Congress approves first step to dismantle ‘Obamacare’

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on Congress (all times local):

3:30 p.m.

Congress has approved the first step toward dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Republicans have pushed a budget through Congress that provides an early but crucial victory in the effort.

The budget prevents Democrats from using a Senate filibuster to derail a bill annulling and replacing the law. That’s critical because it takes 60 votes to end filibusters, while Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority.

The real work lies ahead. Republicans must decide which parts of Obama’s statute to erase, what a new version should look like and how to protect 20 million people getting health coverage under the 2010 law.

The House approved the budget Friday by a near party-line 227-198 vote.

The Senate approved the measure Thursday. It does not need the president’s signature.

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3:10 p.m.

Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia says he doesn’t view Donald Trump as a legitimate president and will be skipping next Friday’s inauguration.

Lewis tells NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd” that the Russians helped Trump get elected.

It will be the first inauguration Lewis has missed since he began serving in Congress three decades ago. Lewis says, “You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right.” Lewis testified this week against Trump’s attorney general nominee, Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona also says he will stay home to protest what he calls “disrespect” shown to Americans by the incoming administration and by actions in Congress. He says the majority of voters rejected Trump, and they deserve respect.

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1:05 p.m.

The White House says President Barack Obama will sign legislation allowing retired Gen. James Mattis to run the Pentagon if Congress passes it before Obama leaves office.

The House is expected to pass a measure Friday relating to President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense. The Senate passed it easily on Thursday and it enjoys broad Republican support.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama wouldn’t prevent that legislation from becoming law.

The legislation grants a one-time exception to the law that bars former service members who have been out of uniform for less than seven years from holding the top Pentagon job. The restriction is meant to preserve civilian control of the military.

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11:30 a.m.

Sen. Tim Kaine says he’ll vote against allowing Rex Tillerson to become secretary of state.

The Virginia Democrat says in a statement that Tillerson failed to demonstrate the “awareness, judgment or independence” the senator expects from a person aspiring to be the nation’s chief diplomat.

President-elect Donald Trump selected Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, for the post last month.

Kaine is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and also was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in last year’s presidential election. The panel held a confirmation hearing for Tillerson Wednesday.

Kaine says Tillerson declined to answer his repeated questions about whether ExxonMobil had long understood the connection between CO2 emissions and climate change but instead waged “a public campaign to misinform the public about this scientific consensus.”

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10 a.m.

Committee Republicans and Democrats are sparring over how to handle an ethics challenge involving President-elect Donald Trump.

GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah wants to privately question Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics. Shaub has raised questions about what Trump plans to do with his business when he takes over the White House. Trump is planning to put his assets in a trust, but allow his children to manage them.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said Friday in a statement that the panel should protect whistleblowers and independent government watchdogs – not retaliate against them for political reasons.

He says Shaub should appear at a public hearing.

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3:30 a.m.

Congress is on the cusp of completing the first – and by far the easiest – step toward gutting President Barack Obama’s divisive health care law.

Friday’s vote in the House would adopt a House-Senate measure to make it easier for a subsequent “Obamacare” repeal bill to advance through the Senate without the threat of a Democratic filibuster.

The legislation doesn’t need to be signed by the president and wouldn’t actually change a word of the hotly contested health care law.

But its passage is crucial if Republicans controlling Congress are to keep their longstanding promise to scuttle the law, which has delivered health coverage to about 20 million people but is saddled with problems such as rapidly rising premiums and large co-payments.

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