WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on Congress (all times EST):
A dozen senators have sent a letter to President Donald Trump accusing him of promoting a "culture of fear among federal employees" that may prevent workers from completing their mission to openly serve the American public.
Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and other senators decried media reports that the new Trump administration has imposed a communications blackout on a number of federal agencies. Emails to federal staffers have banned press releases, blog updates or posts to agencies' social media accounts.
The letter says the American people expect an open, transparent and honest government, and says Trump's actions "are not only contrary to that expectation, they promote a long-lasting culture of fear among federal employees."
The letter is signed by 11 Democrats and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee says it will meet next Tuesday to vote on the nominations of Ryan Zinke and Rick Perry to head the departments of Interior and Energy, respectively.
The meeting was originally scheduled for this week but was delayed after Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state, the panel's senior Democrat, asked for more time to review Perry's record and policy positions.
A spokeswoman for Cantwell says she still has questions about Perry's stance on energy efficiency and other issues, but hopes to have them answered before the vote.
During his confirmation hearing, Perry, the former governor of Texas, retracted a 2011 statement that he wanted to abolish the Energy Department. He said he now better understands and supports the department's mission, including protecting and modernizing the nation's nuclear stockpile.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard says she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad during a recent trip to the war-torn country.
Appearing on CNN, the Hawaii Democrat says there is no possibility for a viable peace agreement in Syria unless Assad is part of the conversation.
Gabbard says, "Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria."
Gabbard, a major in the Army National Guard, met last November with Donald Trump shortly after the presidential election. She backed Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent.
She says she took the meeting with Trump over concern that a wing of the Republican Party known as the neocons will grow in influence once Trump's in office. She feared that could push the U.S. more deeply into Syria.