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Source: Trump to tap Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary

President-elect Donald Trump picked the final member of his Cabinet on Wednesday, landing on former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to serve as agriculture secretary and in the process locking in an inaugural Cabinet devoid of any Latino representation.

Trump will name Perdue to head the Agriculture Department on Thursday, a transition official told CNN on Wednesday. The other top contender for the post was former California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who is Hispanic.

The announcement will seal the makeup of Trump's inaugural Cabinet should all of his nominees be confirmed by the Senate.

Only two of Trump's Cabinet appointees are ethnic minorities: Ben Carson, Trump's pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development is black and his choice for transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, is Asian. Trump also tapped Nikki Haley, the Indian-American governor of South Carolina, to serve as UN ambassador, which is a Cabinet-rank post, but not an official member of the Cabinet.

Latinos have served in Cabinet positions in every presidential administration since 1988.

But Trump's break with that precedent is even more notable given his divisive and inflammatory rhetoric about Latinos during his presidential campaign.

Trump kicked off his campaign by labeling undocumented Mexican immigrants criminals and "rapists" and vowed to deport all undocumented immigrants living in the US during his campaign.

Trump interviewed several Latinos for the two final Cabinet posts he sought to fill -- leaders for the Departments of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs -- but landed instead on white men for both posts.

Thirteen of Trump's picks to form his official 16-member Cabinet are white men.

Following reports of the agriculture pick, Georgia Sen. David Perdue, the former Georgia governor's cousin, went online to send his congratulations.

"Couldn't be prouder of my cousin Sonny Perdue for being nominated to be our next secretary of agriculture," Perdue wrote in a post on Twitter and Facebook.

Obama offers reassurance mixed with warnings

"The only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world."

With that parting message to the nation, a sanguine Barack Obama sought to reassure the millions of Democrats disorientated and fearful about Donald Trump's pending inauguration that presidents may change but the nation always endures.

Still, in his final news conference as president, Obama warned that only an active citizenry and relentless political engagement can preserve what he sees as the successes of his administration and the values he believes have already made America great.

Obama drew a figurative line between his about-to-expire administration and the incoming Republican one that aims to destroy much of his legacy. His comments established an implicit scorecard for voters to use when judging which vision of government they prefer in the years ahead. Obama also struck a striking stylistic contrast with the President-elect, hinting at the change that will come to White House optics in two days.

But mostly he offered a message of reassurance at a time of national uncertainty after the most tumultuous presidential transition in modern history.

"This is not just a matter of no drama Obama, this is what I really believe," Obama told reporters in the White House press briefing room. "It is true that behind closed doors, I curse more than I do publicly ... and sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does. But at my core, I think we're going to be OK."

"We just have to fight for it," he added. "We have to work for it and not take it for granted."

Obama's characteristic sangfroid was a notable contrast to the political division and anxiety that emerged from last year's bitter campaign season. But Obama, citing the resilience of his daughters Malia and Sasha after the shock of the election, told his supporters: "We've tried to teach them hope and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world."

Obama's final news conference was also a chance for Obama, as aides packed up their belongings in the maze of West Wing offices behind the briefing room, to display the courtly manner that has rarely slipped in eight White House years.

He was constrained and cool, chose vocabulary that tiptoed around controversy, and called on journalists from a list prepared by his staff. His interactions with reporters was respectful but mostly distant. It was one last chance to witness the professorial demeanor that comes across to many Republicans as patronizing.

Things will change from Friday at noon.

Just a week ago, in his own news conference, the President-elect oozed passion and a relentless relish for confrontation. He called on reporters not off a pre-planned rotation but with a swing of his arm.

With a 60% approval rating on his way out the door, according to a CNN/ORC poll, Obama appeared confident his place in history is secure.

Still, Trump won the only contest that matters in November and will now have the chance to wipe out much of Obama's legacy.

That successive elections could have produced such different presidents in temperament and political background perhaps shows the elasticity of the American political system and the uncertainty of the times. Obama, conscious that his successor was probably watching on television, sought to avoid open conflicts with Trump even as the contrasts were clear.

He mounted a ringing defense of a free media and the need for the White House press corps to hold a president to account from within the West Wing itself -- a status Trump aides have already suggested may be at risk.

In a clear nod to the push for the diversity that has been an undercurrent of his administration, Obama's questioners included a Latina woman, a journalist for an Arab television channel, an African American woman and a man who works for an LGBT publication.

After an hour-and-a-quarter, Obama simply said "Thank you very much, press corps -- good luck" as a presidency that opened in a euphoric blast of hope and change slipped quietly into its final hours.

George H.W. Bush in stable condition in ICU

Former President George H.W. Bush is in stable condition, and his wife, former first lady Barbara Bush has bronchitis, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Bush, 92, was admitted to the intensive care unit at Houston Methodist Hospital to address "an acute respiratory problem stemming from pneumonia. Doctors performed a procedure to protect and clear his airway that required sedation," his spokesman, Jim McGrath, said in a statement.

By Wednesday evening, the former president was no longer sedated and instead conscious and engaged, McGrath said.

He told CNN's Jamie Gangel that doctors wanted to keep Bush in ICU for observation because he's still intubated and their intention is to keep his airway open. Bush was first hospitalized over the weekend suffering from shortness of breath and a cough and was treated with IV antibiotics.

At first, McGrath reported that he was responding well to the drugs. But Wednesday, the 41st president's condition changed and he was admitted to the intensive care unit, sedated and intubated.

"It's definitely very concerning," said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, who noted that it is the first time Bush has been intubated to protect his airway. "Certainly when someone is sedated, they're having trouble breathing on their own."

Barbara Bush treated with antibiotics

Barbara Bush also was admitted to the hospital Wednesday morning as a precaution after "experiencing fatigue and coughing," McGrath said in the same initial statement.

McGrath said Wednesday evening the first lady has bronchitis, not pneumonia like her husband. She is being treated with antibiotics. All things considered, McGrath said, doctors are very encouraged with her situation.

Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1993, was already not expected to attend the inauguration of Donald Trump in Washington on Friday due to health concerns.

Bush sent a letter to Trump on Jan. 10, apologizing for missing the ceremony and saying that he and Barbara "wish you the very best as you begin this incredible journey of leading our great country."

"My doctor says if I sit outside in January, it likely will put me six feet under. Same for Barbara," Bush wrote, in a letter first reported by ABC News. "So I guess we're stuck in Texas."

Trump responded on Twitter Wednesday, wishing the Bushes a speedy recovery and thanking them for their note.

"Looking forward to a speedy recovery for George and Barbara Bush, both hospitalized. Thank you for your wonderful letter!" he tweeted.

President Barack Obama said at a White House news conference Wednesday his White House has been in touch with the Bush family.

"They have not only dedicated their lives to this country, they have been a constant source of friendship and support and good counsel" over the years, Obama said.

"They are as fine a couple as we know," he added, calling the Bushes "really good people."

Former President Bill Clinton also offered his best wishes to his predecessor on Twitter.

"41 and Barbara---thinking about you both and sending wishes for a speedy recovery. Love, 42," he wrote.

Bush also received a "get well" video from actress Suzanne Somers and his face lit up, McGrath said.

Previous health concerns

Bush revealed several years ago that he suffered from a form of Parkinson's disease that left him unable to walk. He uses a wheelchair or a scooter to get around and had two other health scares in 2014 and 2015.

In December 2014, he was hospitalized after experiencing shortness of breath, and the following July fell at his home in Kennebunkport, Maine, breaking the C2 vertebrae in his neck.

The injury did not result in any neurological problems, his spokesman said at the time.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately state the years George H.W. Bush served as president of the United States.

Obama drops last-minute education rule change

The Obama administration is dropping a last-minute effort to force hundreds of school districts to shift nearly $1 billion in spending from well-financed elementary and secondary schools to their schools with large numbers of low-income students.

The Education Department said Wednesday it is withdrawing a proposed policy that would have dramatically increased federal control over school-district budgets, because it "did not have time to publish a strong final regulation."

As CNN reported Tuesday, the department had been rushing to finalize a regulation before Obama leaves office at noon on Friday and Donald Trump becomes president.

Even if the department had adopted the regulation by Friday, it would have faced strong opposition from Republicans in Congress, who could have overturned it with a majority vote and a presidential signature.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, welcomed the department's move today and said the regulation would have violated a federal law enacted in 2015 that aims to give states and school districts more control over education.

"This proposal would have dictated from Washington how states and school districts should spend nearly all state and local tax dollars on schools in order to receive federal Title I dollars," Alexander said a statement. Title I is a federal program that provides roughly $15 billion a year to schools and districts with large numbers of low-income students.

Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, was the main congressional sponsor of the 2015 law.

The Education Department had worked on the regulation for a year and envisioned it as a way to ensure that the nation's 14,000 school districts spent the same amount of state and local money per pupil in their various schools. The department had found that many school districts spend less per pupil in schools eligible for Title I funds than they spend in schools that are not eligible.

The just-withdrawn regulation would have required districts nationwide to shift a total of $800 million to Title I schools from non-Title I schools, or to spend an additional $2.2 billion in state and local funds on Title I schools.

"There are still far too many places in this country where the students getting the most support end up getting the least," said Education Department press secretary Dorie Nolt in a statement.


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