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Tom Price's Senate confirmation hearing: What to watch for

More than six weeks of careful preparation will come to a head Wednesday morning when Georgia U.S. Rep. Tom Price takes the hot seat for the first of two Senate confirmation hearings.

The conservative policy wonk is a well-known commodity on Capitol Hill, and Price’s records, both political and financial, will be front and center as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee mulls his nomination to be health and human services secretary.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. and can be live-streamed on the committee’s website and on C-SPAN.org.

Here’s what we’ll be watching for:

>> Donald Trump's transition: The latest news

What exactly is Price’s vision for the Department of Health and Human Services?  

The Roswell Republican hasn’t said a peep publicly about his plans for the sprawling agency of 80,000 employees since he was nominated after Thanksgiving. As head of the department he’ll have broad regulatory authority over everything from healthcare and tobacco to cosmetics and the thousands of undocumented children who have spewed across the Southern border. How familiar is he with the department’s portfolio and how does he plan to run it?

When it comes to the most burning item on the political agenda, tearing down Obamacare and rebuilding a new system in its place, what are his plans? Price over the years was one of the few congressional Republicans to offer his own replacement plan, the Empowering Patients First Act. How much of that proposal will be recycled in a Donald Trump-approved health care alternative? And how closely does Price anticipate working with his soon-to-be ex-House colleagues to fashion that replacement?

How much does Price’s past come back to haunt him?

Democrats haven’t disputed the fact that Price is qualified for the job. They take huge umbrage, however, with his Obamacare replacement plan and past budget proposals that would overhaul entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats have been messaging for weeks on how Price’s legislative ideas are “extreme” and “dangerous.” Do we see those themes revived during today’s hearing?

Democrats are also likely to try and exploit policy wedges between Price and his soon-to-be boss. Key areas will be entitlement programs and healthcare. Trump on the campaign trail rejected cutting Social Security benefits and converting Medicare into a voucher system, and the president-elect’s “insurance for everybody” pitch sharply differs from the GOP’s “universal access” pledge. Two players to watch will be Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two of the committee’s most liberal and outspoken members.

>> Read more trending stories

How hard do Democrats hit Price on his stock trades?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn’t been shy to hit Price on his financial history. On Tuesday, the New York Democrat strengthened his rhetoric, telling CNN that Price may have violated the law after a new report highlighted his purchase of stock in a medical device maker shortly before introducing a bill that would have directly aided the company. Just how much do Democrats hit on this theme tomorrow, and do they double-down on calls for an independent ethics investigation? Do they have any specific evidence that suggests Price might have committed insider trading?

We’ll also be watching to see how Price responds to such allegations. The transition team has so far done the defensive work for him, arguing that he never did anything wrong with his stock trades or disclosures. Also, how forcefully do the committee’s Republicans back Price up? Johnny Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, argues that Price has done nothing wrong. Ditto for Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, the other panel vetting Price’s nomination. Hatch’s response Tuesday when we asked about Schumer’s latest ethics charges? “Total B.S.”

Has Isakson’s behind-the-scenes work eased the way for Price at all?

Georgia’s senior U.S. senator sits on both the Senate health and finance panels and has positioned himself as Price’s chief block and tackle. He’s been using some of his bipartisan political capital to call around to Democratic senators and personally vouch for Price. And if that approach doesn’t work, Isakson said in a recent interview, Democrats will have to “look me in the eye” if they speak ill of Price during the confirmation hearings. Democrats seem pretty resistant to Price. We’ll see if Isakson was able to convince anyone to keep an open mind.

Official's 'racist pig' comment about John Lewis spurs apologies, calls for resignation

One after another, for 2 1/2 hours, they stepped up to the podium.

Some carried signs. Some carried anger. Most, if not all, carried the same message.

They wanted Gwinnett County, Georgia, Commissioner Tommy Hunter — who recently called civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis a "racist pig" on Facebook — to resign.

>> Dems call for county commissioner in Georgia to resign after John Lewis comments

“Your words have consequence and effect, not only to you but to the citizens of Gwinnett County,” said Wesley Person, a local defense attorney and one of the dozens of protesters who spoke Tuesday afternoon at a meeting of Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners. “Because now our county is looked at as some backwater, small-minded, Southern municipality when we are much greater than that.”

Hunter, who was first elected to serve Gwinnett’s District 3 in 2012 and narrowly won re-election in November, conceded Monday that his words were likely “an overreaction” and read another statement Tuesday apologizing for his word choice.

Board of Commissioners Chair Charlotte Nash, meanwhile, broke her silence on the matter by reading an apology letter she said she sent directly to Lewis on Tuesday morning.

“I am writing you today to offer my sincere apologies and regrets for the disrespectful comments about you posted on social media by a Gwinnett district commissioner,” Nash read during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I want to assure you that the remarks posted by one commissioner do not reflect the opinions of the Board of Commissioners as a whole, nor do we condone the use of social media to spread negative thoughts about any individual.”

She added that “using hurtful words and name-calling should not have a place in governing,” and asked Lewis for the opportunity to apologize in person.

Letter from Gwinnett County Chairman Charlotte Nash to Congressman John Lewis: pic.twitter.com/WZX7qKJgPh— Tony Thomas (@TonyThomasWSB) January 17, 2017

Hunter’s employer, Norcross-based United Consulting, issued a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Tuesday calling the commissioner’s Facebook posts “abhorrent” and saying they “in no way reflect the policies, beliefs or corporate culture of United Consulting.”

The company also forwarded a letter that it said was sent to Lewis.

“Our company has a long and diverse history of action and commitment in the minority community that is reflected by our personnel and our work within the community that is reflected in every employee from myself to every team member,” said the letter, signed by CEO Reza Abree.

“Again please accept my sincerest apologies for Commissioner Hunter’s post.”

Hunter’s own statement in front of protesters and his fellow commissioners at the start of Tuesday’s meeting was met with chants of “Resign, resign, resign.”

>> Read more trending stories

“I understand emotions are high and many are upset about the post,” Hunter said. “I apologize for the choice of words I made in my comment about Congressman John Lewis. John Lewis is a leader in the civil rights movement and is to be commended and emulated.

"That doesn’t mean I’ll always agree with him politically. I will not allow baseless accusations of racism against me or anyone to keep people from speaking up when something is wrong. I’ve learned a lot from this and will continue to work hard to serve all of District 3 and the people of Gwinnett County.”

Hunter, who has previously told various media outlets that he won’t resign, became the center of controversy on Monday after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published screenshots of several posts on his personal Facebook page. The “racist pig” post was written Saturday afternoon amid a well-publicized feud between Lewis and President-elect Donald Trump.

The post, which since been taken down, also referred to Democrats as “Demonrats.”

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Hunter’s social media activity led the Gwinnett County Democratic Party to call for his job, and the Georgia Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to do the same. Another group, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, released a statement Tuesday urging Hunter to “immediately schedule a series of meetings with our organization and other organizations that serve communities of color in his district to discuss our grievances.”

The Gwinnett NAACP released a statement late Monday denouncing Hunter's comments, asking him to apologize and urging his fellow board members to break their silence.

Nash did that, but fellow commissioners Jace Brooks, Lynette Howard and John Heard have not.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Heard said he “embraced” and was “proud of” the protesters who gathered to have their say, but he did not address Hunter’s comments directly.

Addicts harm pets to obtain animal painkillers, vets say

Veterinarians in New York are concerned about pets in the area after cases in which drug addicts have intentionally hurt their pets to get their hands on a painkiller used for animals.

Tramadol was categorized as a controlled substance three years ago, WTEN reported. It is available only via prescription at pharmacies as a common treatment for pets suffering from arthritis.

>> Read more trending stories  

Dr. Lexi Becker told WTEN that she has heard cases of pet owners intentionally injuring their animals and asking vets to prescribe tramadol, which is cheaper than oxycodone.

A law in New York allows vets to prescribe only a seven-day course of tramadol. If an owner calls for a quick refill, vets said that raises concerns. Regulations govern how quickly refills can be issued and how many refills are allowed. 

Read more here.

Texas police officer shot, killed; suspect dead

A Texas police officer reportedly was shot and killed Tuesday afternoon while responding to a call about an armed man outside a house in Little Elm, a Dallas suburb.

According to KTVT, Little Elm police Detective Jerry Walker, 48, and several other officers arrived to find a man with a rifle screaming in the backyard of the home. Police said the man then fled into the house and fired at officers through a window, The Associated Press reported.

>> Read more trending stories

Walker, a father of four who joined the police department 18 years ago, was struck in the upper body and later died at a local hospital, KTVT reported.

After a six-hour standoff, officials said the man suspected of shooting Walker was dead. The suspect's name and cause of death have not been released.

Read more here or here.

A procession of officers personably escorts the family of Det Jerry Walker from the hospital @CBSDFW pic.twitter.com/y9Je7GS6Nt— Jeff Paul (@Jeff_Journalist) January 18, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Ex-'Apprentice' contestant Summer Zervos files defamation lawsuit against Trump

On Tuesday, former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos held a press conference with lawyer Gloria Allred to announce that she is filing a defamation lawsuit against President-elect Donald Trump.

One month before Election Day, Zervos claimed that she was subjected to “unwanted sexual touches” by Trump during a business meeting in 2007. While she did not immediately go public with the information or take legal action against him at the time, she claimed she did tell family members about the encounter soon after it occurred.

“In October 2016, that all changed,” read Zervos’ lawsuit, indicating that she decided to come forward with her accusation after hearing the leaked audio tape of Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush, in which he describes grabbing women in a sexual manner without their permission. Soon after, Trump said he had never actually done the things he described during a presidential debate.

>> Read more trending stories

It was then that Zervos saw Trump’s behavior “for what it was” for the first time, saying that she realized what happened to her was “not a mistake or an isolated incident.” Trump, however, denied her claims, calling them “made up events that never happened,” “100 percent fabricated and made up charges” and “totally made up nonsense.”

As a result, Zervos is filing a defamation lawsuit against him for using his “national and international bully pulpit” to denigrate and verbally attack her and several other women who had made similar accusations, saying she has even received threats since going public. She indicted during the press conference that she is willing to dismiss the lawsuit without monetary compensation, should Trump retract his statements about her claim and admit that she “told the truth about him.”

“I want to make it clear that even though it is hard and painful to speak up against the world’s most powerful man, I will continue to speak the truth and I refuse to be intimidated into silence,” Zervos said.

“Truth matters. Women matter. Those that allege they were victims of sexual assault or sexual misconduct by Donald Trump matter,” Allred said.

George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush admitted to same hospital

Former President George H.W. Bush is in stable condition at a Houston hospital, KHOU reported early Wednesday.

>> Read more trending stories

Bush's chief of staff, Jean Becker, told KHOU that Bush, 92, is "doing fine."

Jim McGrath, spokesman for Bush and his wife, Barbara, later tweeted that Bush was taken to Houston Methodist Hospital on Saturday for "shortness of breath" and "has responded very well to treatments."

"Hope to have him out soon," McGrath added.

>> See his tweet here

.@GeorgeHWBush was taken to @MethodistHosp Sat. for shortness of breath, has responded very well to treatments. Hope to have him out soon.— Jim McGrath (@jgm41) January 18, 2017

McGrath said in an update later in the day that Bush is "resting comfortably" at the hospital's intensive care unit. 

"Shortly after our previous report on President Bush's condition, he was admitted to the ICU at Houston Methodist Hospital to address an acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia," a statement released by McGrath said. "Doctors performed a procedure to protect and clear his airway that required sedation. President Bush is stable and resting comfortably in the ICU, where he will remain for observation." 

McGrath said Barbara Bush was admitted to the same hospital Wednesday morning "as a precaution after experiencing fatigue and coughing."

Here is our update on President and Mrs @GeorgeHWBush. pic.twitter.com/zsoIHE4FlX— Jim McGrath (@jgm41) January 18, 2017

Bush is expected to return home "in a couple of days," according to KHOU.

Bush has a form of Parkinson's disease and uses a motorized scooter or wheelchair to get around. Despite that, he marked his 90th birthday with a tandem parachute jump in Maine and last summer took the helm of a speedboat as part of a fishing trip with a group of 40 wounded warriors.

Bush was the youngest naval aviator when he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943, spurred on by the attack on Pearl Harbor.

He flew 58 combat missions during World War II, including one that required he be rescued by a submarine after his plane was hit by Japanese antiaircraft fire. For his bravery, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

It was while he was enlisted that he first met Barbara Bush, then a student at Smith College. The couple were married in Jan. 6, 1945, making theirs the longest marriage of any presidential couple in American history.

The couple had six children: George, Robin, John (known as "Jeb"), Neil, Marvin and Dorothy. Robin died as a child. George W. Bush went on to serve two terms as president from 2001 to 2009. Jeb Bush ran for the Republican nomination in the run-up to November's election, but lost his bid to President-elect Donald Trump.

Following in the footsteps of his father, U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush (R-Connecticut), George H. W. Bush launched a career in politics in 1963 after settling with his family in Texas. He served as a congressman, CIA director and Ronald Reagan's vice president.

In 1989, became the first sitting vice president to secure the presidency since 1837.

Read more here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

No, President Obama didn't pardon Chelsea Manning; here's what he did instead

It was announced Tuesday that President Obama commuted the sentence of famed whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

BREAKING: President Barack Obama commutes sentence of Chelsea Manning, who leaked Army documents and is serving 35 years.— The Associated Press (@AP) January 17, 2017

And no, this is not the same as a pardon, despite the hopes of many privacy and human rights advocates.

Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution grants Obama the executive power of clemency. With this, he can choose to commute or pardon sentences as he sees fit.

A commutation is the shortening of a sentence. These are usually reserved for nonviolent inmates serving long, drug-related mandatory minimum sentences.

With a commutation, though the sentence served is significantly reduced, the conviction still remains on record. Manning will have served less than four years of her original 35-year conviction but will still be recognized as a felon.

>> Read more trending stories

A pardon is the full absolution of a conviction. Had Obama pardoned Manning, she would not have had to carry around the weight of a felon status.

On the same day Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, he pardoned retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who had previously been charged with a felony for “lying to investigators probing leaks about top secret U.S. efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.”

Activists still rejoiced despite the lesser action, but not before reminding the president of another famed whistleblower.

There is currently a movement of people asking for Obama to extend leniency to Edward Snowden before he leaves office. Of the chances that he would actually receive a presidential pardon, Snowden said, “I’m not counting on it.”

However, Snowden noted the possibility to receive one “has never been more likely.” Snowden said that he wouldn’t ask Obama to pardon him:

"I would respectfully say to the president, 'I understand you have an incredibly difficult job.' No one wants to be a whistleblower. This is something that’s hard to do. It’s hard enough to stand up to a bully in your life, to your boss in the office, much less the combined might of the National Security Agency, the FBI and, you know, the apparatus of government."

Despite nearly 1 million people signing a petition for his freedom, any sort of lenient legal action, especially seeing as Snowden has not yet been convicted, does not seem likely in the near future.

Person drives $385K Ferrari off bridge in Austin, goes airborne for 40 feet, officials say

A person who was charged with driving under the influence drove a $385,000 Ferrari off a bridge in Austin, Texas, went airborne for 40 feet and crashed into the woods while speeding on Friday night, Austin fire officials said Tuesday.

>> Read more trending stories 

The driver and two other occupants had only minor injuries, fire officials said.

A witness who saw the crash estimated the driver was going over 100 mph, fire officials said. The driver failed to make the turn after passing over the Redbud Trail bridge as he or she headed toward Westlake Drive, officials said.

Fire officials did not release the driver’s name. 

So, what happens when you try to make your limited production, $385,000 2015 Ferrari fly? Nothing good. Several of our...Posted by Austin Fire Department on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

TV star Todd Chrisley’s daughter seriously injured in car accident

Get-well wishes are going out to Savannah Chrisley, daughter of Todd and Julie Chrisley from the USA series “Chrisley Knows Best.” Savannah Chrisley was driving in a rainstorm Monday night when she reached down to fix her floor mat. The floor mat became wedged under the gas pedal and her car veered into a guardrail as soon as she looked up.

>> Read more trending stories 

Todd Chrisley told E! News on Tuesday “It’s the worst feeling in the world to get a call late at night while sleeping to hear on the other end that your child has been involved in a serious car accident and that you need to come to the hospital immediately. That’s the call we received this morning about our daughter Savannah.”

Savannah sustained some serious injuries, including a fractured vertebrae in her neck, and bruises and burns from the air bag. She’s looking at a six-week recovery period, but the Chrisleys are just so thankful she’s going to be OK.

“We are all so thankful to the good Lord above for his grace and mercy,” Todd said. “Everyone look out for the girl wearing the helmet and riding a tricycle down the highways going forward.”

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