Welcome to Overnight Regulations, your daily rundown of news from the federal agencies, Capitol Hill and the courts. It's Thursday evening here in Washington where a government shutdown is looking more likely than it did yesterday. Check out The Hill's live blog for the latest on the shutdown talks
THE BIG STORY
The Health and Human Services Department under President TrumpDonald TrumpGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Super PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE created a new division within the agency Thursday to better protect federal health works who refuse to perform certain procedures like abortion for religious or moral reasons.
As Jessie Hellmann reports, the new division under the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) will be responsible for investigating complaints filed by workers claiming that their employers have violated their religious rights.
"No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one's deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice," OCR Director Roger Severino said at the announcement ceremony Thursday morning.
"We are saying, with the launch of this division, you do not need to shed your religious identity, you do not need to shed your moral convictions to be a part of the public square."
Here's why this is a big deal:
Democrats and civil rights advocates are worried the move will allow workers to deny individual's access to healthcare.
The American Civil Liberties Union is planning to take legal action.
A big win for anti-abortion rights groups:
Republicans and anti-abortion groups often complained that the Obama administration did not enforce federal laws that protect health workers and institutions from having to violate their religious or moral beliefs by participating in abortions or other procedures.
Read the full story here.
Tech: The Senate Commerce Committee voted to confirm Commissioner Brendan Carr for a full five-year term at the Federal Communications Commission.
The panel advanced the nomination in a 14-13 party-line vote on Thursday. Carr, a Republican, was nominated and confirmed in August to a partial term that was set to expire later this year.
"Thank you to @SenateCommerce for acting on my renomination today & for ... advancing it to the full Senate," Carr wrote on Twitter. "If reconfirmed, I look forward to continuing [to] advance policies that will create jobs, spur investment, and grow the economy for the benefit of all Americans."
Harper Neidig has the story here.
Environment: Federal government researchers said Thursday that 2017 was the second-hottest year on record in terms of global average surface temperatures.
The finding by NASA follows three years in a row in which global temperature hit a new record. Last year's average temperature was eclipsed only by 2016's.
The heat average is part of a trend of more than four decades of rising global temperatures, which researchers say is nearly certain to be a sign of climate change, attributable primarily to greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.
Timothy Cama has the story here.
Tech: The Senate on Thursday passed an extension of a government surveillance program, sending the bill to President Trump's desk.
Senators voted 65-34 on the bill, which includes a six-year extension with minimal changes to the National Security Agency (NSA) program.
The vote comes after a tension-filled hour on the Senate floor earlier this week. Opponents tried, but failed, to mount a filibuster to force additional debate on the legislation, with both sides spotted lobbying key holdouts.
And opponents rallied against the bill ahead of Thursday's vote, arguing the legislation is being rushed through.
Read Jordain Carney's story here.
Justice: The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced 17 judicial nominees, several of which were vehemently opposed by Democrats, to the floor for a vote Thursday, along with three nominees for top posts in the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The committee hearing largely focused on Thomas Farr, whom Trump tapped for a lifetime seat on the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (D-N.J.), one of the committee's newest members, pushed Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyAnother voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 MORE (R-Iowa) to hold Farr's nomination and schedule a second hearing.
Farr has faced accusations of lying to the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing in September about his involvement in a scheme to intimidate black voters during Jesse Helms's campaign for a North Carolina Senate seat in 1992.
Read the full story here.
Finance: The acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) asked the Federal Reserve on Wednesday to withhold additional funding from the agency for the second quarter of fiscal 2018.
Acting CFPB Director Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyJan. 6 committee issues latest round of subpoenas for rally organizers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 11, including Pierson, other rally organizers MORE requested $0 from the Fed to fund bureau operations for three months in a letter to Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen. While Mulvaney said the CFPB's expects to spend $145 million in the next quarter, he intends to fund it through the bureau's $177 million emergency reserve account with the Fed's New York branch.
"I have been assured that the funds in the currently in the Bureau Fund are sufficient for the Bureau to carry out its statutory mandates for the next fiscal quarter while striving to be efficient, effective and accountable," Mulvaney wrote.
Mulvaney's empty request is his latest effort to reshape and reign in the CFPB. The agency announced Wednesday that it would allow companies subject to its new payday lending rule to apply for a delay in complying with its first deadline. And Mulvaney announced Thursday that the CFPB would solicit complaints about its practices as he looks to loosen its hold on the financial services industry.
Sylvan Lane has more here.
Finance: More on Mulvaney's shake-up at CFPB... The new leaders of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) are taking the most significant step yet toward unwinding rules panned by the finance industry and the GOP.
The CFPB announced this week that it would delay compliance with new regulatory rules for short-term, high-interest loans, commonly known as payday loans. The agency said it is considering how to roll back those rules.
The reassessment is part of acting Director Mick Mulvaney's broader push to rescind the bureau's most aggressive regulations and refocus the agency's work on promoting consumer freedom.
Mulvaney's move is a 180-degree turn from former CFPB Director Richard Cordray, who saw it as his mission to enact protections for vulnerable consumers.
Cordray, who is now running for governor of Ohio as a Democrat, called the intended review of the rule a "truly shameful action by the interim pseudo-leaders."
More from Sylvan here.
Energy: Florida Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied NASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy FAA unveils new system to reduce planes' times on taxiway MORE (D) is blocking quick confirmation of three Trump administration nominees, saying he hasn't gotten sufficient assurances regarding offshore drilling off Florida's coasts.
Nelson spokesman Ryan Brown said the senator sent Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' MORE a letter last week seeking details on Zinke's pledge to remove Florida from consideration for drilling.
But Zinke hasn't responded to that letter, prompting the hold late Wednesday on three Interior Department nominees.
Brown said Nelson "will keep the holds in place until Zinke rescinds the draft five-year drilling plan published in the Federal Register on Jan. 8 and replaces it with a new draft plan that preserves the current moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022 and fully protects all of Florida's coasts from the threat of both offshore drilling and seismic testing."
After a brief meeting last week with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), Zinke said Florida's waters would be taken out of the drilling plan.
Read more from Timothy Cama here.
IN OTHER NEWS
Pruitt accelerates efforts to remake the EPA – The Wall Street Journal
Lawmakers grill SpaceX, Boeing on safety of commercial crew capsules -- The Wall Street Journal
Religious freedom vs. patient rights: The new HHS division explained – The Washington Post