WASHINGTON – A key Senate panel on Thursday approved $250 million to help states beef up their election systems, freeing up the money after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came under criticism from Democrats for impeding separate election security legislation.
The Kentucky Republican announced in a floor speech in advance of the Appropriations Committee vote that he would support the funding, claiming the Trump administration has “made enormous strides” in protecting the nation's voting infrastructure. The committee approved the money on a bipartisan voice vote. The panel's top Democrat, Patrick Leahy, said “funding election security grants is a matter of national security.”
Democrat Chris Coons said the funding would help states invest in updated voting systems and combat cyberattacks from foreign actors such as Russia, whose widespread efforts on behalf of President Donald Trump's campaign were documented by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Pelosi announces drug price plan
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, trying to seize the agenda on a top consumer issue, announced an ambitious prescription drug plan Thursday that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for seniors and younger people.
The proposal would direct Medicare to bargain over as many as 250, but no fewer than 25, of the costliest drugs. Insulin is on the list. Drugmakers that refuse to negotiate could face steep penalties. Companies that raise prices beyond inflation would have to pay rebates to Medicare.
The plan would limit copays for seniors covered by Medicare's Part D prescription drug program to $2,000. Medicare-negotiated prices would be available to other buyers, such as employer health plans.
House passes stopgap budget
The House passed a short-term bill Thursday to prevent a federal shutdown when the budget year ends Sept. 30, and give lawmakers until the Thanksgiving break to negotiate and approve $1.4 trillion for federal agencies.
The Senate is expected to approve the stopgap bill next week. The vote in the Democratic-run House on the bipartisan plan was 301-123.
The agency spending bills would fill in the details of this summer's budget and debt agreement between President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Labor pick touts 'public trust'
President Donald Trump's pick for Labor secretary sought to quell concerns among Democrats that he's too close to the corporate world, telling lawmakers Thursday that if confirmed he'll ask ethics officials if he can participate in the crafting of a conflict of interest rule for stockbrokers.
During testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Eugene Scalia – son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia – tried to assure lawmakers that his years of legal work for corporate clients would not influence his actions as a Cabinet member. He emphasized the “public trust” he embraced during the year he spent as the Labor Department's top lawyer during the George W. Bush administration.
Campaign law on tax returns blocked
President Donald Trump's efforts to keep his tax returns private played out on both coasts Thursday, with a California judge handing him an initial victory and his lawyers in New York City arguing that federal prosecutors there are trying “to harass” him by seeking the documents.
On the West Coast, a federal judge in Sacramento granted the Trump campaign's request to block a new California law that requires presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns to run in the state's March 2020 primaries. State officials are deciding whether to appeal.
The ruling came hours after the president sued to block New York prosecutors from their push to obtain his returns as part of a criminal investigation into payments made to two women who claimed to have affairs with Trump.
Facebook CEO, Senate critic meet
The Senate's most vocal critic of the tech industry offered a challenge Thursday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: Sell your WhatsApp and Instagram properties to prove you're serious about protecting data privacy.
Rather than moving users' personal data from properties such as WhatsApp and Instagram to the core Facebook platform, the company should put a wall around the services or, better yet, sell them off, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said he told Zuckerberg during their hourlong private meeting in his Capitol Hill office. Zuckerberg, who requested the meeting, “did not think that was a great idea,” he said.
The popular services are among some 70 companies that Facebook has acquired over the past 15 years or so, giving it what critics say is massive market power that has allowed it to snuff out competition.
Washington Monument opens
First lady Melania Trump cut the ribbon Thursday as the Washington Monument reopened to the public for the first time in three years.
The 555-foot stone obelisk closed in September 2016 in order to replace the aging elevator and upgrade security systems. Accompanied by a group of local fourth graders, Trump took the new high-speed elevator to the observation floor near the top, which offers a commanding 360-degree view of the entire District of Columbia.
The monument has been closed off and on for most of the past eight years. An August 2011 earthquake left cracks in the stones near the top of the obelisk. It reopened in 2014, but National Park Service officials were forced to close it again two years later after a series of elevator breakdowns.
Sanford begins Trump challenge
Mark Sanford's first presidential campaign stop in New Hampshire began with an interruption in the hopes of being heard.
Sanford, the former South Carolina governor and congressman, entered a Manchester diner and found his way to an AARP meeting in the back. “Can I be rude?” he asked them, trying to introduce himself amid the din of breakfast diner. He later bounced from booth to booth to chat with other patrons at the restaurant.
The 59-year-old is the third Republican 2020 candidate to campaign in New Hampshire in hopes of denting President Donald Trump's reelection chances. With several states canceling their early voting contests, the New Hampshire primary is likely the best chance for insurgent GOP candidates to make a show of force against Trump.