The House of Representatives is set to vote today on a measure that would pave the way for Congress to quickly repeal the Affordable Care Act, with no possibility of a filibuster by minority Democrats in the Senate. House Speaker Paul Ryan worked Thursday to reassure Republicans who are nervous about overturning President Obama’s signature healthcare law without a plan in place to replace it. Ryan can afford to see as many as 23 Republicans defect, and still pass a repeal measure.
Today’s House vote comes after senators narrowly approved a budget reconciliation bill to begin repealing the Affordable Care Act, during a marathon debate that lasted into the early morning hours Thursday. The Senate vote was 51 to 48, with the entire Democratic caucus opposed to a repeal. During the roll call, Democrats rose one by one to voice objections, prompting the presiding officer, Colorado Republican Cory Gardner, to object that they were out of order.
Clerk: "Ms. Cantwell."
Sen. Maria Cantwell: "This is not—"
Sen. Cory Gardner: "Debate is not allowed during a vote."
Sen. Maria Cantwell: "—business as usual.
Sen. Cory Gardner: "Debate—the Senate will be in order."
Sen. Maria Cantwell: "You are stealing healthcare from Americans. I vote no.
Sen. Cory Gardner: "The Senate will be in order."
Clerk: "Ms. Cantwell, no."
Sen. Tim Kaine: "Madam Clerk?"
Clerk: "Mr. Kaine."
Sen. Tim Kaine: "When I was sick, you visited me. I vote no."
Sen. Cory Gardner: "Debate is not allowed during a vote. The Senate will be in order."
Clerk: "Mr. Kaine, no."
Democrats say nearly 30 million Americans stand to lose health coverage if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Supporters of the law are planning rallies in more than 40 cities.
During Wednesday night’s Senate session, more than a dozen Democrats voted against an amendment that would have allowed pharmacists to import drugs from Canada—often at a fraction of the cost paid in the U.S. The amendment was proposed by Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: "We are the only major country not to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry. So you can walk into a drugstore today, and the price could be double or three times what you paid a year ago, and there is no law to stop them. They can and they will raise prices as high as the market will allow. And if people die as a result of that, not a problem for them. People get sick, not a problem for them."
Among the 13 Democrats who voted against Sanders’s amendment was New Jersey’s Cory Booker, who earlier on Wednesday testified against Sen. Jeff Sessions’s nomination to become attorney general. Campaign filings show Sen. Booker received more than a quarter-million dollars in campaign funds from pharmaceutical companies between 2010 and 2016.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony Thursday from Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense. Retired General James "Mad Dog" Mattis said at his confirmation hearing that Russia remains the "principal threat" faced by the United States, taking a much harder line on Russia than the president-elect.
James Mattis: "Since Yalta, we have a long list of times that we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard. And I think right now the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with, with Mr. Putin, and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance, and that we take the steps, the integrated steps, diplomatic, economic, military and the alliance steps, the working with our allies, to defend ourselves where we must."
Mattis also repeatedly called for the U.S. military to be more "lethal," and said he supports the F-35 program and other expensive weapons programs. Following his hearing, the Senate voted to support a waiver exempting Mattis from a law requiring defense secretaries to be civilians for at least seven years. Mattis retired from the military in 2013. The full House is slated to vote on the waiver today. We’ll have more on General Mattis’s nomination for secretary of defense after headlines.
The Senate Banking Committee heard testimony Thursday from retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of housing and urban development. Under questioning from Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Dr. Carson refused to say whether he would allow Trump’s company to profit from HUD loans.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "Can you just assure us that not one dollar will go to benefit either the president-elect or his family?"
Dr. Ben Carson: "It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any—any American."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "I understand that."
Dr. Ben Carson: "OK. It’s for all Americans, everything that we do."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "Do I take that to mean that you may manage programs that will significantly benefit the president-elect?"
Dr. Ben Carson: "You can take it to mean that I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people. That is going to be the goal."
Carson also drew fire from civil rights groups over his response to a question about protections for LGBTQ tenants in public housing. Carson said he would enforce federal anti-discrimination laws, but said, "I don’t think anyone should get 'extra rights.'"
Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA director on Thursday reversed his position on torture, telling senators at his confirmation hearing that waterboarding is illegal. Rep. Mike Pompeo previously claimed such so-called enhanced interrogation tactics were constitutional. This is Rep. Pompeo being questioned by California Democrat Dianne Feinstein.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein: "If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual, would you comply?"
Rep. Mike Pompeo: "Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect, or then-president."
Donald Trump promised in a debate last February to "bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding." During his confirmation hearing Thursday, Rep. Pompeo said he would continue monitoring Iran’s compliance with a nuclear agreement brokered in 2015. He previously said he wanted the U.S. to immediately scrap the nuclear deal. Rep. Pompeo is a strong proponent of expanding the prison at Guantánamo Bay. He’s called for the expansion of domestic surveillance and has called NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a traitor who should be put to death.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s inspector general has opened a review of how the FBI handled an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office said Thursday the wide-ranging probe will include scrutiny of FBI Director James Comey, who announced 11 days before the November election that he had reopened a probe into whether Clinton mishandled classified information. The FBI cleared Clinton of criminal charges just two days before Election Day. Many Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have said Comey’s actions cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. Earlier this week, Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee he could not comment on reports that the FBI launched an investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia ahead of November’s election. That prompted many lawmakers to accuse Comey of engaging in a double standard in support of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has named former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as his administration’s top cybersecurity adviser. Giuliani said Thursday he will accept the position but won’t step down as CEO of his security consulting firm, Giuliani Partners. He also plans to remain chair of the cybersecurity practice at the law firm Greenberg Traurig. Speaking to Politico on Thursday, Giuliani acknowledged that he will be connecting business associates with President Trump, but denied that presents a conflict of interest. Because Giuliani will serve as a volunteer rather than a federal employee, his position won’t be subject to federal ethics laws.
Donald Trump has named two more aides with ties to Goldman Sachs to top White House positions. Anthony Scaramucci, a top Trump campaign fundraiser who began his Wall Street career at Goldman Sachs, will head the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. And Goldman Sachs partner Dina Powell is expected to take a senior advisory role in the White House, where she’ll work closely with Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka. Scaramucci and Powell will join at least three other former Goldman Sachs employees tapped for top jobs by the Trump administration.
The Obama administration said Thursday it is ending its so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy on Cuban immigration, in a move that Cuban officials say will save lives. Under the long-standing policy, Cubans interdicted at sea were returned to Cuba, but those reaching dry land were allowed to stay in the U.S. and fast-tracked for permanent resident status. Cuban officials have long opposed the approach, saying it encouraged Cubans to risk a dangerous and often deadly ocean voyage to Florida.
And in Canada, indigenous activist and former Neskonlith First Nations Chief Arthur Manuel died Wednesday at the age of 66. For decades, Manuel fought for indigenous land and human rights—most recently during a visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where water protectors are fighting the Dakota Access pipeline. In 2010, Democracy Now! spoke with Art Manuel as he joined protests at the G20 Summit in Toronto.
Art Manuel: "All around the world, there’s like 370 million indigenous people globally, you know? The United Nations on the—passed a declaration called the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. A hundred and forty-one nations voted in favor; four voted against it—you know, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. And those are very key players in the G8-G20 equation. And those are the people that indigenous people come to the streets to let the government know that you need to deal with indigenous issues, too."
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