Washington DC/Administration Update

Trump Cabinet, Court Pick to Dominate Spring Work Period: McConnell

Action on President Donald Trump’s plans for an Affordable Care Act repeal and tax code overhaul are likely months off, and instead, the Senate will use the upcoming spring work period to confirm Trump’s remaining appointments and upend Obama-era rulemakings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

The Republican leader said Feb. 17 as the Senate prepared to depart for the Presidents Day recess that lawmakers’ priorities when they return Feb. 27 will be confirming remaining Cabinet nominees and taking up more House-passed Congressional Review Act bills to repeal regulations. The days leading up to the two-week spring recess starting April 7 will be for debate and approval of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court, McConnell said.

The only major legislative initiative likely to come to the Senate floor during early spring is a supplemental spending bill to provide the Pentagon more money, a priority for Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress, McConnell said. The Defense Department supplemental is also expected to be the vehicle for funding Trump’s border security initiatives.

But McConnell suggested that item—along with work on the 11 unfinished fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills—could slip into April, closer to the April 28 deadline when current government spending lapses.

Trump saw 13 top-level nominees approved in the past month, including his national security team, but still is without leadership at many agencies that oversee domestic programs. Still to be confirmed are his picks for the Commerce, Energy, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Agriculture departments.

  • Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation
  • Betsy DeVos: as Secretary of Education
  • John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security
  • James Mattis as Secretary of Defense
  • Linda McMahon as Small Business Administration administrator
  • Steven Mnuchin as Secretary of Treasury
  • Mick Mulvaney as Director of Office of Management and Budget
  • Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Scott Pruitt as Head of Environmental Protection Agency
  • Jeff Sessions as Attorney General
  • David Shulkin as Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs
  • Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State
  • Ben Carson awaits confirmation for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Linda McMahon awaits confirmation for Head of Small Business Administration
  • Rick Perry awaits Confirmation for Secretary of Energy
  • Wilbur Ross awaits confirmation for Secretary of Commerce
  • Ryan Zinke awaits confirmation for Secretary of Interior

No hearings scheduled yet on Alexander Acosta, nominated Feb. 16 to be secretary of labor (Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration as secretary of labor Feb. 15)

No hearings scheduled on Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture .  Senator McConnell declined to give a timetable for the ACA repeal and tax code overhaul. Both, he said, remain the subjects of intense conversations among House and Senate Republicans.

“[W]hat we have is a pretty overwhelming desire to do that, and if we do that, and we change this awful health-care law, and if we do the first comprehensive tax reform since 1986, those will have been really big lifts,” McConnell said. “We’re committed to doing that.”

Trump Picks Outspoken Army ‘Rebel’ as National Security Adviser

Donald Trump’s pick of H.R. McMaster for national security adviser puts a key job in the hands of a decorated officer with a record for speaking his mind, reassuring administration critics who have been increasingly vocal about their differences with the U.S. president.

Trump on Monday selected the Army lieutenant general to replace Michael Flynn, who resigned last week following revelations he misled the vice president about contacts with a Russian envoy. Keith Kellogg, who stepped in as acting national security adviser and was considered for the post, will remain as chief of staff for the national and homeland security councils.

While Trump has tapped a number of military officers for key administration posts, the new national security adviser has a reputation for speaking truth to authority, a trait that hasn’t always been welcome in a White House where loyalty to the president is prized most of all. Scores of Republican foreign policy officials have been passed over for top jobs after signing letters or speaking out against Trump during the campaign.

Trump’s decision prompted Senator John McCain of Arizona, who heads the Armed Services Committee and has been perhaps the president’s loudest Republican detractor on Capitol Hill, to call the 54-year-old McMaster “an outstanding choice,” adding that he gives “President Trump great credit for this decision.”

Pence Pledges U.S. Commitment to EU on Last European Tour Stop

Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. commitment to the European Union remains strong and the new administration would seek ways to bolster the relationship, just a month after Donald Trump questioned the bloc’s viability and said NATO was “obsolete.”

“It is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership,’’ Pence said Monday in Brussels. “Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and above all the same purpose — to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”

On the final day of his first trip overseas since taking office, Pence sought to allay concern that the trans-Atlantic partnership was beginning to fray by giving reassurances to European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini. Pence’s trip capped Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s own international debuts in Europe as the administration tries to set its foreign policy agenda.

Tusk, standing next to Pence after their meeting at the European Council, told reporters that the two leaders did not try to paper over their differences. “The idea of NATO is not obsolete, just like the values that lay at its foundation are not obsolete,” Tusk said. Pence was expected to meet with Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, later on Monday.

Puzder Withdraws as Labor Secretary Nominee

Andrew Puzder withdrew as President Donald Trump’s labor secretary nominee Feb. 15, amid rising controversy over his personal life and private sector background.

“I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. I’m honored to have been considered and am grateful to all who have supported me,” Puzder said on Twitter.

Puzder is the chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants Inc., parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. brands. His withdrawal came hours before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing, which had been scheduled for Feb. 16. That hearing was delayed four times over the past five weeks, allowing new revelations about Puzder to surface.

Puzder ran into trouble on Capitol Hill over his admission that he employed an undocumented housekeeper. A decades-old divorce that included a domestic-abuse allegation also cast a shadow over his nomination. Some conservatives, likewise, had questioned his pro-immigration stance.

At least six Republicans have said they were not ready to back Puzder and were waiting for his confirmation hearing. Three GOP defectors would have been needed to sink him in the 52-48 Republican majority Senate.

John Zang contributed to this report


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