — and that the committee may try to force her to testify under oath, in a sign that the “unmasking” story has successfully enabled Trump and his allies to change the subject from his ties with Russia. [Washington Post / Karoun Demirjian​]

Dozens killed in suspected chemical attack in Syria

syria chemical weapons inspector
Inspectors look for evidence of a chemical weapons attack.
Ammar al-Arbini/AFP/Getty Images
  • A chemical attack in the province of Idlib, Syria, has killed more than 50 people and left more than 300 wounded. The attack is believed to have been carried out by the Syrian government and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. [Reuters / Ellen Francis]
  • The agent used in the attack appears to be sarin — which was also used in the government’s attacks in Damascus in 2013. It’s a nerve agent that causes victims to choke and foam at the mouth. [BBC / Dan Kaszeta]
  • Naturally, the Syrian army has denied any involvement in the incident, just as the Assad regime has continually and falsely denied using chemical weapons in the country’s six-year civil war. But the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that Syrian government jets were responsible. [Reuters / Ellen Francis]
  • The attack targeted an area under opposition control where 900,000 displaced Syrians live. At least 11 children were killed, and rescuers reported entire families who were suffering from effects of the chemical. [AP / Sarah el Deeb, Zeina Karam]
  • The US, Britain, France, and Turkey have all attributed the attack to the Assad regime and condemned it, and the White House called it “reprehensible.” [New York Times / Anne Barnard, Michael R. Gordon]
  • But the White House also used the occasion to take a shot at the Obama administration. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution,” Sean Spicer said in an off-camera media briefing this afternoon. [CNN / Dan Merica, Eugene Scott]
  • The attack fits with the Assad regime’s record of brutalizing civilians. The government has converted Syrian hospitals into torture sites, and in 2014, photographs of torture victims were smuggled out of the country and published around the world showing victims as young as 11. [Washington Post / Louisa Loveluck, Zakaria Zakaria]
  • The attack Tuesday occurred the day before an EU-UN fundraising conference for Syria was scheduled to begin, an effort that is part of ongoing peace talks and negotiations between the Assad regime and the opposition. [Wall Street Journal / Laurence Norman, Valentina Pop​]

Republicans are really still debating an Obamacare replacement

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) Meets With Leading Conservatives
House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks about health care.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
  • The White House is reportedly pushing for new talks within the GOP on another attempt at an Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill — which Republicans, despite having seven years to design and debate, proved over the week of March 20 to be incapable of agreeing on. [Vox / Sarah Kliff]
  • Despite the GOP’s public defeat, on Sunday President Trump insisted on Twitter that “talks on Repealing and Replacing ObamaCare are, and have been, going on, and will continue." [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan both shared vaguely optimistic sentiments today, but neither would give a timeline for this new effort. Meanwhile, Pence isn’t the only White House staffer to roll up his sleeves — budget director Mick Mulvaney and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus went to Capitol Hill yesterday to talk health care too. [Washington Post / Mike DeBonis, John Wagner, Sean Sullivan]
  • No concrete policy proposal, let alone a bill, has emerged from these discussions, but the Freedom Caucus has made it clear that they want to repeal both the essential health benefits package and the community rating requirement components of Obamacare. Winning over Freedom Caucus members will be critical for Trump’s health care proposal. [Vox / Sarah Kliff]
  • But together, these two asks could, as the New York Times’s Margot Sanger-Katz argues, have the effect of undermining coverage for preexisting conditions. [New York Times / Margot Sanger-Katz]
  • Meanwhile, the push for single-payer health care continues to gain steam in Democratic circles. [CNN / Eric Bradner]
  • And interestingly, fans of single-payer cannot be found only on the left. Trump’s alt-right supporters are for it too. [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer thinks it might win the day if Republicans can’t sell Americans on a market-based health care system — and if Trump, “reading the zeitgeist,” realizes that single-payer is his best path to victory. [Washington Post / Charles Krauthammher​]

Miscellaneous

  • How Mongolia became one of the best places in the world to die. [Mosaic / Andrew North]
  • The US House of Representatives has gone out of its way to allow hunters to kill hibernating bears in their sleep. [Humane Society / Wayne Pacelle]
  • The Dionne quintuplets spent their childhoods exhibited in a human zoo in Ontario. Now, 83 years later, the two surviving sisters are still fighting to be treated with respect. [NYT / Ian Austen]
  • Criminal defendants are entitled to a lawyer. Deportees are not. And when ICE transports them from detention center to detention center without warning, even lawyers hired to represent them have trouble finding out where they are. [Slate / Dan Canon]
  • Liberals and conservatives have very different book purchasing patterns, but the one thing they can agree on is that dinosaurs rule. [The Guardian / Ian Sample]

Verbatim

  • “My job is basically like running a record label, except this record label also happens to sell chicken.” [Steve Lillywhite to NYT / Jon Regen]
  • “Nevertheless, the family wanted to honor his wish. Which left them with an awkward question, in their grief: How do you turn a loved one into a skeleton?” [New Yorker / Lizzie Widdicombe]
  • “We’re here to help people, and if we’re not helping people, we should go the fuck home.” [Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to NY Mag / Rebecca Traister]
  • “If you like dogs and toxic masculinity, you may be familiar with Big Dogs Sportswear.” [The Awl / Rebecca McCarthy]
  • “The percentage of global GDP which is held in relatively non-free countries, such as China, has been rising relative to the share of global GDP held in the freer countries. I suspect we are underrating the noxious effects of that development.” [Cato Online Forum / Tyler Cowen]

Watch this: What people miss about the gender wage gap

It's more complex than women earning 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. [Vox / Sarah Kliff, Liz Scheltens, Gina Barton]


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