Michelle Obama just went off on Donald Trump

At a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia Sept. 28, first lady Michelle Obama attacked Clinton’s opponent for his temper, his remarks about women and his questions about her husband’s birth certificate. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

Ever since her much-lauded speech at the Democratic National Convention, I’ve been waiting to see when and where first lady Michelle Obama would make her presence — and her popularity — known in the fall campaign for president.

Today looks to be that day. Obama was campaigning in Philadelphia — at La Salle University to be exact — when she absolutely let loose on Donald Trump and his long-running birther insinuations about her husband.

Just in case that’s too small for you to read, there are two key passages in Obama’s remarks above. (You can watch Michelle Obama’s speech here.)

The first deals with Trump’s five-year long quest to prove President Obama was not born in the United States, a quest he kind-of-sort-of abandoned last week with a single sentence declaration of Obama’s citizenship at the end of an event with military veterans. Michelle Obama described Trump’s birther campaign this way: “Hurtful, deceitful questions deliberately designed to undermine his presidency, questions that cannot be blamed on others or swept under the rug by an insincere sentence uttered at a press conference.”

The other covers her assessment of Trump’s words and deeds — and what they tell us about the sort of president he would be. “If a candidate is erratic and threatening, if a candidate traffics in prejudice, fears and lies on the campaign trail, if a candidate thinks that not paying taxes makes you smart, or that it’s good business when people lose their homes. If a candidate regularly and flippantly makes cruel and insulting comments about women, about how we look and how we act, well, sadly, that’s who that candidate really is.”

There’s not a lot of holding back there on the part of the first lady. That is an unvarnished stripping of the bark off of Donald Trump in a way her husband — by dint of the fact he is still the sitting president of the United States — can simply not do.

That Michelle Obama said it is interesting. Where she said it is even more telling.

This is Philadelphia and the Philadelphia media market. Yes, it is home to a large African American community but Obama’s words will also be heard — whether in person or on the local news — by suburban white women in Montgomery, Delaware and Chester counties. Michelle Obama is a hugely popular figure generally speaking (in an August Gallup poll 64 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of her) but she is particularly popular among women. In a post-Democratic convention Fox News poll, 54 percent of women said they felt strongly favorably toward Obama with another 13 percent saying they felt somewhat favorably.

Between Trump’s string of negative comments about women — comments the Clinton campaign has documented in a series of TV ads — and his current fight with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, Michelle Obama’s harsh words for the Republican nominee could take an already difficult situation for him and make it that much worse.

The decision to deploy her at this exact moment — and for her to go after Trump so hard in this speech — speaks to the careful strategy of the Clinton campaign as it seeks to make the case to women that Trump is totally unacceptable. If Clinton wins, she’ll owe Michelle Obama a very big “thank you.”

Federal employee health premiums to rise 6.2 percent on average

The enrollee share of premiums in the health-care program for federal employees and retirees will rise 6.2 percent on average in 2017, an increase about in line with the general trend for employer-sponsored health insurance, the government announced Wednesday.

The announcement of premium rates in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program comes in advance of an annual open season, which this year will run Nov. 14-Dec. 12, when enrollees may change plans or change types of enrollment for the following year. Also, employees who are not currently enrolled may join the program, although retirees generally may not newly join.

The increase in premiums overall averages 4.4 percent, but because of the way the formula works for setting the government and enrollee shares, the enrollee share on average is increasing by more than the government share. The government pays about 70 percent of the total premium and enrollee pays the rest; the U.S. Postal Service pays a somewhat larger share for its employees, although not for its retirees.

“We are at the lower end of what is being experienced around the country,” Office of Personnel Management director of health care and insurance John O’Brien said at a briefing for reporters. OPM said that two outside assessments project increases of 6 to 6.5 percent in private-sector plans.

The FEHBP, the largest employer-sponsored health insurance program in the country, is open to almost all federal employees, while federal retirees can continue coverage if they were covered for the five years before retiring.

About 4 million people, roughly evenly split between active employees and retirees, are enrolled, and about an equal number of family members — spouses and children under  26, with no cutoff for disabled children — have coverage through those enrollments.

The increases in non-postal employee premiums break down to an average of 6 percent for self-only coverage, 5.4 percent for self-plus-one and 6.6 percent for self-and-family coverage. In dollar terms, that’s an average of $5.27, $10.32 and $12.97 biweekly. Retirees pay premiums at the same level, although on a monthly basis; also, unlike active employees retirees may not pay premiums on a pre-tax basis.

Within the averages there is a wide range of costs and changes in premiums among the plans, a few of which are holding their rates virtually steady or even decreasing them slightly. A total of 245 plans will participate in 2017, 15 of them available nationally, with the rest being health maintenance organization type plans available regionally.

In the Washington, D.C., area, a total of 31 plans will be available, officials said.

Rates for non-postal enrollees in the largest plan, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield standard option, will rise by $5.81 to $105.99 biweekly for self-only coverage, by $9.46 to $240.77 for self-plus-one and by $15.99 to $254.23 for family coverage.

The Blue Cross standard option accounts for about 40 percent of all enrollments, while a lower-cost Blue Cross option accounts for another 24 percent.

As in past years, officials attributed the rise largely to increasing prescription drug costs, which make up about a quarter of the total costs in the program, general inflation  and the aging of the covered population.

Full details of each plan’s terms will be in brochures to be released just ahead of the election period. Blue Cross announced Wednesday that it will increase the financial incentives for its enrollees who have diabetes to get a health assessment and monitor and control their blood sugar levels.

The most significant change program-wide will be a standard requirement to cover applied behavior analysis for children on the autism spectrum. Some plans already provide that coverage, but terms vary.

The enrollee share of premiums rose 7.4 percent on average for 2016, following four years of increases in the 4 percent range — what OPM officials called the longest stretch of increases that small on average over six years in the program’s history.

However, several organizations representing federal employees and retirees decried the latest increase.

“Like most other Americans, federal employees and retirees have seen their standard of living decline due to stagnant incomes and cost increases for basic goods and services,” American Federation of Government Employees president J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. “This is an unacceptably high increase that will force many families to make difficult decisions about how to pay their bills.”

“While the increases in FEHBP premiums for 2017 are relatively modest, they add to already skyrocketing costs incurred by federal retirees,” said National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association president Richard G. Thissen.

Federal employees are in line for a raise averaging 1.6 percent, varying somewhat by location, in January. Federal retirees will learn in late October about a January cost-of-living adjustment to their benefits; with one month to go, the inflation count used in that calculation stands at below 1 percent.

OPM officials added that many enrollees with only one eligible family member could benefit by switching from family coverage to self-plus-one, an option introduced into the program last fall for this year. They estimate that 1 million FEHBP enrollees have just one eligible family member, but about half of them are still in the generally more expensive family coverage.

“We’re hoping that those who have not looked at self-plus-one will consider it,” O’Brien said.

However, in about 40 plans, which account for about 5 percent of enrollments, self-plus-one is more expensive than family coverage. That’s largely due to the overall higher cost of insuring the relatively high percentage of retirees and older employee couples with no eligible children who are most likely to choose self-plus-one, officials said.

The open season also is the annual opportunity to join or change options in a separate program, the Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program. That program offers federal employees and retirees the choice of a smaller number of vision and/or dental coverage plans with no government subsidy. Rates are increasing 1.9 percent on average for dental plans and 6.3 percent on average for vision plans.

In both the FEHBP and FEDVIP programs, coverage continues year-to-year, subject to the new premium rates and benefits, unless the enrollee makes a change.

However, a new election is required each open season in the separate flexible spending account program, which allows active employees, although not retirees, to set aside money pre-tax to pay for certain health care and dependent care expenses. The 2017 maximums will remain $2,550 and $5,000 respectively, OPM said.

The announcement comes just ahead of the close of election periods for the two other government-sponsored insurance programs for federal employees and retirees.

In the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance program, active employees can newly enroll or increase existing coverage during an open season ending Friday. Open seasons in that program are rare and such changes otherwise can be made only after experiencing certain life events or on passing a medical exam.

Also, an “enrollee decision period” ends Friday in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program. That offers enrollees facing premium increases in November averaging 83 percent to restructure their benefits — for example reducing inflation protection — to soften or eliminate the increase. Most of those affected also can invoke a paid-up provision allowing them to stop paying premiums while remaining eligible for a benefit, although a much-reduced one.

Michelle Obama slams Trump for trafficking in ‘fears and lies’ and insulting women

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PHILADELPHIA — Michelle Obama tore into Donald Trump on Wednesday, criticizing him for “erratic and threatening” behavior that would put the country at risk. Never mentioning Trump by name, she said the Republican presidential nominee “traffics in prejudice, fears and lies” and routinely insults women.

At a campaign rally for Hillary Clinton at La Salle University, Obama told a diverse audience of 3,600 cheering students and supporters that Clinton is “clearly the only person in this race who has any idea what this job takes.”

What the country needs, Obama said, is “an adult in the White House.”

[Michelle Obama delivers a passionate defense of Hillary Clinton]

Obama’s mission in Pennsylvania — she spoke later Wednesday at the University of Pittsburgh — was to energize young voters considered critical to Clinton’s effort in a traditionally Democratic state where Trump has made gains in recent weeks.

Acknowledging surveys that show many millennials uninspired by either of the two major party candidates, Obama urged them not to choose a third-party candidate or stay home “out of frustration.” She said the stakes are “far too high” to risk a Clinton defeat.

“Here is the truth,” Obama said, “either Hillary Clinton or her opponent will be elected president this year. And if you vote for someone other than Hillary or if you don’t vote at all, you are helping to elect Hillary’s opponent.”

She added, “Remember, it is not about voting for the perfect candidate. There is no such person.”

The Clinton campaign is hoping to leverage Obama’s carefully cultivated connections with young audiences, a role that Obama played for her husband in 2012, when she traveled to college campuses, sometimes even leading students to early-voting booths to cast ballots.

Obama, who will be traveling to battleground states in the six weeks before the election, also appeared in her first video ad for Clinton, released Wednesday. In the 30-second spot, she said, “Our children watch everything we do….Hillary will be a president our kids can look up to.”

In Philadelphia, Obama concentrated on what she described as character and values, drawing a sharp contrast between the New York businessman and his rival, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady. “Very different candidates with very different visions,” she said.

[As Clinton builds on a strong debate, Trump lobs attacks and complaints]

She spoke explicitly about statements Trump made during Monday’s contentious debate, watched by an estimated 84 million people. Riffing on her 2012 remark that the presidency “doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are,” Obama said the same is true of a presidential campaign. Trump, she said, stands unmasked.

“If a candidate thinks that not paying taxes makes you smart, or thinks that it’s good business when people lose their homes; if a candidate regularly and flippantly makes cruel and insulting comments about women, about how we look, about how we act, well, sadly, that’s who that candidate really is.”

[Trump stumbles into Clinton’s trap by feuding with Latina beauty queen]

Obama took strong exception to Trump’s brief Sept. 16 press conference, where he finally acknowledged that Barack Obama was born in the United States. Although the Obama campaign released the candidate’s birth certificate in 2008 and the Honolulu Advertiser reported his birth in a standard newspaper announcement in August 1961, Trump tried to raise doubts.

[Trump admits Obama was born in U.S., but falsely blames Clinton for starting rumors]

Trump persisted for years, even after Hawaiian officials released Obama’s long-form birth certificate in 2011. At his news conference and later, Trump falsely blamed the birther movement on Hillary Clinton and her advisers.

Obama told the audience here that her husband had faced “hurtful, deceitful questions deliberately designed to undermine his presidency. Questions that cannot be blamed on others or swept under the rug by an insincere sentence uttered at a press conference.”

To Obama’s left on Wednesday, in large white cut-out letters against a black curtain stage were the words, “When they go low, we go high.” The line has become something of an Obama family motto, adopted years ago in the face of harsh attacks.

Clinton invoked it during Monday night’s presidential debate, and Obama did again on Wednesday. She spoke up for Clinton, saying that she is the one candidate prepared for “the highest-stakes, most 24/7 job you can possibly imagine.”

Kerry warns of ‘serious consequences’ if U.S. backs away from TPP trade pact

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Secretary of State John F. Kerry sought to raise the stakes Wednesday in the debate over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, warning that U.S. leadership and credibility in Asia would be severely damaged if Congress fails to approve the largest regional trade accord in history.

The fate of the 12-nation pact, known as the TPP, will go a long way toward determining “whether the United States of America is an Asia-Pacific power or whether we are not — and the ‘not’ carries with it serious consequences,” Kerry said in a speech at the Wilson Center.

Kerry’s impassioned defense of the agreement came two days after the two major-party nominees for president, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, criticized the impact of multilateral trade pacts on American workers and denounced the TPP in a nationally televised debate.

[Trump, Clinton target trade deals at a time when globalization is stalling]

Though polls show that a majority of Americans favor international free trade, widespread skepticism in manufacturing-heavy swing states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, has put the future of one of President Obama’s top economic priorities in doubt. Republican leaders in Congress have said it is unlikely that the pact would be considered for a ratification vote before Obama leaves office in January.

Kerry called on lawmakers to approve the deal in an expected brief lame-duck congressional session after the Nov. 8 elections. Without naming Trump or Clinton, he said that trade skeptics who have warned of economic “doom and gloom . . . have consistently been proven wrong.”

The secretary cast the trade accord as a crucial strategic initiative underpinning the Obama administration’s attempt to “rebalance” U.S. foreign policy away from the Middle East and Europe and toward greater attention on Asia.

The Obama administration spent five years negotiating the deal, which covers countries that account for about 36 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. The pact includes advanced economies such as Japan, Canada and Singapore as well as some of the world’s least developed, such as Malaysia and Vietnam.

“We can’t withdraw from the TPP and still be viewed as a central player in the Pacific Rim and an undisputed force for peace and prosperity across the globe,” Kerry said. “Our partners worldwide need to know they can always look to us for principled leadership, with no uncertainty and no doubt.”

The TPP is a sprawling, 30-chapter accord that addresses tariff reductions for agriculture and automobiles, as well as intellectual-property rights for movies and pharmaceutical drugs, the free flow of information on the Internet, wildlife conservation, online commerce and dispute settlement practices for multinational corporations.

The debate over trade has become central to the 2016 campaign. Trump’s opposition to the TPP has muted support among GOP leaders who had overwhelmingly backed legislation last year that granted Obama greater trade powers. Trump blames past trade deals for obliterating the U.S. manufacturing industry.

Clinton had been a forceful advocate for the deal while serving as secretary of state in Obama’s first term. But she reversed her position during a hard-fought Democratic primary campaign against Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who has vehemently opposed free-trade pacts.

During the debate Monday, Trump noted that Clinton had referred to the TPP as the “gold standard” of trade deals while serving in the State Department. Clinton responded that she had raised concerns over the deal in her book, “Hard Choices,” which was published after she left office, and formally renounced the pact after the final terms were announced last fall.

“Is it President Obama’s fault?” Trump asked her. “Because he’s pushing it.”

The administration has vowed to continue lobbying Congress, and Kerry’s speech was the latest in a coordinated campaign to promote the deal. Obama met with a bipartisan group of political and business leaders in the Oval Office to talk about the merits of the TPP two weeks ago.

On Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman published an editorial in the Houston Chronicle warning that the United States risked ceding ground to China. Although China is not a member of the TPP, Beijing is negotiating a separate regional trade pact in Asia that does not include the United States.

“If Congress delays, China will be all too glad to fill the vacuum and even our closest allies will feel the need to move on,” Froman wrote.

U.S. to Send 600 More Troops to Iraq to Help Retake Mosul From ISIS

WASHINGTON — President Obama has authorized sending an additional 600 American troops to Iraq to assist Iraqi forces in the looming battle to take back the city of Mosul from the Islamic State, United States officials said on Wednesday.

The announcement means that there will soon be 5,000 American troops in Iraq, seven years after the Obama administration withdrew all American troops from the country. Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has criticized both Mr. Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, for that decision.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, traveling in New Mexico, said the additional troops would help with logistics as well as providing intelligence for Iraqi security forces in the fight for Mosul. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that Iraqi forces would be ready to retake the city by early October.

“These are military forces that will be deployed to intensify the strategy that’s in place, to support Iraqi forces as they prepare for an offensive,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday.

Administration officials insisted that the deployment was consistent with Mr. Obama’s policy not to commit American ground forces again in Iraq. Mr. Obama, who vowed to end the Iraq war in his 2008 presidential campaign, has been wary of increasing the number of American troops there. The officials said the Americans would be there to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces, who they said were leading the operations to retake the Islamic State’s remaining territory.

Mrs. Clinton said at an NBC News forum on national security this month that she would not put ground troops in Iraq “ever again.” Mr. Trump said in March that he would deploy up to 30,000 American troops in the Middle East to defeat the Islamic State.

3 Hurt in Shooting at South Carolina Elementary School

Three people were injured in a shooting at a South Carolina elementary school on Wednesday.

Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Sheila Cole said a shooting was reported at Townville Elementary School in Anderson County on Wednesday afternoon. Two students and one teacher were injured in the shooting. Police took a teenage suspect into custody.

The coroner said the student’s injuries do not appear to be life-threatening.

The school has been evacuated and students were taken to a nearby church.

Townville Elementary School is located near the Georgia border.