Democrats press FEC pick to recuse himself from Trump matters

Greg Nash

Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee grilled President Trump’s nominee to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the government’s campaign watchdog, on Tuesday, urging him to recuse himself from any matters involving the president.

But Trump’s pick, Trey Trainor, said he would not accept a “blanket recusal” if confirmed.

“My plan is to follow the same recusal regime as every other member of the commission,” Trainor told the committee, adding that he will have a conversation with FEC advisers about the appropriate steps to take if needed to recuse himself from any agency matters involving Trump.

Trainor is a Texas attorney and was an adviser for the president’s 2016 campaign, and if confirmed he would allow the agency, which has long been sidelined with only three of six commissioners, to finally achieve a quorum. But Senate Republicans angered Democrats by moving to advance Trainor’s nomination without a nominee for a Democratic FEC seat.

Trainor on Tuesday faced pressure from the Rules Committee ranking member Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a former 2020 presidential candidate, and other Democrats over how he would handle matters involving Trump and whether he approved of the process that would see a Republican give the FEC board a quorum.

“Abandoning bipartisan norms and pushing forward a controversial nominee is not the way to do it. Moving forward in this way does more harm than good,” Klobuchar said.

She criticized Trainor’s past work, including arguing that people shouldn’t have to disclose political giving, working to support voter ID laws, and his comments that the Supreme Court “got Citizens United right,” in reference to the landmark campaign finance decision. 

“I view the role of the FEC first and foremost as giving the American people confidence in our electoral system,” Trainor told the panel.

Highlighting the contentious fight, the hearing brought testimony from both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

McConnell noted that there are two Republican vacancies. But Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) mentioned that FEC commissioner vacancies traditionally have been filled two at a time, with one from each party.

“The commission is in need of new ideas and new perspectives,” Trainor said to Udall when asked if he supports pairing his nomination with a Democratic nominee. 

Schumer blasted Trainor at the hearing.

“Mr. Trainor has a long career as a conservative political operative,” he said.

He added that the Trump administration has a “habit” of nominating people whose backgrounds don’t fit the mission of the work.

The fight over the agency has heated up in the election year. Former FEC Vice President Matthew Petersen resigned in August and, since then, the agency has been unable to do its job of enforcing campaign laws.

The FEC is responsible for investigations into possible campaign violations, auditing campaign committees and issuing fines for those who break campaign finance law, such as the ban on contributions from foreign nationals.

Trainor sought to convince lawmakers he would be fair in his post.

“If the Senate votes to confirm me to this post, I will approach my work at the FEC in an objective and methodical manner,” Trainor said in his opening statement.

After his work on the Trump campaign, Trainor was special assistant to former Defense Secretary James Mattis. Before that, he worked at the law firm Ackerman and previously was general counsel to Texas secretary of state.

Trump first nominated Trainor in 2017, but his nomination has lapsed three times. Trump nominated him for a fourth time in 2020.

Updated at 1:47 p.m.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Chuck Schumer Donald Trump James Mattis Mitch McConnell Roy Blunt Tom Udall

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