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Raging At Sen. Murkowski, Trump Stokes GOP Divisions

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

As the Republican Party is struggling to defend him in a moment of nationwide strife, President Donald Trump decided Thursday night to fuel divisions within GOP rather than make nice.

He had already lashed out on Wednesday at his former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who sharply criticized Trump's response to the ongoing George Floyd protests. But on Thursday night, Trump took at aim at sitting Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

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#EndorseThis: Colbert Castigates Alexander And Murkowski

In his earnest plea to convict Trump during impeachment closing arguments on the Senate floor, House manager Adam Schiff (D-CA), urged Republicans to retrieve their inner decency. “Truth matters to you, right matters to you,” said Schiff. “He is not who you are.”

But Stephen Colbert says it’s perfectly understandable if Senate Republicans confuse themselves with Trump — because “it’s hard to tell where his ass ends and their lips begin.”

Colbert is having none of the phony angst expressed by the likes of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of a few Republicans who betrayed expectations by voting against impeachment witnesses last Friday. “It is sad for me to admit that as an institution,” she lamented, “Congress has failed.” No, retorts Stephen, “the Senate Republicans have failed. And you’re one of them.”

And then there’s Lamar! Alexander of Tennessee, whose explanations are even lamer. Colbert has a few choice words for him too.

Just click.

Billionaire Betsy DeVos Can’t Buy Her Way Into The Education Department

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The defection of two Republican senators has imperiled President Trump’s nomination of Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska announced Tuesday they would not vote for DeVos, whose wobbly performance in her confirmation hearings and lack of public school experience have encouraged Senate Democrats seeking to defeat her nomination.

“I will not, I cannot vote to confirm her as our nation’s next secretary of education,” Collins said on the Senate floor.

DeVos has contributed $5,000 to Collins’ campaigns. But Murkowski’s no-vote was perhaps an even bigger surprise. DeVos’ family businesses have contributed $33,400 to Murkowski’s political campaigns since 1989, according to OpenSecrets.

With all 48 Democratic senators expected to vote against DeVos, Democrats need only one more vote to kill her nomination. Attention has turned to two of the most moderate Republican senators, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

Protests organized by public education advocates in Alaska may have made the difference. More than 200 demonstrators thronged Murkowski’s office in Anchorage on Monday, according to Alaska Dispatch News. Her staff estimated the senator’s office received an unprecedented 30,000 phone calls about DeVos.

Of all of Trump’s nominees, DeVos has attracted the most opposition, even from her fellow alumni of Calvin College, the private Christian school in Michigan from which she graduated.

Last month hundreds of Calvin College graduates signed a letter objecting to DeVos’ nomination.

While many of us were inspired by our time at Calvin College to make education a professional commitment, Mrs. DeVos was not. She has never worked in any educational institution as an administrator, nor as an educator. If the position of the Secretary of Education requires the individual to have an intimate knowledge of the tools used by educators, which we believe it does, Mrs. DeVos does not qualify.

The Senate has not yet scheduled the final vote on DeVos’ confirmation.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. 

IMAGE: Betsy DeVos testifies before the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee confirmation hearing to be next Secretary of Education on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Senate Panel Approves Obama’s Pick For FDA Commissioner

By Vera Bergengruen, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel on Tuesday cleared President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration, cardiologist Dr. Robert Califf.

While he was approved on a voice vote by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Califf’s close relationship to the pharmaceutical industry still raised concerns.

“His extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans, rather than pharmaceutical CEOs who are more focused on making obscene profits than saving lives,” Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sits on the Senate health committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

Sanders, who is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, did not attend Tuesday’s vote but voted no by proxy and said he is considering holding up Califf’s nomination.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski also said she will block Califf’s path to a full Senate vote over a clash about labeling genetically modified salmon. She said she was angry that the FDA issued guidelines calling for voluntary, not mandatory, labeling of genetically modified foods after Califf promised to listen to her concerns.

Despite this opposition, Califf’s nomination has strong bipartisan support, and the voice vote Tuesday indicates that while other White House nominations still may be held up, FDA leadership is a priority. The position has been open since Dr. Margaret Hamburg stepped down last February.

Tuesday’s committee vote “reflects the importance of having a strong leader at the FDA and shows that Dr. Califf is uniquely qualified to fill that role,” said Dr. Ellen Sigal, chairwoman of Friends of Cancer Research nonprofit group.

“While we had hoped this could have been done before the new year, the vote today should push the full Senate to confirm Dr. Califf immediately,” she said.

Califf was serving as deputy commissioner, the agency’s No. 2 spot, when Obama nominated him to lead the FDA in September. A prolific researcher, the Columbia, S.C., native previously spent three decades at Duke University, where he founded Duke’s Clinical Research Institute.

His institute receives $320 million in annual funding, and more than 63 percent of its projects are funded by pharmaceutical and medical companies, according to its annual report. This, in addition to his role as a consultant to several drug companies, raised some skepticism at his confirmation hearing.

According to federal government open payments data, in 2014 Califf personally received more than $29,000 in consulting fees, meals and travel expenses. Several lawmakers and advocacy groups have questioned his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which could prove to be a conflict of interest when regulating former clients.

Califf will inherit an agency that faces a slate of challenges in the last year of the Obama administration. The FDA is under increasing pressure to speed up the drug approval process and to extend its regulation of tobacco to include electronic cigarettes. The agency also is in the middle of overhauling how it controls food safety practices for companies in order to prevent foodborne illnesses and to end delays on labeling cheaper copies of biologic drugs, known as biosimilars.

Califf’s nomination for FDA commissioner will now go before a full Senate vote.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Food and Drug Administration Commissioner nominee Doctor Robert Califf testifies at his nomination hearing at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron