Donald Trump selects leading critic of Obamacare as health secretary
US President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Georgia congressman Tom Price, a fierce critic of Obamacare, to oversee the nation's health care system and Elaine Chao, a veteran of George W Bush's cabinet, to lead the Department of Transportation.
Both have long ties to Washington. Mr Price, picked to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after more than a decade in Congress, helped craft House Speaker Paul Ryan's plan to privatise Medicare - a position Mr Trump opposed in the campaign.
Medicare is a federal health insurance programme for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with permanent kidney failure.
Ms Chao, who was the first Asian-American woman to serve in a president's cabinet, is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Mr Trump announced his choice of Mr Price, while the selection of Ms Chao was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the decision but not authorised to speak publicly.
The selections came as Mr Trump spent another day with advisers in his Manhattan skyscraper, racing through meetings with prospective administration hires as high-profile vacancies loom - none bigger than secretary of state.
As conservatives largely praised Tuesday's picks, Mr Price's selection raised questions about the incoming president's commitment to Medicare, among other popular entitlement programmes he repeatedly vowed to preserve before the election.
The Georgia congressman led GOP efforts on Capitol Hill to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system, a change that if enacted, would likely dramatically reduce government spending on the health care programme that serves an estimated 48 million elderly and another nine million disabled people.
Mr Trump did not address Mr Price's position on Medicare in a statement released by his transition team. The team did not respond to subsequent questions about it.
"Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on health care policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity," Mr Trump said.
"He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible health care to every American."
Mr Trump, in a 2015 interview promoted on his campaign website, pledged not to cut expensive entitlement programmes that Republicans have fought for years to cut to help reduce the federal deficit.
"I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican. And I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican's going to cut," Mr Trump told the Daily Signal.
He later changed his mind on Medicaid, embracing the GOP concept of turning the programme over to the states with a fixed amount of federal "block grant" funding.
Like any Cabinet official, Mr Price would carry out the wishes of the president. And a sweeping Medicare initiative would have to go through Congress with some Democratic support, which would be unlikely.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a leading Democratic voice on health care, called Mr Price a leader of the movement to privatise Medicare. She said his selection "will result in the complete undermining of our nation's health care system".
Like Mr Price, Ms Chao is well-known in Washington, having led the Department of Labour for several years under Mr Bush.
Her record at the Labour Department suggests she would bring a light hand to safety enforcement as transportation secretary.
Under Ms Chao, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration did not issue a single significant new safety regulation for four years. Mine safety inspectors were cut and inspections reduced.
Whether it is integrating drones into the national airspace, deploying self-driving cars or "some other new technology, she's not going to be especially inclined to second guess the industry when they say that this will be safe", said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law professor and author of Freedom To Harm, a book about the Labour Department that includes Ms Chao's tenure.
Both Mr Price and Ms Chao would require Senate confirmation. Major Cabinet vacancies remain.
The president-elect summoned former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to New York for dinner on Tuesday night to discuss the secretary of state job for a second time.
He was also meeting with Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is getting new attention from Mr Trump's team.
On Monday, Mr Trump spent an hour with former CIA director David Petraeus, another contender.
Transition aides said Mr Trump was likely at least a few days away from a decision.
Even as he weighed crucial Cabinet decisions, Mr Trump appeared distracted by outside issues - or eager to create distractions himself.
He took to Twitter early on Tuesday to declare that "nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag". He warned that those who do should face "perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!"
Mr Trump offered no context for his message. The Supreme Court has ruled that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment, and Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Tuesday he does not support Mr Trump's approach.
"I support the First Amendment," he said.
The president-elect spent the weekend tweeting his opposition to recount efforts in up to three states led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and joined by Hillary Clinton's team.
He also claimed that millions of people had voted illegally in the presidential election but provided no evidence.
Independent.ie Comments Facility
INM has taken the decision to remove the commenting facility on its online platform Independent.ie to minimise the legal risk to our business that arises from Ireland's draconian libel awards system.
We continue to look forward to receiving comments through direct email contact or via social media, some of which may still be featured on the website Independent.ie