July 9, 2014
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The Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby [PDF] isn't very popular among Democrats — or a majority of Americans, or some federal judges, for that matter. Democrats in Congress are trying to do something about it, The New York Times reports, and their legislative band-aid may even pass in the Senate. "Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women's access to health care, I will," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the lead author of the Senate bill.

The 5-4 Supreme Court majority ruled that the Affordable Care Act's attempt to make all companies and non-church organizations provide their female employees with birth control coverage violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so the bill worked up by Senate and House Democrats essentially says: not anymore.

The Democrats' bill, introduced Tuesday, leaves the 1993 law intact, as well as the Obama administration's compromise exemption for religious nonprofits with objections to contraception, but says that despite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Hobby Lobby and other for-profit "employers may not discriminate against their female employees" in the coverage of preventive health services, and "shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service" that's required under federal law.

There's a certain air of political theater to the endeavor — "People are going to have to walk down here and vote, and if they vote with the five men on the Supreme Court, I think they're going to be treated unfavorably come November with the elections," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday, and the bill is very unlikely to pass in the House — but at least Congress is trying to reclaim some of its intended power. Peter Weber

1:26 p.m. ET

Former President George H.W. Bush will not be attending Donald Trump's inauguration this Friday, but not for the same reasons some other politicians are skipping the event. In fact, Bush sent a warm letter to the president-elect last week apologizing for his absence:

On top of his existing conditions, Bush was hospitalized early Wednesday morning for "shortness of breath" and is currently being monitored "for precaution." Local media reports indicate he will be able to leave Houston Methodist Hospital in a few days, but sitting out an event that requires sitting outside for several hours in the rain and cold expected Friday in Washington, D.C., is probably a good move for the 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound Bush.

Nonetheless, Bush emphasized his support for the "honorable" president-elect: "I want you to know that I wish you the very best as you begin this incredible journey of leading our great country," he wrote. Kelly Gonsalves

1:13 p.m. ET
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Commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross seems to side with President-elect Donald Trump when it comes to federal government spending on infrastructure projects. At his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Ross admitted that "there will be some necessity" for direct government spending on infrastructure, alongside private spending and tax breaks. "I think there's a role for the federal government to play ... in dealing with some of these critical infrastructure needs," Ross said.

Republicans have so far been lukewarm about Trump's proposal to invest $1 trillion in the country's bridges, highways, and airports — at least, if it should happen on the government's tab. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for one, has been critical of Democrats' efforts to spend more on infrastructure, remarking last September — after a highway spending bill was passed for the first time since the 1990s — that spending on mass transit and highways was "already in place at 10 percent above baseline spending." In January, however, Ryan suggested Trump's infrastructure package is something they'd be "happy to do."

Ross did say Wednesday that "we're very fortunate that it's a very low interest rate environment when we're trying to solve this problem." Becca Stanek

1:00 p.m. ET

During an emotional line of inquiry Wednesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tore into Donald Trump's nominee for the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, demanding he prioritize human health over cleanup costs to polluters.

"I need you to care about human health," Gillibrand demanded, "and really believe that the cost — when human health is at risk, when people are dying — is far higher than ... the cost to that polluter to clean up the air. I need you to feel it, as if your children sitting behind you are the ones in the emergency room."

Pruitt has long been an outspoken enemy of the EPA, and his nomination has raised the alarm among Democratic senators as well as environmental groups. "Scott Pruitt's antipathy for holding polluters accountable in his own state is a bad sign for things to come across America if he's given the reins at the EPA," the president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, Ken Cook, told State Impact. "The EPA's job is to protect public health, not let industry off the hook for polluting our rivers and drinking water." Jeva Lange

12:54 p.m. ET

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sat before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma's top litigator, Pruitt has sued the very agency he now seeks to lead several times, and during his hearing Wednesday he said he intends to use the EPA to regulate through "cooperative federalism."

Some Republican senators questioning Pruitt echoed his view that the public distrusts the EPA due to overreach and over-regulation. As ABC News points out, Pruitt has "gained a reputation as a pro-business attorney general who believed strongly in the rights of states to set their own limits on environmental matters," and on Wednesday he did little to indicate he would change that stance as a federal regulator. When pressed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on whether he would continue an EPA precedent that grants California the right to set its own stronger regulations with regard to vehicle pollution, Pruitt said he would "review" the matter but declined to say outright whether he intends to uphold it.

Pruitt declared his EPA would adhere to the "rule of law" and that he would focus on restoring the public's "trust" in the federal government. He also expressed a desire for EPA officials to "be seen as partners, not adversaries" and for the agency itself to "provide more assistance to states," National Journal's Jason Plautz reports.

Huffington Post contributor Wajahat Ali noted that Pruitt has referred to himself as "the leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda." Kimberly Alters

12:27 p.m. ET

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) faced intense questioning from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Wednesday over his decision to purchase Innate Immunotherapeutics stock after a conversation with Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). "Rep. Price, recent press reports about your investments in the Australian biotech company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, raise some curious questions about your judgments, and I want to review the facts," Murray began. "You made the decision to purchase that stock, not a broker, yes or no?"

"That was a decision I made, yes," Price answered.

Murray continued to push in her questioning: "Congressman Chris Collins, who sits on President-elect Trump's transition team, is both an investor and a board member of [Innate Immunotherapeutics]. He was reportedly overheard just last week off the House floor bragging about how he had made people millionaires from a stock tip," she said. "Congressman Price, in our meeting, you informed me you made purchases based on conversations with Rep. Collins, is that correct?"

Price has denied the accusation, claiming he had spoken to Collins simply about the company in general — but it's certainly not a great moment for the congressman. "[Innate Immunotherapeutics'] drug could benefit from the 21st Century Cures Act, which Mr. Price voted for. The law, signed in December, will speed up the Food and Drug Administration's approval of new medicines," The New York Times reports. "At the very least, Mr. Price exercised abysmal judgment by trading the shares of companies over whose fortunes he exercised so much control." Jeva Lange

12:20 p.m. ET

Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, declined to commit to staying aboard the Paris Agreement when pressed at her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday. Haley insisted climate change would always be "on the table," but said the U.S. also must consider whether it would put industries "at peril" by supporting efforts that may impose additional regulations or restrictions. The Paris climate accords, which were reached in December 2015 at U.N. meetings in Paris, seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions to battle climate change.

Haley's position on the Paris Agreement falls in line with her overall stance on climate change, ThinkProgress noted. Though Haley has "not explicitly denied the veracity of climate change science," she has not necessarily acknowledged the effects of climate change head-on either, ThinkProgress said.

Watch Haley discuss the Paris Agreement below. Becca Stanek

11:59 a.m. ET

Donald Trump's nominee for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, distanced himself from the president-elect Wednesday by stating firmly, "I do not think climate change is a hoax."

The statement, though, is unlikely to do much to ease concerns on the left or those held by protesters in the building. "Let me say to you, science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change," Pruitt said in his opening statement. "The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue. And well it should be."

Trump's nominee for secretary of the interior, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), also distanced himself from Trump by stating climate change is not a hoax but added that there is still some "debate" among scientists. Jeva Lange

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