The Latest: Key senator endorses DeVoss for Education post

WASHINGTON (AP)

The Latest on Congress (all times EST):

5:45 p.m.

The head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander, says Betsy DeVos is the right choice to lead the Education Department in the Trump administration.

As the DeVoss confirmation hearing opened Tuesday, Lamar Alexander said the charter and school choice advocate is “on our children’s side.”

Alexander is a former education secretary. He says DeVos has devoted her life to helping mainly low-income kids have better choice in their education.

Critics have complained that she would undermine public education.

Alexander counters that “she’s in the mainstream of public opinion and her critics are not.”

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The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote Jan. 24 on President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general pick, Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The Alabama Republican is a member of the panel and is expected to win approval in the committee and confirmation on the floor.

Sessions testified before the committee last week and laid out a sharply conservative vision, pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, gun violence and terrorism. Democrats expressed concern over whether he would be committed to civil rights, a priority for the Obama administration.

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5:30 p.m.

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is scheduled to get a Senate committee vote on Monday.

That’s the word from the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker. The Tennessee Republican told reporters on Tuesday that his panel will vote on the Tillerson nomination then.

Tillerson is the former CEO of Exxon Mobil.

At his confirmation hearing last week, Tillerson broke with Trump on some issues, calling Russia a danger and vowing to protect America’s European allies. He also rejected the idea of an immigration ban on Muslims. He treaded softly on the human rights records of key U.S. partners like Saudi Arabia.

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4 p.m.

Democratic lawmakers in the Senate are urging Donald Trump not to follow through on the wishes of some Republican lawmakers and fire the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Some GOP lawmakers say once he becomes president Trump should remove the bureau’s director, Richard Cordray, because he has pursued regulatory policies that are costly and contradict a pro-growth agenda.

But Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, counter that the bureau has returned about $12 billion to 29 million Americans. The payments have come from credit card companies, banks and debt collectors, among others.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, says the bureau under Cordray’s leadership has been an effective watchdog and that weakening it would signal to financial institutions there is no longer a cop on the beat.

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3:50 p.m.

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke says he disagrees with President-elect Donald Trump’s claim that climate change is a hoax.

Zinke, Trump’s nominee to be interior secretary, said it is “indisputable” that the climate is changing and that human activity is a major reason.

Zinke cited Glacier National Park in his home state as a prime example of the effects of climate change, noting that glaciers there have receded in his lifetime and even from one visit to the next.

Still, he told Sen. Bernie Sanders that there is debate about how much humans have influenced the climate and more importantly, “what we can do about it.”

Trump has called climate change a hoax, but has suggested in recent weeks he’s keeping an open mind on the issue.

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3: 30 p.m.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell is introducing legislation to maintain health benefits for retired coal miners whose companies have declared bankruptcy in recent years.

The Kentucky Republican led the way last year with a four-month extension of benefits that protected 16,000 miners from being cut off on Jan. 1.

President-elect Donald Trump supports the effort, telling West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin last week that he backs a permanent solution to the problem, which dates to a government promise made in 1946 for lifetime health care and pension benefits for unionized miners and their families.

House Republicans have resisted the effort, but Trump’s support for it greatly increases the odds for a permanent fix for the problem.

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2:55 p.m.

Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke is a former Navy SEAL, but Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski invoked another military branch as she asked for Zinke’s help in changing policies at the Interior Department.

After running through a litany of clashes with Interior under President Barack Obama, Murkowski said she is looking for relief from Zinke, Donald Trump’s pick for interior secretary. Murkowski said she is counting on Zinke to “come in and fix” the Interior Department.

She told Zinke: “I know you are a Navy man so excuse me, but we hope the cavalry is on the way.”

Murkowski said she hopes Zinke will restore some local control of public lands to Alaska and other western states and “show that the Interior Department is capable of working with rather than against states and local stakeholders.”

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2:50 p.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says that Democrats boycotting Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday are making a mistake by injecting “some kind of claim of illegitimacy on the dawn of a new presidency.” He says their efforts are “just going to tear the country further apart.”

The Wisconsin Republican told a Milwaukee Fox television affiliate on Monday that Trump and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, should talk instead of criticizing one another. Lewis is among those skipping Trump’s swearing in and says he doesn’t believe he will be a legitimate president because of Russian interference in the election.

Ryan told the station that “John Lewis is a hero” and that he and Trump would do better by just getting to know each other, and understanding each other.”

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2 p.m.

Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats are asking Sen. Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any investigation of Russian hacking in the U.S. election. Sessions is Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general.

Reports of unsubstantiated claims that Russia had amassed compromising personal and financial allegations about Trump surfaced just as Sessions finished being questioned by the Judiciary panel Jan. 10. Democrats asked him about the reports, but Sessions said then he had no information.

In a letter Tuesday, the Democrats asked Sessions to commit “not to impede or shut down” an FBI or Justice Department investigation and also recuse himself.

They wrote that “All Americans should agree that Russian interference in our nation’s democratic processes is a matter of grave national importance.”

Sessions is expected to win confirmation in the GOP-led Senate.

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1:35 p.m.

President-elect Donald Trump will dine on Maine lobster, Virginia beef and shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico just after taking office on Friday.

Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will attend the traditional inaugural luncheon in the Capitol shortly after their swearing-in. They will be joined by their families, congressional leadership, members of the Supreme Court and their future Cabinet secretaries.

According to a menu released by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies on Tuesday, they will lunch on a three-course meal of lobster and shrimp with a saffron sauce and peanut crumble, a second course of beef with dark chocolate, juniper jus and potato gratin, and a chocolate soufflé and cherry vanilla ice cream.

The courses will be served with California wines.

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12:35 p.m.

The top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is expressing significant concerns over the nomination of Republican donor and school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as education secretary.

In remarks released ahead of DeVos’ confirmation hearing Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Patty Murray said she wants to know about DeVos’ “extensive financial entanglements and potential conflicts of interest.” DeVos and her family have donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates and organizations, including contributions to at least four committee members.

Murray also said that DeVos has spent her career and money “fighting to privatize public education and gut investments in public schools.”

Murray added that she wants to ask DeVos about her stance on higher education, student debt and her approach to fighting sexual assault on campus.

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11:45 a.m.

A key Republican lawmaker is defending the House GOP tax plan despite criticism from President-elect Donald Trump.

Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, says that current law favors foreign beef, steel and autos — and Republicans’ approach will help American exports.

His statement Tuesday came in response to comments from Trump in an interview in The Wall Street Journal. Trump called the House GOP approach “too complicated.”

At issue is a proposal called “border adjustment” that would tax imports to the U.S. while exempting exports. It’s part of a sweeping planned rewrite of the U.S. tax code aimed at lowering overall rates on corporations from 35 percent to 20 percent.

“Anytime I hear border adjustment, I don’t love it,” Trump said.

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11 a.m.

Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump’s choice to be interior secretary, says he is an “unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt” and believes Roosevelt was right to place millions of acres of land in the West under federal protection.

The Republican Montana congressman says in prepared remarks for his confirmation hearing Tuesday that national parks and forests offer Americans the opportunity to hike, hunt, fish, camp and enjoy the great outdoors. Zinke says his father and the Boys Scouts taught him the principles of environmental stewardship and the importance of public access to public lands.

He says those lands should also be used to harvest timber and mine for coal and other energy sources.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of Zinke’s remarks in advance of a Senate energy committee hearing.

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10:45 a.m.

Congress’ nonpartisan budget analyst says premiums would jump sharply and millions more people would be without health coverage under a bill Republicans passed last year eliminating President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

The Congressional Budget office says under that measure, premiums for people buying policies on the law’s online marketplaces would jump up to 25 percent in the first year after enactment. They’d about double by 2026.

It also says there’d be 18 million new uninsured people in the first year after enactment. That number would grow to 32 million by 2026.

Republicans have said they’re using last year’s bill as a starting point as they try to dismantle Obama’s law this year and replace it.

Last year’s measure did not include any replacement provisions.

Obama vetoed last year’s bill.

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10:25 a.m.

Republican donor Betsy DeVos says she will push for school choice and advocate for “great” public schools if confirmed as education secretary.

DeVos’ confirmation hearing is set for later Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

DeVos is a prominent charter school supporter and conservative activist. In remarks released by the committee, she says “parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children.” She says she will advance magnet, virtual, charter, home and religious schools.

Teachers’ unions have charged that DeVos intends to dismantle public education. Critics also have raised concerns of a possible conflict of interest, since DeVos has donated heavily to Republicans, including several of the Senate committee members.

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10:23 a.m.

A student’s painting that divided lawmakers on Capitol Hill for its depiction of Ferguson, Missouri, has been removed.

Some GOP lawmakers had complained that the painting violated rules for a national student arts competition, noting that works depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or of a sensationalistic or gruesome nature are not allowed.

The Architect of the Capitol informed lawmakers late Friday that the painting would be taken down on Tuesday.

The painting shows a pig in a police uniform aiming a gun at a protester. The painting was among hundreds completed by high school students that are featured in a tunnel leading to the Capitol and had been hanging for months.

Republican lawmakers repeatedly removed the painting, and Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri kept putting it back, saying its removal violated his constituent’s First Amendment rights.

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