JUDY WOODRUFF: The United States Senate formally opened debate today on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, and headed toward a bruising battle. Republicans said they will change the rules to permit a simple majority to confirm Gorsuch if they can’t come up with what is called cloture, the 60 votes necessary to close off a Democratic filibuster.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, Majority Leader: It appears as if cloture will not be invoked, but we will find out on Thursday. But either way, we will be moving toward confirming Judge Gorsuch on Friday.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, Minority Leader: Senator McConnell would have the world believe that his hands are tied, that the only option after Judge Gorsuch doesn’t earn 60 votes is to break the rules to change the rules. That could not be further from the truth.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Only three Senate Democrats have said they would join the 52 Republicans in supporting Gorsuch.
The Trump White House is talking to House Republicans again about repealing and replacing Obamacare. The original effort collapsed last month. Last night, Vice President Pence and top White House officials offered a new proposal to conservatives.
Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan called the talks productive, but he tempered expectations.
REP. PAUL RYAN, Speaker of the House: Now we’re throwing around concepts to improve the bill. That’s occurring right now, but that is not to say that we’re ready to go, because we want to make that, when we go, we have the votes to pass this bill, we have got the consensus that we have long been looking for.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The White House proposal would let states seek exemptions from making insurers cover essential benefits, such as maternity and mental health.
The Trump administration will cut off U.S. funding for the U.N. Population Fund. A State Department memo accuses the agency of supporting population control in China, including coercive abortions. The $32 million in aid will go to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The city of Baltimore is butting heads with federal officials over police reforms. Last night, federal officials sought to delay final approval of an agreement known as a consent decree. It spells out sweeping changes in how police deal with minorities.
KEVIN DAVIS, Baltimore Police Commissioner: We are ready to roll with the consent decree.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Baltimore officials insisted this morning they will go ahead with overhauling the city’s police force, with or without the U.S. Department of Justice.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis:
KEVIN DAVIS: I am disappointed that the Department of Justice thought it was necessary to seek a 90-day extension. The reforms are going to come no matter what.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Late Monday, the U.S. Justice Department asked to postpone a federal court hearing set for this Thursday on the proposed Baltimore decree. Justice officials said they want to review and assess how it fits with an aggressive new emphasis by the Trump administration on fighting crime.
LORETTA LYNCH, Former U.S. Attorney General: The Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore have agreed to enter into a court-enforceable consent decree.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The decree was announced just before President Obama left office, and almost two years after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody, and the resulting unrest.
The Obama Justice Department found longstanding patterns of racial profiling and excessive force by police. Now the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has ordered a sweeping review, not just of the Baltimore agreement, but of Justice Department interactions with local law enforcement nationwide.
In Russia, investigators now say a suicide bomber carried out Monday’s subway attack that killed 14 people in St. Petersburg. Officials released images of the 22-year-old man. He’s identified as a native of Kyrgyzstan, a majority-Muslim state in Central Asia. There’s been no claim of responsibility.
The issue of Trump transition aides caught up in surveillance of foreign individuals has taken a new turn. It involves Susan Rice, who was national security adviser to President Obama. She was asked today about reports that she knew about the surveillance, and asked for identities of the Trump aides.
She spoke with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC News: Did you seek the names of people involved in — to unmask the names of people involved in the Trump transition, the Trump campaign, people surrounding the president-elect in order to spy on them, in order to expose them?
SUSAN RICE, Former National Security Adviser: Absolutely not. Absolutely not, for any political purposes, to spy, expose anything.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Did you leak the name of Mike Flynn?
SUSAN RICE: I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Last month, on the NewsHour, Rice said she knew nothing about the surveillance of the Trump aides or the disclosure of their identities.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has announced a $3 billion deal with Iran. It is the first major sale to Iran by an American company since President Trump took office. Boeing says the agreement covers 30 of its 737 MAX passenger jets.
Wall Street had a relatively quiet day. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 39 points to close at 20689. The Nasdaq rose about four points, and the S&P 500 added a point.
And the University of North Carolina is once again champion of men’s college basketball. The Tar Heels celebrated after beating Washington State’s Gonzaga University last night 71-65 for their sixth national title. A year ago, they lost to Villanova on a last-second shot.