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Senate panel approves Nikki Haley nomination to U.N.

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The Latest on activities in Congress (all times EST):

12:25 p.m.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has overwhelmingly approved South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley‘s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

By voice vote, the panel recommended President Donald Trump‘s selection of Haley to the full Senate. She is expected to be confirmed easily.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, backed Haley’s nomination. Cardin says what Haley lacks in foreign policy experience, “she makes up for in capability, intelligence, and a track record of building coalitions in South Carolina.”

During her confirmation hearing, Haley declared her support for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The shift may trigger increased violence in the Middle East.

Haley also took a hard line against Russia. She says she doesn’t think Moscow can be trusted right now.

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12:20 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s pick for health secretary is adamant that the new administration will protect people with pre-existing medical problems even as it moves to repeal the Obama-era law prohibiting insurance discrimination.

Georgia Rep. Tom Price told the Senate Finance Committee that “we need to make sure nobody loses their insurance or is unable to gain insurance because of pre-existing conditions.” Price was being questioned by Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

But the way Republicans would go about guaranteeing coverage could be very different. They are looking at special “high-risk” insurance pools as a last resort for people who can’t get coverage otherwise. That hasn’t worked well in the past, providing costly coverage to a limited number of people.

Price said “nobody ought to be priced out of the market for having a bad diagnosis.”

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12:15 p.m.

Health care plan? What health care plan?

Laughter erupted during a tense Senate confirmation hearing when Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, asked President Donald Trump’s health nominee if it’s true that the new administration is close to having a final health care plan — as Trump himself has hinted.

“It’s true that he said that, yes,” responded Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who’s been picked by Trump to run the Health and Human Services department. Trump and congressional Republicans have committed to repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, but they haven’t provided details on how that can be done without harming millions who’ve gained coverage.

Price said he has had conversations with Trump about health care policy. And Brown didn’t press him for more details.

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11:52 a.m.

Health secretary nominee Tom Price says science shows that vaccines do not cause autism. That’s a position that goes against views espoused by President Donald Trump, who has voiced skepticism about vaccine safety.

Price’s comments Tuesday came in response to questions by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., at a Finance Committee hearing on his nomination.

Price also disputed claims that abortion leads to breast cancer. He said the science is relatively clear that it does not.

If confirmed to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Price pledged to make certain that factual information, validated by science, is provided to the public. Under the umbrella of HHS are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

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11: 45 a.m.

Donald Trump’s pick to head the White House budget office says Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid need significant changes to be preserved for future generations.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney‘s testimony before Congress stands in sharp contrast to Trump’s campaign promises not to cut the programs. Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, said he wouldn’t propose to cut Social Security or Medicare benefits for people already receiving them.

But, he said, younger workers should expect to work longer than their parents. He also said Medicare should be means tested, which means benefits would be limited for wealthy retirees. They already pay higher premiums.

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11:25 a.m.

President Donald’s Trump’s pick for budget director says he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a babysitter because he did not consider her a household employee.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney said, “We made a mistake.” The South Carolina Republican said his wife had triplets in 2000 and they hired a babysitter. She worked for the family for four years but, Mulvaney said, she did not live with them.

Mulvaney said he didn’t realize that he should have paid the taxes until he was preparing for the nominating process. He said he has since paid the taxes.

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11:20 a.m.

Rep. Tom Price — President Donald Trump’s nominee for health secretary — is defending his decision to invest in health care companies as a powerful member of Congress.

Price’s nomination hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee quickly turned testy.

Top Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon questioned Price about his investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian drug company trying to develop a treatment for multiple sclerosis. A fellow Republican congressman is a board member and a major stockholder.

Finance committee staffers found that Price undervalued around 400,000 shares of Innate stock he purchased last August. He reported the shares were worth $50,000 to $100,000, but those shares were worth up to $250,000.

Price blamed a “clerical error” and answered “no” when Wyden asked if he’d used poor judgment.

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11:10 a.m.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee has unanimously approved President Donald Trump’s nominee for housing secretary, Ben Carson.

The former Republican presidential candidate and celebrated neurosurgeon would lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a sprawling agency with 8,300 employees and a budget of about $47 billion. His nomination now heads to the full Senate.

Committee Chairman Michael Crapo of Idaho praised Carson and his impressive career, saying HUD “will benefit from having a secretary with a different perspective and a diverse background.”

Ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown said he had some reservations but welcomed Carson’s promises to address lead hazards in public housing.

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11:10 a.m.

Former wrestling entertainment executive Linda McMahon is emphasizing her experience in building a business from scratch as she seeks to become the next administrator of the Small Business Administration.

McMahon says in a confirmation hearing Tuesday that she and her husband started out sharing a desk and went on to build a company with more than 800 employees.

She also notes that she and her husband once declared bankruptcy and lost their home, saying “I know what it’s like to take a hit.”

McMahon resigned from WWE in 2009 before running unsuccessfully on two occasions for the U.S. Senate.

She spent about $100 million of her own money in those races and was a big contributor to political action committees seeking to help Donald Trump in November’s election.

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11:00 a.m.

President Donald Trump has invited the Senate leadership to the White House to discuss the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

That’s the word from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican said Tuesday that he, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the leaders of the Judiciary Committee would meet with Trump on Tuesday afternoon.

The court has had one vacancy since last February when Justice Antonin Scalia died. McConnell and Republicans refused to consider former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

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10:55 a.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders says President Donald Trump’s nominee for budget director should be disqualified because he failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household worker more than a decade ago.

Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. The committee held a confirmation hearing Tuesday on Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.

Sanders noted that Mulvaney voted for a bill in 2015 that would disqualify people with serious tax delinquencies from being federal employees.

Mulvaney said he discovered the unpaid taxes while preparing for the nominating process. He has since paid the taxes.

Unpaid taxes have derailed some previous Cabinet picks, but others were confirmed anyway. Mulvaney’s tax problem is unlikely to derail his nomination if Republicans remain united behind him.

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10:50 a.m.

A Senate panel has easily approved the nomination of Elaine Chao to lead the Transportation Department.

Chao was labor secretary in President George W. Bush‘s administration and deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush. She is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and was known to many senators before President Donald Trump tapped her for his Cabinet.

Chao told senators during a hearing on her nomination this month that she hopes to “unleash the potential” of private investors to boost infrastructure spending.

She is expected to play a major role in Trump’s effort to fulfill his campaign promise to generate $1 trillion in infrastructure investment. The administration is expected to release its infrastructure plan this spring.

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10:45 a.m.

A Senate panel has approved President Donald Trump’s choice of conservative billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to lead the Commerce Department.

Ross has specialized in buying distressed companies that still have a potential for delivering profits. He has known Trump for more than 20 years, was an early supporter of his presidential campaign and an economic policy adviser to Trump’s team.

The Senate commerce committee approved his nomination by a voice vote. The full Senate must still vote on the nomination.

Ross has been a critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, which he blames for a loss of U.S. jobs. He has also accused China of protectionist policies.

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10:35 a.m.

The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee has forced a one-week delay in the committee vote on attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein says one reason she asked for the delay until Jan. 31 is because of women who marched in Washington and other locations on Saturday. Feinstein said the women want equal rights and pay, rights for workers and protections for the environment.

“It is these principles, these values that the attorney general must defend,” Feinstein said at a committee meeting Tuesday.

She said “we owe it to” those women to be careful in considering the nomination.

Feinstein said the committee received 188 pages of new material Sunday that need to be reviewed. Committee rules allow any member of the committee to delay a vote.

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10:20 a.m.

Breaking with President Donald Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan says he has seen no evidence that 3 million to 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally voted last November and cost the Republican the popular vote.

Ryan told reporters on Tuesday: “I’ve already commented on that I’ve seen no evidence to that effect.”

His comments came hours after Trump incorrectly claimed at a White House reception with congressional leaders, including Ryan, that he lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton because of the vote by those here illegally.

That’s according to a Democratic aide familiar with the exchange who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim.

Another Republican, Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, said Trump needs to move on. “The election is over,” Dent said, and Trump “won fair and square.” Trump needs to “get to the serious business of governing,” Dent said.

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10:05 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has invited President Donald Trump to address a Joint Session of Congress on Feb. 28.

Ryan announced the invitation on Tuesday, informing reporters after a meeting with House Republicans. Ryan had met with Trump Monday night at the White House. Trump also met with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders on Monday.

Trump was sworn in as the 45th president on Friday. It would be his first speech to Congress.

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10 a.m.

Congressional analysts are projecting that President Donald Trump has inherited a stable economy and a government that is on track to run a $559 billion budget deficit for the ongoing budget year.

The new estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office also say the economy will hold relatively steady. Economic growth is projected to rise slightly to 2.3 percent this year and unemployment to average less than 5 percent for the duration of Trump’s term.

The latest CBO figures are in line with previous projections. They come as Trump and Republicans controlling Congress are working to repeal much of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, boost the Pentagon budget, and reform the loophole-cluttered tax code.

Balancing the budget would require cuts to domestic agencies and big health programs like Medicare.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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