The Latest: Democrats tag 'most troublesome' Trump picks

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Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of N.Y. listens to a question during a news conference on President Barack Obama\'s signature healthcare law, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on Congress (all times EST):

5:30 p.m.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says Democrats have identified eight of President-elect Donald Trump's "most troublesome" Cabinet picks and are hoping for fair hearings on those nominees.

Those potential nominees are Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, Tom Price for secretary of Health and Human Services, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary, Scott Pruitt for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Mick Mulvaney for director of the Office of Management and Budget, Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Betsy DeVos for education secretary and Andrew Puzder for labor secretary.

Missing from the list are Trump choices who are expected to have an easy time winning Senate confirmation, such as James Mattis for defense secretary and John Kelly for Homeland Security.

Schumer says a "fair hearing" means at least two days, and says all of the paperwork on the nominee's background, tax returns and other disclosures must be in.

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5 p.m.

House Republicans have passed legislation that would allow Congress to overturn, with a single vote, executive branch regulations finalized near the end of an outgoing president's term.

The bill was approved Wednesday by a 238-184 vote. It is part of the GOP's efforts to block or undo scores of regulations and executive orders issued by President Barack Obama.

Republicans say the bill would stem what they call a growing trend by presidents of both parties to impose costly "midnight rules" during their last few months in office.

The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, says it would strengthen executive-branch oversight and "ensure that unaccountable, last-minute regulations don't continue crippling our economy, crushing small businesses and raising costs on middle-class families."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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4:40 p.m.

The Obama administration says at least 8.8 million people signed up through Dec. 31 for 2017 coverage under the president's health care law. That's about 200,000 more than at the same point in the last open enrollment season.

Wednesday's numbers are partial, for 39 states using the federal HealthCare.gov website. Others — including major states like California and New York — were not included because they run their own insurance markets.

Independent expert Caroline Pearson says it will be a stretch for the administration to meet its nationwide target of 13.8 million sign-ups. Pearson is with the Avalere Health consultancy.

The administration says demand is strong and growing, heading toward the end of open enrollment Jan. 31.

The report comes as the Republican-led Congress is moving to repeal the health care law.

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4:35 p.m.

A Republican-run House panel created to investigate Planned Parenthood and fetal tissue research wants to halt federal payments to the organization.

The recommendation was included in the special committee's final report and was no surprise. Many Republicans hope that with Donald Trump becoming president, Congress will cut off money to the women's health organization.

Most GOP lawmakers have long opposed the organization because many of its clinics provide abortions. Their antagonism intensified after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded videos in 2015 showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they sometimes provide fetal tissue to researchers.

Democrats say Planned Parenthood payments should continue and say House GOP investigators have unearthed no evidence of wrongdoing.

Planned Parenthood has denied breaking laws and says the videos were doctored.

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4 p.m.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul is blasting his party for a budget blueprint that would increase the national debt by almost $10 trillion over the coming decade.

The Kentucky lawmaker gave a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday in which explained why he opposed taking the first step toward repealing President Barack Obama's health care law. He says the vote would have been an endorsement of an unbalanced budget.

Paul, who hails from the GOP's small-government, libertarian wing, is lambasting his party for ignoring the nation's debt problems in the very first piece of legislation brought up in the era of Donald Trump.

Paul asks, "Is that really what the Republican Party represents?"

The Senate is debating the budget measure, a precursor to a bill to repealing the health care law.

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1:49 p.m.

Add another confirmation hearing to the growing list of Senate hearings next Wednesday.

The Senate Intelligence committee will hold its hearing on President-elect Donald Trump's pick for CIA Director, Rep. Mike Pompeo. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will holds its hearing on Betsy DeVos, Trump's choice for education secretary, the same day.

Separately, Senate panels plan confirmation hearings that same day for Sen. Jeff Sessions, the choice for attorney general, and Rex Tillerson, the pick for secretary of State.

Even though Trump won't be sworn in until Jan. 20, Senate Republicans are intent on moving swiftly to get his Cabinet and other agency leaders in place.

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1:35 p.m.

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says Rex Tillerson told him he supports the Paris climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Ben Cardin of Maryland spoke with reporters Wednesday outside his Senate office after a one-hour meeting with Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil CEO whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped for secretary of state.

Cardin says Tillerson's backing of the international pact to combat climate change "was encouraging to hear." He says Tillerson stressed his background in science and told Cardin "that he is a believer in science."

During the presidential campaign, Trump said he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord. But since being elected, he's shifted that stance and now says he is "studying" the agreement.

Tillerson's Senate confirmation hearing is tentatively scheduled for next week.

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1:20 p.m.

The Senate has taken its first vote on the way to repealing so-called Obamacare.

The 51-48 procedural tally broke mostly along party lines and officially begins debate on a special budget measure that is a precursor to a follow-up bill to repeal Obama's health care law. Kentucky Republican Rand Paul opposed the measure since it endorses large budget deficits.

Once Wednesday's legislation passes both House and Senate, Republicans controlling Congress could pass the follow-up measure without the threat of a filibuster by Senate Democrats.

The vote came after both Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President Barack Obama trekked to Capitol Hill to rally their respective sides for the looming fight. The preliminary measure is on track to pass both House and Senate next week, but details on the binding repeal bill are still being worked out.

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1:10 p.m.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is sending a warning to President-elect Donald Trump: Democrats will oppose a Supreme Court pick "with everything we have" if a nominee isn't what they consider mainstream.

Schumer — in an interview — explains his concern. He says "with the hard right running the show," the likelihood of the nominee "being mainstream is decreasing every day."

The New Yorker made the comments one day after saying on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" that Democrats will "absolutely" do their best to keep the vacant Supreme Court open if Trump doesn't nominate someone Democrats support.

The seat has already been open for 11 months since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked consideration of President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.

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12:30 p.m.

House Republicans say they will begin introducing legislation on Jan. 30 to repeal a series of Obama administration regulations, with the early focus on environmental rules.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy says GOP leaders haven't yet picked which agency regulation Congress will seek to overturn first. He said he expects swift action on invalidating a rule designed to reduce methane emissions and another designed to reduce the environmental impact of coal mining on the nation's streams.

McCarthy says the two rules "limit our energy production."

Republicans will also seek to repeal regulations implementing an education reform bill that some state officials have complained erodes local decision-making.

Before the House goes after specific agency rules, McCarthy says it will tackle the regulatory process itself to give Congress more control.

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11:13 a.m.

"Look out for the American people."

Those were President Barack Obama's parting words after a lengthy closed-door meeting with House and Senate Democrats about preserving his health care law.

Republicans are pushing ahead on repealing the law while they work on a replacement.

Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly says Obama's message was to "make sure that every American who loses his or her health care knows that the Republican repeal vote did that."

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warns that repeal would throw the insurance marketplace into chaos.

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10:30 a.m.

Democrats say President Barack Obama is making the case for keeping his health care law.

Obama made a rare trip to the Capitol on Wednesday to meet with House and Senate Democrats.

New York Rep. Louise Slaughter says Obama focused on how well the law is working, and on how many letters he's gotten in support of it.

She calls it "a very nostalgic speech."

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin says Obama's message is that the individual parts of the law are popular, and that repealing it would affect all Americans.

"We need to personalize this," Cardin says — echoing the president.

Republicans promise to move quickly to repeal the law, but they've failed to coalesce around a replacement.

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10 a.m.

Once he's sworn in, President-elect Donald Trump will move swiftly to undo Democratic President Barack Obama's policies.

That's the message from Vice President-elect Mike Pence to House Republicans at a Capitol Hill strategy session Wednesday.

On Jan. 20, Trump will use his power through executive orders to target the health care law and other policies.

New York Rep. Chris Collins and Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner specifically mentioned health care, though it's unclear what changes could be made through executive order on the nearly 7-year-old law.

Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold says Pence told the GOP: "What can be done with a pen and a phone can be undone with a pen and a phone."

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9:40 a.m.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a closed-door briefing Thursday for members to learn more about the Obama administration's response to suspected Russian interference in the 2016 election and harassment of U.S. diplomats.

Also, U.S. intelligence officials, including national intelligence director James Clapper, are set to testify Thursday in an open session by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

President Barack Obama struck back at Moscow last week with a set of punishments targeting Russia's leading spy agencies that the U.S. has accused of meddling in the presidential campaign. The U.S. also kicked out 35 Russian diplomats in response to what the White House says has been Russia's harassment of American envoys.

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9:30 a.m.

President Barack Obama is at the Capitol to give congressional Democrats advice on how to combat the Republican drive to dismantle his health care overhaul.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence is meeting with GOP lawmakers to discuss the best way to send Obama's cherished law to its graveyard and replace it with — well, something.

The separate strategy sessions come on the second day of the new GOP-led Congress.

In 16 days, Republican Donald Trump replaces Obama at the White House, putting the party's longtime goal of annulling much of the 2010 health care overhaul within reach.

 

 
 

 

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