Florida Politics: Top News For 1/10/17

SESSIONS IN THE SPOTLIGHT- Sen. Jeff Sessions will be in the hot seat today as he faces a barrage of questions from his long-time colleagues in his bid to become the country’s next attorney general. President-elect Trump’s transition team has spent weeks lining up prominent African-Americans to vouch for Sessions, all part of a concerted re-branding effort to cast him as friendly to civil rights, law enforcement and Democratic lawmakers, Nancy Cook and Seung Min report this morning.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, endorsed Sessions on Monday. Scott said he put “special emphasis” on researching Sessions’ record after the Alabama senator was denied a federal judgeship in the 1980s due to allegations of racism, Seung Min reports. Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under President George W. Bush, also endorsed Sessions. CNN’s Dana Bash and Daniella Diaz: http://cnn.it/2j09SLv

But Democrats, especially black lawmakers, have expressed serious reservations about Sessions’ nomination since it was first announced in November. The Congressional Black Caucus came out in united opposition against Sessions last week and the group’s chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond, is part of a cadre of black lawmakers who will testify before the committee on the issue today. Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis and Sen. Cory Booker will also testify against Sessions.

History making: Booker’s appearance “marks the first time in the chamber’s history that a sitting senator has testified against another sitting senator who was up for a Cabinet job,” Seung Min and Bres report. “I do not take lightly the decision to testify against a Senate colleague,” Booker said in a statement late Monday. “But the immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee is a call to conscience.”

Leaders of the CBC, Asian and Hispanic caucuses also released a letter warning that Sessions will cause “great harm” to minorities if confirmed to lead the Justice Department. Seung Min with more: http://politi.co/2iXWasy. And Republicans have lined up a slew of their own witnesses to vouch for the Alabama senator. The full witness list: http://bit.ly/2i8YT2M

Get smart fast: The highlights from Sessions’ resume, via Seung Min and Josh Gerstein: http://politi.co/2i8XzNz. And SMK and Josh again with a quick overview of Sessions’ stances on immigration, police, civil rights and terrorism: http://politi.co/2i8RcKk

The details: Sessions’ home-state colleague Sen. Richard Shelby and moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins will introduce him at the hearing. Collins, who was sworn in with Sessions in 1997, will note the pair’s “share of vigorous debates and policy disagreements” and tout him as “a trusted colleague and personally as a good friend,” according to an excerpt obtained by Huddle. “I can confidently vouch for the fact that Jeff Sessions is a person of integrity, a principled leader, and a dedicated public servant,” Collins will say. The two-day hearing starts at 9:30 a.m.

MOVING RIGHT ALONG- Republican leaders in both the House and Senate are moving ahead with a plan to repeal Obamacare now and replace it later, despite mounting anxiety from the GOP rank-and-file about dismantling the healthcare law without a replacement ready to go. To ease those tensions, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “are now considering a strategy that includes adding some replacement provisions to the repeal bill,” Rachael and Burgess report . “One option being considered for the repeal bill is to expand the use of health savings accounts and allow states to set up high-risk pools for chronically sick patients.”

So where does Trump stand? The president-elect has been sending mixed messages about his stance on GOP leaders’ Obamacare strategy, including calling Sen. Rand PaulFriday to say he sides with the Kentucky Republican’s push to vote on a repeal and replacement plan simultaneously. “‘If it is his view, it would be really good if he would consider tweeting it out very clearly,’ said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who supports having a replacement in hand alongside repeal.” More: http://politi.co/2i8Rfpp

Who’s on the fence? Corker along with GOP Sens. Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy and Lisa Murkowski “offered an amendment Monday to the budget resolution that would extend the target date for the committees to write an Obamacare repeal bill to March 3 from Jan. 27.” Bloomberg’s Steve Dennis and Sahil Kapur: http://bloom.bg/2i8YZYp

Not so fast: The House Freedom Caucus wants to delay a vote on a budget that includes Obamacare repeal instructions until they get clarity on what a replacement would look like, Rachael reports. “We need to slow down the process so we can understand a little bit more the specifics and the timetable of replacement votes and reconciliation instructions, etc.,” HFC Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters outside Tortilla Coast Monday night. More: http://politi.co/2i96Hlt

WELCOME TO TUESDAY, JAN. 10. Thanks for reading POLITICO’s Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill. Alabama lost to Clemson last night in a nail-biting finish. I’m sad but my hat is off to the Tigers for their big win.

MONDAY’S MOST CLICKED: Seung Min’s story about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to delay confirmation hearings was the winner, winner, chicken dinner.

TODAY IN CONGRESS- The House meets at 10 a.m. with first votes around 1:30 p.m. and last votes around 5 p.m. Today’s House agenda: http://bit.ly/2i93m5J. The Senate convenes at 12 p.m. with votes related to the budget resolution at 2:30 p.m. Additional votes are possible.

AROUND THE HILL- House Speaker Paul Ryan and GOP leaders hold a press conference following their weekly Republican meeting at 10 a.m. in HC-8. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley, Vice Chair Linda Sanchez and Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings hold a 10 a.m. press conference in HVC-210 following a Democratic caucus meeting.

Reps. Mark Pocan, Mark Takano, Rosa DeLauro, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Sheila Jackson Lee, Alma Adams, Suzanne Bonamici and Jared Polis hold a press conference on Education Department nominee Betsy DeVos and announce the formation of the House Public Education Caucus at 10 a.m. in CVC-268.

Sens. John McCain, Ben Cardin and Bob Menendez will introduce Russian sanction legislation at 1:45 p.m. in S-325. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will meet with U.S. trade representative nominee Robert Lighthizer at 3:30 p.m. Sen. Ben Cardin discusses his meeting with EPA nominee Scott Pruitt at 4:15 p.m. in Hart 509.

OFF THE HILL- President Obama will deliver his farewell address at 9 p.m.

LET’S TALK A LIL’ TAXES- Top Trump transition officials trekked to the Hill Monday night for a more than two-hour tax reform meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior adviser Stephen Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin and incoming deputy chief of staff for policy Rick Dearborn were all in attendance. More from the Hill: http://bit.ly/2i8Z920

Tweet du jour: @ericawerner: [email protected] overheard talking as he left Capitol tonite about need to be on same page: “We have a huge challenge here, it was better tonight.”

CLAY WANTS THEFT REPORT FOR FERGUSON PAINTING- Rep. Lacy Clay’s attempt to file a police report for theft against Rep. Duncan Hunter was denied Monday, according to an email obtained by Huddle. Clay has accused Hunter of theft for removing a controversial student painting that depicts a police-protester standoff in Ferguson, Mo. “[P]lease explain why Congressman Duncan Hunter appears to be above the law,” Clay’s chief of staff wrote to Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa when she learned he had “personally declined” to take up the theft complaint.

Joe Kasper, Hunter’s chief of staff, said they find the theft accusations “laughable” and have had Capitol police drop by the office in recent days to express thanks for removing the painting. Clay and other CBC members are set to rehang the student artwork in the Cannon tunnel later this morning. More: http://politi.co/2iXSi8R

CONFIRMATION WATCH- Sessions is not the only Trump Cabinet pick in the hot seat today. The Homeland Security Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for retired Marine Gen. John Kelly. His nomination to lead the Homeland Security Department is one of President-elect Trump’s less controversial picks. The hearing starts at 3:30 p.m. Gregory Hellman has more on Kelly, including what he’ll say in his opening statement: http://politi.co/2j017Rr

And for those keeping track, the Senate is now down to confirmation hearings for eight nominees in three days. The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department, is being moved from Wednesday to Jan. 17. Democrats have been pushing to delay DeVos’ hearing due to outstanding ethics issues related to the billionaire activist’s finances. Michael Stratford: http://politi.co/2i98l6D

** A message from Americans for Tax Reform: Obamacare imposed more than $1,000,000,000,000 in higher taxes on America’s small businesses and families over a decade. Now, Congress is moving forward to repeal Obamacare. True repeal means repealing the full trillion dollars in higher taxes that directly or indirectly hurt middle class families. Repeal ALL Obamacare Taxes Now **

SPOTTED ON THE TRUMP TOWER CAM- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was in New York City Monday meeting with President-elect Trump. The two GOP leaders chatted about the Senate agenda, which McConnell said “of course includes confirming the cabinet appointments” and “getting further down the road toward repealing and replacing Obamacare.”

High hopes: McConnell is sticking to his wishes that Democrats cooperate enough to confirm several nominees on Day One of Trump’s presidency. That likely isn’t going to happen but one can dream. “Everybody will be properly vetted as they have been in the past and I’m hopeful we’ll get up to six or seven, particularly the National Security Team, in place on day one,” he said after the Trump meeting.

Throwing cold water on that idea: “Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered an explicit warning to Republicans on Monday, saying Democrats are willing to slow down confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s Cabinet until potential nominees finish independent ethics reviews,” Elana reports.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS- Trump’s first meeting with House and Senate Republicans as president is likely to be Jan. 26, during the joint GOP retreat in Philadelphia, Jake and Anna report in Playbook this morning. More: http://politi.co/2fgUUPj

EARMARKS BE GONE- The debate over earmarks has faded in recent weeks, but Sen. Jeff Flake will force the matter today at the conference lunch with an amendment to party rules to extend the earmark moratorium. That vote is a secret ballot.

MATTIS MOVING ALONG- Both the House and Senate are working this week to pass a waiver allowing James Mattis to serve as Defense secretary. The two chambers could pass the waiver as early as Friday, Jeremy Herb and Connor O’Brien report. Mattis, a retired Marine general who goes by the nickname “Mad Dog,” must have an exemption to serve as Defense secretary since he left the military in 2013 and federal law requires you to be retired 7 years. Mattis’ confirmation hearing is Thursday and the Senate Armed Services Committee could vote on the waiver the same day. Jeremy and Connor with more for Pros: http://politico.pro/2iauYCD

AIN’T STOPPING US NOW- “The election may be over, but the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email use at the State Department, Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told reporters Monday.” BuzzFeed’s Alexis Levinson with the story: http://bzfd.it/2iXCUJx

GOING LATE INTO THE NIGHT- Senate Democrats launched into a late-night talk-a-thon about Republican plans to repeal Obamacare, walking off the floor shortly after midnight. Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman and Niels Lesniewski with more on Democrats’ floor protest and coordinated social media push (including a new Snapchat account!): http://bit.ly/2iaAFjO

ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES- Kendra Brown is leaving her post as policy director for the Congressional Black Caucus for a new gig as legislative director for Rep. Dwight Evans.

Erin Perrine has been promoted to press secretary for the Senate Republican Conference, chaired by Sen. John Thune. She’s been a member of Thune’s press team as internal communications adviser and previously worked on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s congressional campaign and in the private sector.

MONDAY’S TRIVIA WINNER- Marshal Shemtob was the first to guess that Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords served as a Republican in the Senate until switching to an independent in 2001.