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Morning News Brief: Health Care Vote Delayed, New Ransomware Attack Spreads


The Senate is not the only place where the Republican-led health care bill lacks support.


Senate leaders delayed a vote on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. They're going to take more time to change the bill and hopefully get more support as a result. Maybe that's no surprise giving - given what their constituents have said about the bill.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll asked about the GOP plan. Fewer than 1 in 5 Americans who were surveyed approve of this bill. The independent analysts in Congress found the proposal would cut health insurance subsidies, raise deductibles and leave millions uninsured.

INSKEEP: So what do Republicans try now? NPR congressional correspondent Scott Horsley is here. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Actually, White House correspondent's probably a more proper job title for you, but anyway...

MARTIN: He does so many things.

INSKEEP: ...Good talk with you by whatever name - covers all, covers it all. Well, I guess Democrats found out eight years ago it's really hard to get people to agree to changes in health care. What are Republicans finding?

HORSLEY: Yeah, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, didn't have a large margin for error here. He was already seeing shaky support for this bill. And then on Monday, when those congressional forecasters at the Budget Office came out and said it would leave 22 million more Americans without insurance in a decade, the support really cratered. And he had to pull the bill.

INSKEEP: And it is remarkable why the analysts were saying that so many millions of people would lose health insurance, essentially that in many cases, you'd get lower premiums. You'd pay less for the insurance, but the deductibles would be so high, people would look at it, according to the analysts, and conclude that it wasn't worth it to even have insurance.

HORSLEY: That's right. About 7 million fewer people would be buying insurance on the individual market. And then about 15 million people - fewer people - would have insurance through the Medicaid program as that was the forecast...

INSKEEP: And we have a sense of it being unpopular from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. Now, this is an interesting piece of tape I want to play for you here, Scott Horsley. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raising this week a terrifying, terrifying prospect, negotiating with the other party. Let's listen.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Either Republicans will agree and change the status quo or the markets will continue to collapse, and we'll have to sit down with Senator Schumer. And my suspicion is that any negotiation with the Democrats would include none of the reforms that we would like to make, both on the market side and the Medicaid side.

INSKEEP: OK, two points - first, that would be remarkable, actually, if the two sides negotiated, wouldn't it? And the other question, though, Scott Horsley, is, is the Democratic view of health insurance any more popular than it was?

HORSLEY: (Laughter). There's kind of a pox on both your houses is what we're seeing in our poll, not much approval for either Republicans or Democrats in the way they're handling this. But certainly Senator McConnell is right. If it does come to a brokered deal with Democrats, they are not interested in seeing the kind of deep cuts to the Medicaid program that Republicans have been pushing for.

And they're not interested in the kind of deep changes to the individual market. That said, there are certainly fixes that could be done. And Congressional Budget - the Congressional Budget Office discounted the Republican argument that Obamacare is collapsing of its own weight...

MARTIN: You know...

HORSLEY: ...In fact, they said it would remain stable in most parts of the country.

MARTIN: What's interesting is that even Republicans will admit the Democrats have won the expectations game when it comes to health care, that the country has changed in seven years, that now Americans expect the benefits that were expanded under Obamacare. Really hard to take them away once you've given out those benefits.

INSKEEP: And it is. That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with y'all.


INSKEEP: OK. A cyberattack has hit tens of thousands of computers worldwide.

MARTIN: This attack is similar to the ransomware attack we saw hit companies last month. This all started in Ukraine. And it initially targeted government and business computer systems. Then it spread to companies all over the world. The American pharmaceutical company Merck got hit, the Danish shipping company Maersk, even a Cadbury chocolate factory in Australia had its data seized...


MARTIN: I know.

INSKEEP: But this is serious.

MARTIN: It is.

INSKEEP: NPR digital news desk reporter Bill Chappell has been following this story. Your computer's OK, Bill? You're doing all right?

BILL CHAPPELL, BYLINE: For now. It seems to be OK for now.

INSKEEP: OK, good. Is this over though, this attack?

CHAPPELL: It doesn't seem to be over. There's - we're still trying to figure out the scope of this. As you mentioned, it's similar to the attack that hit last month, which is the WannaCry attack. That kind of got its way into systems and kept spreading to over 100 countries in the world. This attack is still playing out. It's very tough to stop, and it spreads in slightly more advanced ways than WannaCry did.

INSKEEP: Why is it called WannaCry, by the way? Who's branding these attacks?

CHAPPELL: It's - I know. This one is called Petya...

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I'm sorry to laugh. This is serious. But OK, go on.

CHAPPELL: It's called Petya, and it actually uses part of another malware tool called Mimikatz, which sounds like a grandmother and cats, I know...

INSKEEP: But we don't know where these names are coming from, precisely...

CHAPPELL: Well, I mean, it's from a hacker community. I mean, this group, shadow - or group or person called Shadow Brokers put some of these out. They have different names that come out...

INSKEEP: And I want to understand this. I know that we use the word ransomware, which means the hackers steal your data, hold your data for ransom effectively. How do they do that? How do they get into computer systems?

CHAPPELL: Well, in this case, Microsoft is saying that this started with tax software in the Ukraine - is what they're...


MARTIN: Tax software?

CHAPPELL: That's what...

MARTIN: Like, how you pay your taxes?

CHAPPELL: That's what Microsoft has said in their latest bulletin about this, about what they see has happened, that they have seen signs of that. Somehow, that's what they - that's what...

INSKEEP: Someone infects the tax software. People download the tax software, and they are volunteering to get this virus in their computers...

CHAPPELL: And corporate clients of this tax company sort of enacted this, you know, triggered this software. It gets into computers and starts immediately going through networks looking for domain hosts, you know. It looks for powerful admin kind of rights all over the place, dumps passwords out and gets all the credentials it can.

And as it's doing that, it kind of just bides its time and then, after a certain random number of minutes, then it finally locks the files in the computer it's in. So it doesn't just hit the computer and say, you can't have these files anymore. It hits the computer and says, what are you hooked up to?

So people who had patched for WannaCry - patched their - almost the entire network last month - if they have one computer that's vulnerable, it wasn't patched. It gets in through that and then finds admin rights...

INSKEEP: Then it's behind the firewall.

CHAPPELL: ...And starts collecting permissions and credentials.

INSKEEP: Very useful to know that they can think, at least, that this is traceable to tax software. Can they trace it all the way back to the actual hacker, to the person responsible?

CHAPPELL: That's what we'll see. I mean, that hasn't happened yet with WannaCry. We were - we kept monitoring that. WannaCry even was blamed for hitting Australian traffic cameras a week or so ago. So it's still kind of bubbling out there somewhere, even though it had a full - like a kill switch that essentially stopped its spread.


MARTIN: All I can think is that's another reason to dread paying my taxes.

CHAPPELL: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Yeah. There you go. Exactly. Bill...

CHAPPELL: You can't win.

INSKEEP: ...Thanks very much. That's NPR's Bill Chappell. Really appreciate it.

CHAPPELL: Thanks guys.


INSKEEP: OK, we turn next to a crisis in a part of Nigeria that was already deeply troubled.

MARTIN: Northeastern Nigeria has struggled against the Islamist militant group Boko Haram for years. That group's fight for power has claimed about 20,000 lives. But the threat from Boko Haram could actually end up being smaller than the threat from hunger in that part of the world. This is how Peter Lundberg, the U.N.'s deputy humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, has described it.


PETER LUNDBERG: 5.2 million people are seriously food insecure. And currently there is about 1.4 million which are in a critical phase, which is basically one step away from a famine. There is about 450,000 children that are suffering from severe, acute malnutrition. And these are children that if we don't reach them, they will actually die.

INSKEEP: NPR Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is reporting from the city of Maiduguri, which is in northeast Nigeria. Ofeibea, what's it like there?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: It depends what time of the day, what time of the week. We flew in on Sunday, and that was Eid, the end of the Muslim Ramadan feast. Young children and adults dressed in all their finery as they celebrated. But that night, Boko Haram struck at least 10 people (inaudible).

This is a city and a region dealing with twin troubles. It has this hunger problem. The U.N. has warned of the risk of famine. And Boko Haram, although it has been driven back - it no longer holds territory, Steve - it is still able to strike in these deadly suicide bombings.

INSKEEP: You just described a feast of Eid to end the holy month of Ramadan, but in a place where people are hungry. Is this a situation where people might have that feast, but the next day or the next week, they're eating very little?

QUIST-ARCTON: Many, many people - you heard Peter Lundberg say that they're dealing with up to 7 million people in this region who are food insecure as the U.N. puts it, who don't have enough to eat. And they're talking about a period that is in - it's called the lean (ph) season - in between farming periods.

So many people, and especially many children, don't have enough to eat. But everybody here, the host community that has taken in - this city has more than a million displaced people, refugees within their own country, Steve. Everybody has made a very big effort to try and make Eid a happy period. But behind it, everybody knows that there are still troubles in northeastern Nigeria.

INSKEEP: And the security situation can't be made any better by this.

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely not. The military says it's doing enough. Many people feel they should be doing more. How come Boko Haram insurgents are able still to infiltrate? And the university was hit. They're building a trench, but will that work?

INSKEEP: Ofeibea, thanks very much.


QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in northeastern Nigeria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.