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Hornets coach Steve Clifford to take leave of absence to address health

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hornets coach Steve Clifford will be away from the team for an undetermined period of time to deal with a “health issue.”

The team made the announcement Wednesday in a release.

The 56-year-old Clifford missed Monday night’s game against Orlando because he was not feeling well. Associate head coach Stephen Silas filled in for Clifford against the Magic.

Clifford has battled heart problems in the past, but a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press the issue was not heart-related. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team has not released details of Clifford’s health issue.

The team said there is no timetable for Clifford’s return and that officials would have no further comment.

Silas will continue to coach the team with Clifford out. The Hornets fell to Golden State 101-87 on Wednesday night.

“I just want to send him my best wishes,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Obviously I have been through some issues, and I don’t know what his health issues are, but it’s no fun. I’m wishing him well and I hope he gets back on the sideline soon. But more importantly I hope that he’s healthy.”

If the players know what is wrong with Clifford, they aren’t saying.

“I feel like Cliff is one of those guys, no matter what is going on his life, he’s always going to be here,” Hornets forward Marvin Williams said. “So for him to not be here now is a little bit concerning. I have texted back and forth with him a couple of times and he’s texted back every time. He seems in good spirits. Whatever is going on with him, I’m sure he’s fine. If he has to step away to make sure he’s OK, that’s what is most important.”

Williams said the team has confidence in Silas.

“We will continue to follow his lead,” Williams said.

Clifford underwent a procedure in 2013 — his first year as Charlotte’s head coach — to have two stents placed in his heart, but he returned to coaching just three days later. The procedure came after Clifford began experiencing chest pain while eating at a Charlotte restaurant and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital.

Clifford has since changed his diet and has been eating healthier.

The Hornets were playing well at home under Clifford, but they are just 9-13 overall heading into Wednesday night’s game. They have struggled on the road, where they are 1-10 this season despite the play of All-Star Kemba Walker. The point guard is turning in another impressive season, averaging 22.7 points and 6.3 assists per game.

Cochran’s absence creates unexpected budget hurdle

04c06_ Cochran's absence creates unexpected budget hurdle

Privately, Republicans have been increasingly concerned about Sen. Thad Cochran’s health, who is in his seventh term in the Senate and chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. | Paul Morigi/Getty Images

The ailing GOP senator remains in Mississippi as the Senate reconvenes for a major vote.

Senate Republicans are scrambling to lock down the necessary votes for a budget that would unlock a tax overhaul — facing unforeseen absences and still-wavering GOP votes.

The chamber is aiming for a vote on Thursday regardless of whether Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), whose office announced Monday that he would not return to Washington as planned, remains absent, according to GOP sources. That means Senate Republicans have little room for error, and GOP leaders are laboring to win over Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona.

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Paul, who earlier this year was the only Republican senator to vote against a budget that would fast-track an Obamacare repeal measure earlier this year, stressed Monday that he was still undecided on the GOP blueprint.

“We’re in discussions on it,” Paul told reporters on Monday. “We’re trying to get it to a document that we think represents what we stand for. I’m not gonna go into the details right now, but I’m working with the White House on it.”

A spokeswoman for McCain, who was not in Washington for votes on Monday night, did not respond to a request for comment on how he intends to vote on the budget.

Passage of the long-delayed fiscal blueprint would mark a critical step for the GOP toward the first major tax rewrite in a generation. The Senate’s budget unlocks procedural powers to advance a tax plan without Democratic support. GOP leaders are aiming to pass tax reform by December.

Without Cochran, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could afford to lose only two other Republicans on the budget. In the two weeks since the Senate unveiled its budget framework, more than a dozen senators have made complaints. Some, like Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, vented that the budget ignores the nation’s ballooning deficit. Others, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said they want an even more aggressive approach to tax cuts.

That opposition appears to have softened as the budget inches toward the floor, however.

“I voted for it out of committee,” Corker said on Monday. “I look at this solely as a tax reform vehicle, and I don’t want to see deficits in the actual tax bill, OK? But as far as voting for a budget that allows that to go ahead, I’m fine with that.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine could have been a potential third “no” vote, but she said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that she is “likely a yes.”

Complicating matters further is whether Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is on trial for federal corruption charges, will be able to return to Washington for votes. His absence would give Republicans slightly more breathing room even if Cochran remains sidelined. But Menendez’s trial does not convene on Fridays, meaning he could theoretically be at the Capitol later on Thursday for votes and complicate the GOP’s path to a simple majority for their budget plan.

Debate on the blueprint is slated to kick off Tuesday, though a procedural vote to launch the floor battle could be delayed due to the absence of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who will not be in the Senate on Tuesday due to a funeral. The Senate’s marathon voting session, known as vote-a-rama, is tentatively slated to begin Thursday.

It’s not clear when Cochran, who leads the Appropriations Committee, will return to the Senate, though a spokesman did not rule out his return later this week. The Appropriations Committee still plans to meet Thursday to take up spending bills, though it postponed a pair of subcommittee markups scheduled for Tuesday.

Cochran, 79, has been recovering from health issues at home in Mississippi for several weeks. His office announced Monday that he is again delaying a trip to Washington after developing a recurring urinary tract infection.

Doctors monitored Cochran and advised him to stay home to recover from his health conditions, his office said.

Privately, Republicans have been increasingly concerned about the health of Cochran, who is in his seventh term in the Senate.

Several sources indicated last week that Republicans are worried Cochran’s absence could last through the end of the year, which would mean the chief senator overseeing government spending would not be present for the year-end funding fight. Current government funding runs out on Dec. 8.

Cochran is not up for reelection until 2020 and is viewed as a reliable leadership ally. His seat was fiercely contested in a 2014 primary, and GOP leaders poured in resources to save Cochran from the insurgent Chris McDaniel, a state senator. McDaniel is weighing a challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi next year, and could run for Cochran’s seat if he ends up stepping down and a special election is scheduled.

Shelby, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, is next in line to chair the committee and often plays a significant role in fiscal negotiations, a scenario that could be heightened if Cochran is gone for a prolonged period.

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