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Americans feat they’ll lose coverage with Obamacare repeal: Poll

Though “Obamacare” still divides Americans, a majority worry that many will lose coverage if the 2010 law is repealed in the nation’s long-running political standoff over health care.

new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 56 percent of U.S. adults are “extremely” or “very” concerned that many will lose health insurance if the health overhaul is repealed. That includes more than 8 in 10 Democrats, nearly half of independents, and more than 1 in 5 Republicans. Another 45 percent of Republicans say they’re “somewhat” concerned.

“No one should go without health care for even a day,” said Wendy Narug of DeMotte, Indiana, a small town south of Gary. A political independent who leans Republican, Narug works caring for people with disabilities. She favors repealing the Affordable Care Act, but not until Congress and President Donald Trump have a replacement ready.

Released Friday, the poll serves as a reality check for Republicans as they try to find a path to repealing and replacing former President Barack Obama‘s signature legislation. It found that even as few Americans want to keep the health law in its current form, many provisions enjoy broad popularity. The exception: the law’s requirement that most Americans carry health insurance or face fines.

“They should come up with something that’s a little easier and more affordable for everyone,” said Narug. “Some people have to pay hundreds of dollars just to go to their doctors.”

The health law offers subsidized private insurance for those who don’t have job-based coverage, along with a state option to expand Medicaid for low-income people. About 20 million people have gained coverage since it passed. Employer coverage has also increased, but experts credit the law for the vast majority of the gains. Some 28 million people remain uninsured.

Trump has said he wants to replace “Obamacare” with a plan that provides insurance for everybody and lowers deductibles. But his pick for health secretary recently cast doubt on the notion that a Trump administration replacement is ready to go. Questions remained after Trump attended the GOP congressional retreat in Philadelphia this week.

Overall, Americans remain divided, with 53 percent wanting to keep the law in some form, and 46 percent favoring its repeal.

Most of those who favor repeal say that should happen only when a replacement is ready. And most of those who want to keep the law say changes are needed. Among those who favor keeping it, only 1 in 4 think it should remain unchanged.

“If the Affordable Care Act was affordable, I would have no problems with it,” said Kevin Wollersheim, a delivery truck driver from the Minneapolis suburb of Hopkins. “Costs were supposed to go down, or at least not go up at such a high rate.”

Wollersheim is uninsured and expects he’ll have to pay about $200 in fines at tax time for failing to comply with the law’s coverage requirement. He said he didn’t even bother to look this year because premiums on Minnesota’s individual insurance market jumped by 50 percent and more.

That coverage requirement – known as the individual mandate – is a top target for Trump and GOP lawmakers.

The poll found that only about 1 in 3 support it, while just over half are opposed. Among Republicans, opposition rises to nearly 3 in 4.

“Don’t fine people; just make it affordable,” said Madlyen Sharp, a retired factory worker from West Plains, Mo., near the Ozarks.

The requirement was modeled on one that former GOP Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts in 2006, designed to get healthy people into the insurance pool and help control premiums. At the federal level, it narrowly survived a Supreme Court challenge in 2012.

Although the Obama administration argued that the mandate was essential for stable insurance markets, the main insurance industry trade group recently told Congress there are other workable alternatives. Trump’s executive order on health care opened the way for broader “hardship” exemptions.

Other major provisions of the health care law fared far better in the poll. They included elimination of out-of-pocket costs for preventive care (favored by 77 percent), allowing young adults to stay on parental plans until age 26 (73 percent), forbidding insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health problems (69 percent), and the Medicaid expansion (66 percent). The first three are favored even by most of those who would get rid of the law.

Although Trump and other Republicans have made it seem like “repeal and replace” would be an easy matter, many Americans seem to question that.

“Obamacare” is like “a 1,500-foot battleship driving along,” said Michael Wolski of Lakeland, Fla., who administers a homeless shelter. “The infrastructure has already been changed. It’s already in place. (Trump) can’t just rescind it. And what’s he going to replace it with?”

The AP-NORC poll of 1,036 adults was conducted Jan. 12-16, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump rewards Michigan party chair with national role

President-elect Donald Trump wants Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel to be national party chairwoman, in part as a reward for the party carrying Michigan for the first time in 28 years.

The choice of McDaniel to serve as Republican National Committee chairwoman was confirmed Tuesday night by a person familiar with Trump’s decision. The person asked for anonymity because the announcement has not yet been made.

The niece of 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also earned credit with Trump by faithfully supporting him after he won the party’s 2016 nod, despite sharp criticism from her famous uncle.

“Ronna McDaniel, what a great job you and your people have done,” Trump told thousands at Deltaplex Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last Friday. “I was very impressed with you. She didn’t sleep for six months!”

Trump’s decision also marks a key victory for outgoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.

As Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff, Priebus, who guided the at times unwieldy Trump through the general election, supported McDaniel as his replacement. Other Trump loyalists were urging him to name Nick Ayers, a close adviser to Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

While Trump’s team has said there’s no outright power struggle, Trump’s deliberations over secretary of state were seen as an indicator of influence between Priebus and senior adviser Steve Bannon. Priebus was seen as supporting Mitt Romney to become Trump’s secretary of state. On Tuesday, Trump named Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his choice for the nation’s top diplomat.

McDaniel would seem to validate Priebus’ performance as the chairman who turned around the financially strapped committee and ended its presidential losing streak. McDaniel would probably maintain the strategy of early spending in states, digital data and local party infrastructure, RNC insiders said.

“They said a Republican could never win Michigan,” McDaniel told the audience in Grand Rapids Friday. “I knew better. You knew better and Donald Trump knew better.”

For her work in Michigan, part of a swath of northern states that had eluded Republicans since the 1980s, McDaniel is the right call, said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi. Trump defied decades of precedent by also carrying Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — once-powerful, working-class Democratic states where manufacturing in smaller cities has declined.

McDaniel, 43, would face immediate pressure to hold onto control of Congress in 2018.

“I think she can help us hold a lot of these Rust Belt Democrats who voted for Donald Trump with good leadership and execution,” said Barbour. “Plus, she was willing to step out and support our nominee when her very famous uncle was doing the opposite. Now, that’s leadership.”

Trump’s choices for RNC chairman and other party leadership positions carry immense sway with its members, who will vote on the team early next year.

Should the committee approve Trump’s recommendation, McDaniel would become the second woman to be elected RNC chairman, and the first in 40 years.

That’s a good sign for the party and Trump, said Michigan Republican Bob LaBrant, considering the 2005 recordings of Trump making sexually degrading remarks that were released during the campaign.

“That sends a signal we need to send right now,” said LaBrant, former political director for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “And Ronna is the right one to carry the message.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Donald Trump picks Rex Tillerson to lead State Department

President-elect Donald Trump announced Tuesday he has picked ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, calling him “among the most accomplished business leaders and international dealmakers in the world.”

“Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream. Through hard work, dedication and smart deal making, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies,” the billionaire real estate mogul said in a pre-dawn news release from Trump Tower in New York.

Tillerson “knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department,” Trump said. In a tweet, Trump added that Tillerson “has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments.”

In an accompanying statement, Tillerson said he was “honored” by his selection and shares Trump’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security.”

But Tillerson has close ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin, which is certain to draw scrutiny and fuel a potential Senate confirmation fight. Leading Republicans have already expressed anxieties as they contend with intelligence assessments saying Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election to help Trump.

Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will hold confirmation hearings in January, called Tillerson “a very impressive individual” with “an extraordinary working knowledge of the world.” Corker, who had been considered for the secretary of state job, said Trump called him Monday to inform him of the pick.

Reince Priebus, Trump’s incoming chief of staff, said Tuesday that Tillerson was chosen because he is “a diplomat that happens to be able to drill oil.” Tillerson has “had to maintain relationships across the world in many places that aren’t the easiest places to have relationships,” Priebus said on MSNBC.

“The good Lord didn’t put oil in all freedom-loving democracies across the world and yet Rex Tillerson was able to make this work. Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson, they hit it off, and they have a similar vision of how to get things done,” Priebus said.

Trump has made it clear he sees Tillerson’s deep relations with Moscow as a selling point. As ExxonMobil’s head, Tillerson maintained close ties with Russia and was awarded by President Vladimir Putin with the Order of Friendship in 2013, an honor for a foreign citizen.

For weeks, Trump has teased out the secretary of state decision process publicly, often exposing rifts in his organization. Besides Corker, he also considered former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a one-time vocal Trump critic. Romney wrote on Facebook Monday that it “was an honor to have been considered” for the job.

Trump’s unconventional Cabinet vetting procedures are in keeping with his presidential style thus far, unconcerned with tradition or business as usual. In recent weeks, he’s attacked CIA intelligence, spoken to the leader of Taiwan — irritating China — and has continued his late-night Twitter tirades.

Beijing is looking forward to working with the new secretary of state “to push forward greater progress of the bilateral relationship on a new starting point,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said Tuesday.

In Washington, a congressional investigation is in the works over a CIA assessment that Russia interfered in the November election on his behalf, a conclusion Trump has called “ridiculous.”

The issue is raising red flags among lawmakers concerned about the sanctity of the U.S. voting system and potentially straining relations at the start of Trump’s administration.

On Twitter Monday, Trump pushed back, saying: “Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and WE tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory!”

Putin, meanwhile, said he was ready to meet with Trump “at any moment.”

In the transcript of his interview with journalists which was released Tuesday in Moscow, Putin said “it’s widely known that the elected president of the United States has publicly called for the normalization of the Russian-American relationship. We cannot but support this.” Putin added that he thought a meeting with Trump would be more likely after Trump’s January inauguration.

“We understand it will not be a simple task considering the extent of degradation of the Russian-American relationship,” he said. “But we are prepared to do our bit.”

If confirmed, Tillerson would face immediate challenges in Syria, where a civil war rages on, and in China, given Trump’s recent suggestions that he could take a more aggressive approach to dealing with Beijing.

A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Tillerson came to ExxonMobil Corp. as a production engineer straight out of the University of Texas at Austin in 1975 and never left. Groomed for an executive position, Tillerson came up in the rough-and-tumble world of oil production, holding posts in the company’s central United States, Yemen and Russian operations.

Early in the company’s efforts to gain access to the Russian market, Tillerson cut a deal with state-owned Rosneft. The neglected post-Soviet company didn’t have a tremendous amount to offer, but Exxon partnered with it “to be on the same side of the table,” Tillerson said, according to “Private Empire,” an investigative history of Exxon by Steve Coll.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Pinellas County GOP head Nick DiCeglie to run for head of state chairs

After successfully leading his county to go red in last month’s presidential election, newly re-elected Pinellas County Republican Party Executive Committee Chairman Nick DiCigle is thinking ‘bigly’ for 2017. At next month’s state party meeting in Orlando, he intends to run for the Chairman’s Caucus Chairman, the leader of all 67 county GOP leaders from across the state.

“My goal – if successful – is to share what worked for us here in Pinellas County with the other chairmen in the state of Florida,” DiCeglie said last week in an interview at the Pinellas GOP’s offices in Clearwater last week.

Initially elected in 2014 and re-elected on Monday night, DiCigle says that unlike many other county chairs across the state, he has the luxury of being in a large county with a substantial donor base and other resources that he’s been able to adroitly tap into.

“I want to be able to share not on my successes and our successes here in the party, but to share those successes, so that collectively we can come together as a group of chairmen, (so) when these folks go back to their counties, they’re more knowledgeable, they’ve  learned something, and they can improve what their doing locally, that’s the ultimate goal,” DiCigle says.

The Long Island native has been active with the Pinellas Republican Party since 2009. After a stint as vice chair, he was elected chairman of the REC in 2014 when he defeated two other challengers to take the reigns of the local party. His biggest accomplishment to date was leading Pinellas to go red for Donald Trump in last month’s presidential election, a significant development in comparison to 2012, when Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by nearly ten percentage points in the county.

DiCeglie is aware that some of the migration to the local Republican party in 2016 emanated directly from those attracted to Trump, and that some of those voters don’t necessarily have that strong of an allegiance to the GOP. His goal is to make them want to stay in the party.

“I think this is an opportunity for Republicans,  and we have a responsibility as a local party as well to change minds, and as we change minds, and as things improve in this country, we’re going to be able to not only register Republicans as voters, we’re going to bypass the Dems by significant margins,” he says, adding that one of his goals over the next to years is to “identify, engage, communicate and motivate this new electorate.”

The next big thing in Pinellas when it comes to elections is the St. Petersburg Mayor’s race, taking place next November. And while Rick Kriseman has been struggling at City Hall regarding  his handling of the sewage crisis, he still doesn’t appear to be in danger for re-election unless Rick Baker were to leave the private sector and run for the job he held from 2000-2009.

DiCeglie acknowledges that the list of potential challengers to Kriseman begins with Baker, but says if he doesn’t pull the trigger “there are other Republicans that we’re going to be engaging, though he says he can’t say who those people are just yet. He grows impassioned when discussing what he says has been a distressing lack of leadership at City Hall.

The GOP leader scoffs at the idea that the mayoral race is nonpartisan. “Tell that to Rick Kriseman,” he says. “He made that race extremely partisan four years ago,” referring to the tens of thousands of dollars that the Florida Democratic Party contributed to his campaign in 2013.

“We certainly want to play a role,” he says about the municipal election, where four City Council seats will also be on the ballot. “We don’t know exactly what that’s going to be, but there’s a significant concern about the direction about the city of St Petersburg, and we’re firm believers that any leader of mayor, who focuses on limited government and fiscally conservative values is certainly better than what we’re seeing right now.”

Regarding the election for state party chair, DiCeglie is a Blaise Ingoglia man, but says he’s friends with his challenger, Sarasota state Committeeman Christian Ziegler. “They’re both great people, and either way, we’re going to have a very strong party coming into this next cycle, no question about it.”

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Chief of staff Reince Priebus? Some Donald Trump loyalists still dubious

When President-elect Donald Trump tapped Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, Republican leaders cheered the prospect of a close ally having a top White House job.

But as Priebus tries to wield his influence and bring more structure to the president-elect’s freewheeling political organization, he’s frustrating some longtime Trump allies who see him as too conventional a pick for an unconventional president. Others fear being left behind as Priebus fills out West Wing jobs.

The dismay over Priebus stems in part from a belief among some Trump loyalists that the outgoing Republican National Committee chairman expected Trump to lose the election. They resent the president-elect “rewarding people who thought he wasn’t going to win,” according to one top adviser.

Still, Priebus appears to have Trump’s trust. He’s been given wide authority to name senior White House staff, according to people involved in the transition, and in shaping the decision on who will succeed him at the RNC, though deliberations over that post continue.

“Reince Priebus has done an outstanding job,” Trump said in a statement to The Associated Press. “All you have to do is look at all of the Republican victories and one in particular.”

If Trump runs his White House like past presidents — and that’s hardly a sure thing — Priebus, 44, could hold enormous sway over what issues reach the Oval Office. Chiefs of staff also typically control who has access to the president — no easy task given Trump’s penchant for consulting a wide network of associates before making key decisions.

Priebus, a Wisconsin native and father of two young children, comes to the White House with no significant experience in foreign and domestic policy. He has close ties with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP congressional leaders. And he’s seen by those who have worked with him previously as a well-organized manager with little appetite for drama.

“One of the things he’ll bring to the White House is an ability to work well with people, to be inclusive, not to get in to intrastaff squabbles,” said Henry Barbour, an RNC member and Priebus ally.

Yet internal squabbling and competing factions are a hallmark of Trump’s political and business organizations. He cycled through three campaign managers during his White House run, with the feuds that led up to each shake-up playing out messily in the media.

In tapping Priebus as chief of staff, Trump appeared to be setting up another rivalry. He put Steve Bannon, the controversial conservative media executive, at the White House as a senior adviser and called him an equal partner with Priebus. Trump’s influential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also weighing a White House role, but will remain a personal power center even without a formal position.

Transition officials say Priebus and Bannon have a respectful relationship, and there’s no outright control struggle underway. But Trump’s deliberation over whom to name as secretary of state is seen as an indicator of a tug-of-war, with Bannon among those said to be against Mitt Romney. Priebus is seen as an advocate for Romney and was notably the only adviser who joined Trump for a private dinner with the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

Several Trump advisers described Priebus’ role only on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly about the chief of staff.

Josh Bolten, who served as President George W. Bush‘s final chief of staff, said he was concerned by the description of Bannon as Priebus’ equal. While presidents usually have multiple influential advisers, Bolten said, it’s imperative for the lines of authority to be clear.

“If that were to mean that there’s more than one chief of staff, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Bolten said.

Bolten is among several former chiefs of staff Priebus has consulted since the election. He’s spoken at least twice with Denis McDonough, President Barack Obama‘s chief of staff, as recently as last week.

Priebus was frequently by Trump’s side in the final weeks of the campaign. After the release of a videotape in which the businessman was heard bragging about predatory behavior with women, Priebus stood by Trump and made clear the RNC would not abandon the party’s nominee.

But some Trump advisers contend Priebus and the RNC believed he would lose the election. Indeed, on the Friday before Election Day, top party officials told reporters their data showed Trump falling short by about 30 electoral votes.

Some Trump advisers have also blamed Priebus for the messy spectacle around the president-elect’s interview with The New York Times. Trump accused the Times of changing the terms of the interview and tweeted that he would cancel. Then the Times said the terms had not changed, and the interview was back on.

One person involved in the situation said it was Priebus who incorrectly led Trump to believe the Times had changed the terms of the interview.

“No matter how loyal the overall collection of personalities is to the president, there are always internal rivalries and tugging and pulling,” said John Sununu, who served as chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush and has spoken with Priebus in recent weeks. “It’s up to the chief of staff to deal with all of that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Jon Hunstman Jr. in late running for secretary of state

President-elect Donald Trump, still mulling key Cabinet positions, attended a lavish costume party Saturday night hosted by some of his biggest donors at their palatial Long Island mansion.

Trump, who did not sport a costume, reveled with guests at the Mercer family estate for the annual Christmas party; the theme was “Villains and Heroes.” An invitation to the annual December party is a coveted ticket in Republican circles, never more so than this year. Several strategists who helped engineer Trump’s upset win were attending, including incoming White House senior counselor Stephen Bannon and senior aide Kellyanne Conway.

Both Conway and Bannon have close ties to Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. The younger Mercer became Trump’s leading and most influential donor and urged him to bring Bannon and Conway into the campaign in August.

Rebekah Mercer, who ran a pro-Trump Super PAC, had compared the electoral race between Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton to an “apocalyptic choice,” so the night’s “Villains and Heroes” theme was perhaps fitting.

Trump’s sojourn to the party was his only expedition on Saturday outside the Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name. He is expected to lie low the remainder of the weekend, before returning to transition meetings in New York on Monday and the next stop of his “thank you” tour in North Carolina on Tuesday.

Trump is also still mulling his choice to lead the State Department, one of the most powerful and prominent Cabinet positions.

According to two people close to the transition, Trump is moving away from two of the front-runners for the job, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee. Giuliani’s international business ties and public campaigning for the job are said to have rankled Trump. And while Trump has met twice with Romney, he’s said to be aware of the risks of angering his supporters by tapping a Republican who was among his fiercest critics.

Former CIA director David Petraeus is still in the mix, though both people close to the transition said Trump’s prolonged decision-making process has left the door open to other options.

One of the sources said Trump was open to expanding his short list of secretary of State prospects. Among the possibilities: Jon Huntsman, a former Republican Utah governor who also served as the ambassador to China and speaks Mandarin.

The people close to the transition insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private process publicly.

Trump also made no mention Saturday of his decision to speak on the phone with Taiwan’s leader, a breach of long-standing tradition that risks enmity from China.

Trump’s conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen drew an irritated, although understated, response from China, as Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that the contact was “just a small trick by Taiwan” that he believed would not change U.S. policy toward China, according to Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV.

Chinese officials said they lodged a complaint with the U.S. and reiterated a commitment to seeking “reunification” with the island, which they consider a renegade province.

After the phone conversation Friday, Trump tweeted that Tsai “CALLED ME.” He also groused about the reaction to the call: “Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump taps Tom Price to lead HHS, plans 2nd meeting with Mitt Romney

President-elect Donald Trump moved to fill out his Cabinet Tuesday, tapping Georgia Rep. Tom Price to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Aides signaled that at least one other Cabinet nomination was imminent.

The president-elect appeared to still be torn over his choice for secretary of state. He summoned former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to New York for dinner Tuesday night to discuss the post for a second time. He was also meeting with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who was getting new attention from Trump’s team. On Monday, Trump spent an hour with retired Gen. David Petraeus, another new contender.

Trump’s decision to consider Romney for the powerful Cabinet post has sparked an unusual public backlash from some of his closest aides and allies. Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has warned that it would be a “betrayal” to Trump supporters if he selected Romney, who was a fierce critic of the president-elect.

Three people close to the transition team said Trump was aware that Conway planned to voice her concerns about Romney in public and they pushed back at suggestions that the president-elect was angry at her for doing so.

Even as he weighed crucial Cabinet decisions, Trump appeared distracted by outside forces — or eager to create distractions himself. He took to Twitter early Tuesday to declare that “nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag.” He warned that those who do should face “perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

Trump offered no context for his message. The Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment.

The president-elect spent the weekend tweeting his opposition to a recount effort in up to three states that is led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton‘s team. He also falsely claimed that millions of people had voted illegally in the presidential election and provided no evidence to back up the baseless charge.

Trump won praise from Republicans Tuesday for his pick of Price to serve as health and human services secretary. A six-term congressman and orthopedic surgeon, Price has been a leading critic of President Barack Obama‘s health care law. If confirmed by the Senate, he’ll be a leading figure in Republican efforts to repeal the measure.

Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Price “has proven to be far out of the mainstream of what Americans want” for programs that help seniors, women, families and those with disabilities. His nomination, Schumer said, is “akin to asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Trump’s team also announced Tuesday that Seema Verma had been chosen to be administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Jason Miller, a transition team spokesman, said at least one other Cabinet post would be announced in the afternoon. He did not elaborate.

Transition aides said Trump was likely at least a few days away from a decision on secretary of state. Romney has supposed from Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition efforts.

Romney was fiercely critical of Trump throughout the campaign, including his preparedness for the foreign policy and national security decisions that confront a president. Still, he is said to be interested in serving in the administration and held a lengthy initial meeting with Romney before Thanksgiving.

Other top Trump allies, notably Conway, have launched a highly unusual public campaign against a Romney nomination. Conway’s comments stirred speculation that she is seeking either to force Trump’s hand or give him cover for ultimately passing over Romney.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a loyal Trump ally, was initially seen as the leading contender to helm the State Department. But questions about his overseas business dealings, as well as his public campaigning for the job, have given Trump pause.

Trump is now said to be considering Giuliani to head the Homeland Security Department, according to those close to the transition process.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Donald Trump drama rolls on: Disputes, falsehoods hit transition

The drama, disputes and falsehoods that permeated Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign are now roiling his transition to the White House, forcing aides to defend his baseless assertions of illegal voting and sending internal fights spilling into public.

On Monday, a recount effort, led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton‘s campaign also marched on in three states, based partly on the Stein campaign’s unsubstantiated assertion that cyberhacking could have interfered with electronic voting machines. Wisconsin officials approved plans to begin a recount as early as Thursday. Stein also asked for a recount in Pennsylvania and was expected to do the same in Michigan, where officials certified Trump’s victory Monday.

Trump has angrily denounced the recounts and now claims without evidence that he, not Clinton, would have won the popular vote if it hadn’t been for “millions of people who voted illegally.” On Twitter, he singled out Virginia, California and New Hampshire.

There has been no indication of widespread election tampering or voter fraud in those states or any others, and Trump aides struggled Monday to back up their boss’ claim.

Spokesman Jason Miller said illegal voting was “an issue of concern.” But the only evidence he raised was a 2014 news report and a study on voting irregularities conducted before the 2016 election.

Trump met Monday with candidates for top Cabinet posts, including retired Gen. David Petraeus, a new contender for secretary of state. Trump is to meet Tuesday with Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is also being considered more seriously for the diplomatic post, and Mitt Romney, who has become a symbol of the internal divisions agitating the transition team.

Petraeus said he spent about an hour with Trump, and he praised the president-elect for showing a “great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there.”

“Very good conversation and we’ll see where it goes from here,” he said. A former CIA chief, Petraeus pleaded guilty last year to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information relating to documents he had provided to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who is heading the transition effort, teased “a number of very important announcements tomorrow” as he exited Trump Tower Monday night.

Pence is said to be among those backing Romney for State. Romney was fiercely critical of Trump throughout the campaign but is interested in the Cabinet position, and they discussed it during a lengthy meeting earlier this month.

Other top Trump allies, notably campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, have launched a highly unusual public campaign to warn the president-elect that nominating Romney would be seen as a betrayal by his supporters. Conway’s comments stirred speculation that she is seeking to either force Trump’s hand or give him cover for ultimately passing over Romney.

Three people close to the transition team said Trump had been aware that Conway planned to voice her opinion, both on Twitter and in television interviews. They disputed reports that Trump was furious at her and suggested his decision to consider additional candidates instead highlighted her influence.

Conway served as Trump’s third campaign manager and largely succeeded in navigating the minefield of rivalries that ensnared other officials. Trump is said to have offered her a choice of White House jobs — either press secretary or communications director. But people with knowledge of Conway’s plans say she is more interested in serving as an outside political adviser, akin to the role President Barack Obama‘s campaign manager David Plouffe played following the 2008 election.

The wrangling over the State Department post appears to have slowed the announcements of other top jobs. Retired Gen. James Mattis, who impressed Trump during a pre-Thanksgiving meeting, was at the top of the list for Defense secretary, but a final decision had not been made.

Trump was also considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for Homeland Security secretary, according to those close to the transition process. Giuliani was initially the front-runner for State and is still in the mix. But questions about his overseas business dealings, as well as the mayor’s public campaigning for the job, have given Trump pause.

Those close to the transition insisted on anonymity in commenting because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the private process.

Even as Trump weighs major decisions that will shape his presidency, he’s been unable to avoid being distracted by the recount effort. He spent Sunday on a 12-hour Twitter offensive that included quoting Clinton’s concession speech, in which she said the public owed Trump “an open mind and the chance to lead.”

His final tweets challenging the integrity of an election he won were reminiscent of his repeated, unsubstantiated assertions during the campaign that the contest might be rigged. Those previous comments sparked an outcry from both Clinton and some Republicans.

Clinton lawyer Marc Elias said the campaign has seen “no actionable evidence” of voting anomalies. But the campaign still plans to be involved in Stein’s recount to ensure its interests are legally represented.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. All three would need to flip to Clinton to upend the Republican’s victory, and Clinton’s team says Trump has a larger edge in all three states than has ever been overcome in a presidential recount.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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In wake of loss to Donald Trump, Hillsborough County Democrats get surge of requests to join their party

At their first event since being devastated by the results of the presidential election, there was literally not enough room to contain the number of Democrats who showed up at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting in Ybor City Monday night. A second room adjoining the main boardroom at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County facility was opened to contain the overflow crowd.

“We’ve been inundated since the election,” said Ione Townsend, the chair of the Hillsborough County DEC.

Although officially only 14 people were sworn in as new members of the Executive Committee Monday, there were several dozen more people who were first-time visitors to a DEC meeting. Townsend said those 14 people had already completed applications in advance of the meeting. In addition, she said party officials received a “number” of completed applications on Monday, with other applications distributed to people in the last two weeks who weren’t in attendance at Monday’s meeting. A number of other people left the meeting taking an application form with them.

“There’s a great deal of disappointment in the national election with Hillary’s loss and the election of Trump,” she said about the interest over the past two weeks. “People are saying, ‘maybe I should have been more involved, I need to be involved.’ There were people who said ‘I sat this out and I shouldn’t have’ and, whatever their reasons are, we’re just glad that they want to be engaged.”

Although it wasn’t a perfect night by any stretch for Hillsborough Democrats, the county did vote strongly for Clinton. The voters also voted in support of all the constitutional officers on the ballot (such as Clerk of the Court Pat Frank, Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez) re-elected, as well as Andrew Warren defeating Mark Ober for state attorney.

Townsend is running for re-election to the party chair position on Dec. 5, and no one is challenging her. She was elected in January, after serving as vice-chair in the previous year.

One factor that certainly has helped the party is the fundraising prowess unleashed by Mark Hanissee, the former Pinellas County DEC chair who lost his bid for re-election there to Susan McGrath two years ago.

Under Hanissee, the Hillsborough Democrats have created two fundraising vehicles — one being the Hillsborough Society, created in 2015 by Alex Sink and Tucker/Hall co-founder Tom Hall. That group was able to raise $40,000 in the past year to help with get-out-the-vote efforts, including slate cards, digital media, phone banking, website upkeep, and social media.

Then there is their Victory Fund. Hannisee said when he was originally hired by the party in the fall of 2014, his goal was to bring in $200,000 by this past election to that fund. In fact, he said, they raised more than $309,000.

During the meeting, Townsend said the party also did a great job in registering voters. On April 30 the Democrats had 305,887 registered in Hillsborough County. They then registered 32,113 between May and Oct. 18, increasing their numbers to over 338,000.

“We actually delivered the vote for Hillary Clinton,” she said to cheers from the audience.

But obviously, Clinton’s loss in Florida was pivotal in the Democratic nominee’s failure to win the state’s 29 electoral votes. After the 2012 presidential election, when Barack Obama won re-election days before the final vote in Florida was counted (he ultimately defeated Mitt Romney here by less than one percentage point), Democrats’ attitude was that while Clinton could afford to lose Florida, Trump could not. Yet that was going by the old Electoral College map, which had states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin going for Clinton. They didn’t, however.

“We share your pain. We share your disappointment,” Townsend told the dozens of new members in the audience. “I encourage you to stay engaged. We can turn out more Democratic voters with more hands for sure.”

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Donald Trump auditions Cabinet prospects high above Manhattan

Donald Trump held court from his perch high above Manhattan on Monday, receiving a line of former rivals, longtime allies and TV executives while overseeing a presidential transition that at times resembles a reality show like the one he once hosted.

Trump met with nearly a dozen prospective hires, all of whom were paraded in front of the cameras set up in the Trump Tower lobby as they entered an elevator to see the president-elect. Out of public view himself, he fell back on his TV star roots by filming a video that touted his legislative goals once he takes office.

Trump; did not immediately announce any appointments after the meetings, which came on the heels of a two-day whirlwind of interviews at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Unlike his predecessors, who often spoke with Cabinet candidates under a cloud of secrecy, Trump has turned the search into a very public audition process. The extraordinary exercise took on a routine feel on Monday: First, former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown stepped off the gold-plated elevator into the marble-coated lobby after his meeting to declare to waiting reporters that he was “the best person” to become Veterans Affairs secretary.

Next, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a candidate for interior secretary, did much the same, striding off the lift to say she had “a wonderful discussion” with Trump. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry declined to speak to reporters, but he did take time for a photo with the Naked Cowboy, the underwear-sporting, guitar-strumming New York institution who is normally a fixture at Times Square but has spent recent days camped out at Trump Tower singing about the president-elect.

Democratic Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who resigned her post on the Democratic National Committee after endorsing Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, also met with Trump but entered and exited out of sight. She later defended crossing party lines to meet with Trump about U.S. involvement in Syria, saying in a statement she would never “play politics with American and Syrian lives.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump ally, also arrived with his wife, Callista, and told reporters that he indicated to Trump that he was interested in being a “senior planner” to coordinate long-term political efforts among the Republicans in control of all three branches of government.

Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said of the visitors, “Not all of them will be in his Cabinet and his federal government, but they are all incredibly important in offering their points of views, their experience and certainly their vision of the country.”

No one was saying whether Trump would announce more appointments before heading to Florida for Thanksgiving. He was planning to leave Tuesday or Wednesday to spend the holiday at his Mar-a-Lago estate, while Vice President-elect Mike Pence will spend Thanksgiving in Mississippi, where his Marine son is stationed.

Trump has largely remained out of sight since winning the election, save for a flurry of brief public appearances over the weekend, often with Pence at his side, to flash thumbs-ups and provide quick updates on his progress in building a government. He remained in the upper floors of his skyscraper Monday, seeking counsel on the phone and interviewing candidates all while keeping an eye on the cable news coverage of the day’s events.

He appeared in a two-and-a-half minute video released late Monday in which he pledged to the American people that he was appointing “patriots” to his administration and reiterated a number of his campaign promises, including plans to renegotiate trade deals, scrap excessive regulations and institute a five-year ban on executive officials becoming lobbyists.

The video — which made no mention of key pledges to build a border wall with Mexico or repeal the Affordable Care Act — continues the president-elect’s practice of trying to go over the heads of the media and take his case directly to the American public. Since Election Day, he has twice ditched the group of reporters designated to follow his movements and has so far eschewed the traditional news conference held by the president-elect in the days after winning.

Trump has not held a full-fledged news conference since July.

But the media were clearly on his mind as he met with executives and on-air personalities from TV networks. He frequently singled out the media — declaring them “so dishonest” — for criticism during the campaign, but it’s not unusual for presidents to hold off-the-record meetings with journalists when trying to promote policies or programs.

Among the attendees were NBC anchor Lester Holt and “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, ABC’s “Good Morning America” host George Stephanopoulos and anchor David Muir, CBS’ “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and several executives at the networks.

None of the attendees would discuss the meeting with reporters in the lobby, though Conway said it was “very cordial, very productive, very congenial.”

Those Trump met with over the weekend included former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a former critic now being considered for secretary of state; retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who Trump dubbed an “impressive” prospect for defense secretary, and billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, who is under consideration for Commerce secretary.

“We’ve made a couple of deals,” Trump said Sunday. He gave assurances that “incredible meetings” would be bringing “incredible people” into the government.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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