Dems, GOP battle over pace of Trump confirmations

Dems, GOP battle over pace of Trump confirmations
© Getty Images

Democrats doubled down Monday on their charge that Republican senators are rushing the confirmation process on President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpZuckerberg moves spark 2020 speculation British military tests tanks in Channel tunnel: report San Antonio Spurs coach on Trump: 'Can't believe anything that comes out of his mouth' MORE’s Cabinet picks without giving them enough time for a thorough vetting.

Nine of Trump’s potential Cabinet members are set for hearings this week as Republicans seek to get the incoming president’s team in line by the time he takes office at the end of next week. Five hearings will be held on Wednesday alone.

The jampacked schedule has roiled Democrats, who argue many of the proposed nominees deserve extra scrutiny because of their vast wealth and inexperience in public office.

ADVERTISEMENT
They have pointed to a letter from the head of the Office of Government Ethics, who warned paperwork hadn’t been filed on several of Trump's picks.

“Our caucus was and is concerned about the timely completion of the standard paperwork and ethics clearance for nominees before proceeding full steam ahead with confirmation hearings and votes,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerDemocrats and the boycott of Trump's inauguration The Hill's 12:30 Report Why Democrats fear a successful inaugural address from Trump MORE (N.Y.) warned Monday in comments on the Senate floor.

Democrats seem unlikely to be able to block Trump’s nominees given the GOP’s 52-seat majority. Under changes to Senate rules implemented by Democrats when they were in charge, the filibuster cannot be used against Cabinet appointees. That means a majority vote is enough for confirmation.

But they could use the paperwork to probe any potential conflicts in the high-profile hearings, their only shot to publicly question Trump's picks before the votes to confirm them.

Democrats appeared to win new momentum Monday by touting a February 2009 letter from then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMeet Trump's secret weapon on infrastructure Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch MORE (R-Ky.) to then-Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidFranken emerges as liberal force in hearings GOP eyes new push to break up California court The DC bubble is strangling the DNC MORE (D-Nev.).

In the letter, McConnell argued that hearings on Obama nominees should not be scheduled until ethics agreements were completed with the Office of Government Ethics, and until the FBI completed background checks.

The ethics agreements are essentially letters from nominees that explain how they would seek to avoid potential conflicts of interest while in office.

Schumer, reading the letter on the Senate floor, said this is “almost exactly” what Democrats are requesting for Trump's picks.

McConnell’s staff argued on Twitter that the letter was aimed at lower-level nominations.

Republicans said Democrats held confirmation hearings for Obama's nominees before the inauguration and that they allowed Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonZuckerberg moves spark 2020 speculation Franken emerges as liberal force in hearings SNL honors Obama with emotional musical tribute MORE's FBI background check to come in after her hearing. 
 
The then-Democratic controlled Senate also confirmed seven nominations on Obama’s first day in office. Clinton and Obama Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner were both confirmed within his first week in office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday that the Senate will stick to the same standards for Trump as previous administrations.

“Everybody will be properly vetted as they have been in the past, and I'm hopeful that we'll get up to six or seven — particularly national security team in place — on Day One,” he told reporters after a meeting with Trump in New York, according to the pool report.

McConnell has pledged to not schedule a final confirmation vote for a nominee until all paperwork has been submitted. He dismissed Democratic complaints as sour grapes from their election loss.

As of Monday afternoon, the Office of Government Ethics had released ethics agreements and financial disclosures for five Trump’s choices who will see hearings this week: Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick to be secretary of State; Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsFranken emerges as liberal force in hearings Five worries for tech under Trump The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch MORE, his pick to be attorney general; Rep. Mike Pompeo, his pick to be CIA; Elaine Chao, his pick to be Transportation secretary and James Mattis, his pick to lead the Pentagon.

A Democratic leadership aide confirmed that lawmakers are still waiting on paperwork from four prospective nominees who will get hearings this week: Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Ben Carson and John Kelly.

All of Obama’s nominees turned in an ethics agreements before their committee hearings, Democrats said.  

According to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Arne DuncanArne DuncanDems, GOP battle over pace of Trump confirmations The Hill's 12:30 Report Juan Williams: Big questions over Trump's pick for schools MORE, Obama’s first Education Secretary, Ken Salazar, his first Interior secretary, Eric ShinsekiEric ShinsekiDems, GOP battle over pace of Trump confirmations Report: Trump considering two health CEOs to lead VA Trump considering Navy Adm. Michelle Howard to run VA: report MORE, his first Veterans Affairs Secretary and Steven Chu, his first Energy secretary—who were each confirmed on Obama’s first day in office — had their ethics letters in by Jan. 9.

Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE — Obama’s first Agriculture secretary — was also confirmed on Obama’s first day, but he got a 45-day extension on a financial disclosure document, according to OGE. His ethics letter was submitted on Jan. 8.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest jabbed at Senate Republicans on Monday, saying they are forming a “cheap-suit caucus” and “rubber stamping” Trump’s picks.

Walter Shaub, Jr., the ethics office director, wrote in a letter to Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that the busy hearing schedule had overwhelmed his office.

“As OGE’s director, the announced hearing schedule for several proposed nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me,” Shaub wrote.  

Shaub added that the review was made more difficult because OGE wasn’t consulted before the nominations were announced and in some cases the office hasn’t received an “initial draft financial disclosure” from some picks.

Republicans have brushed aside the letter, with the Trump team accusing officials of “politicizing” the confirmation process.

Kellyanne Conway, a senior Trump adviser, hit back at Democratic criticism, calling it a "timing and process issue." 
 
"We're trying to get our Cabinet appointees confirmed and we deserve that respect and president-elect deserves that type of swift action," she told Fox on Monday. 
 
The Obama administration faced its own pushback on some of its nominations as they prepared to take office.

Former Arizona Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination for secretary of Commerce in early January 2009 after a federal investigation discovered potential conflicts with some of his political donors.

Meanwhile, a failure to pay taxes in a timely fashion cost former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle the post of secretary of Health and Human Services.

Geithner was confirmed, but the Senate Finance Committee disclosed during his confirmation that he had failed to pay more than $34,000 in taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

He met with Senate Finance members in a closed-door meeting and both parties agreed to let his nomination move forward.

Vicki Needham contributed.