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Health care, Smollet and would you kiss the pope's ring?: The Morning Rundown

The lines have been drawn in the health care debate for 2020.
Image: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. leads an event to announce legislation to lower health care costs and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions, at the Capitol
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leads an event to announce House Democrats proposed health care legislation at the Capitol on Tuesday. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Good morning, NBC News readers.

The health care debate is back in the spotlight as Democrats and Republicans take polar opposite views on an issue that touches every American. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was taken to task by Congress — again — for proposed budget cuts to the Special Olympics. And to kiss the pope's ring or not? That is the question.

Here's what we're watching today.

Repeal v. repair: The health care debate that could define 2020

"The Republican Party will become 'The Party of Healthcare!'" President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday in the wake of his administration calling for the full dismantling of the Affordable Care Act.

Meantime, Democratic House leaders introduced a bill to expand Obamacare's benefits and tweak some features.

As the debate over the future of health care begins to take shape ahead of the presidential election, the differences have never been sharper, NBC News' Benjy Sarlin writes in an analysis.

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Top Chicago prosecutor takes heat for dropping Jussie Smollett charges

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx stunned Chicago — and the rest of the country — when her office announced Tuesday that it was dropping all charges against the "Empire" actor accused of staging a hate crime attack on himself.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel denounced the Smollett decision as a “whitewash of justice,” and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his department was blindsided by the move.

Betsy DeVos grilled over proposed cuts to Special Olympics funding

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos struggled before a congressional subcommittee to defend $7 billion in proposed cuts to education programs — including eliminating all $18 million in federal funding for the Special Olympics.

When Rep. Mark Pocan, D- Wis., asked whether she knew how many children would be affected by the cuts, DeVos said she did not know.

"It’s 272,000 kids that are affected, " Pocan replied.

The Trump administration's proposed education budget includes about $2 billion in cuts to Pell Grants on top of billions in reductions to about 30 other programs.

We'll see a fuller version of the Mueller report in 'weeks, not months'

Attorney General William Barr will make a version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report publicly available in weeks, not months, a Justice Department official and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Tuesday.

Meantime, former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing helped prompt the appointment of the special counsel, has spoken out for the first time since Barr released his summary of the report.

Comey said that he was confused by Mueller's decision to neither charge nor exonerate President Donald Trump on obstruction of justice.

"The part that's confusing is, I can't quite understand what's going on with the obstruction stuff," Comey told an audience of roughly 2,000 people at an event in Charlotte, N.C.

Lester Holt will have an exclusive one-on-one interview with Comey tonight on NBC Nightly News at 6:30 p.m. ET.


Leaving Venezuela: Walking to find a better life

Venezuela continues to struggle under the disputed rule of President Nicolas Maduro as hyperinflation, blackouts, and food shortages plague the country.

In response, some have chosen to leave the country — often on foot — to find a better life in neighboring Colombia.

THINK about it

Suicide after surviving mass trauma isn't inexplicable, writes psychotherapist F. Diane Barth. And there are ways to help.

Science + Tech = MACH

"Make another suit": Here's why NASA needs more space suits for women.


Here's why you're always running late — and how not to be.

Quote of the day

"I think that the Special Olympics is an awesome organization, one that is well supported by the philanthropic sector as well."

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defending proposed budget cuts that include eliminating all federal funding for the Special Olympics.

One curious thing

Video footage of Pope Francis repeatedly pulling his hand away as a long line of people try to kiss his ring has gone viral, sparking a debate in the long simmering culture wars between conservatives and progressives in the Roman Catholic Church.

Some see Francis' move as a dereliction of duty as the leader of the global church, while others consider it a refreshing move away from the regal trappings of the church.

The Vatican did not say why Francis was insistent on not having his ring kissed, but said he was "amused" by the attention.

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Thanks, Petra