Confirmation crush hits peak Wednesday

The Senate is slated to hold a spate of hearings for some of President-elect Donald Trump’s most high-profile Cabinet picks next week, teeing up a hectic schedule that includes President Obama’s farewell address and Trump’s first press conference since winning the election in November.

The long roster of potentially heated hearings is set to begin with Trump’s choice for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is set to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee he was once a member of at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday. 

The Alabama Republican is one of Trump’s more controversial picks, with critics accusing Sessions of racial bias and citing his failed nomination for a federal judgeship more than three decades ago as reasons that he is unfit to head the Department of Justice.

But with his deep ties to the chamber and a simple majority needed for confirmation, he’s expected to easily become the country’s next top law enforcement official, once his former colleagues on the Judiciary Committee get their questions answered.

{mosads}The Sessions hearing is likely to wrap for the day long before President Obama travels to Chicago to deliver his farewell address, meaning two high-profile events will bookend next Tuesday.


Wednesday will bring six hearings on the Hill, though the spotlight could shift to New York, as Trump has said he’ll hold a news conference there that day. 

The Senate will hear from Trump’s pick for secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson, on Wenesday and Thursday. He has been criticized for his seemingly cozy ties with Vladimir Putin, as well as his business interests in Russia. Some Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have been reluctant to support Tillerson’s confirmation, threatening to vote against him if he’s not tough on Russia.

But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has voiced support for the nominee, applauding the oil executive as a strategic businessman capable of heading State.

Trump’s pick for secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, could face harsh scrutiny during her Wednesday hearing, which kicks off at 10 a.m. DeVos is a longtime proponent of charter schools and taxpayer-funded school vouchers, which Democrats have taken a firm stand against.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who was tapped to be CIA director in November, could face tough criticism from Senate Democrats when he appears before before the Intelligence Committee at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Some Democratic committee members are wary of his past comments supportive of the CIA’s controversial enhanced interrogation and detention programs.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will vet retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, whom Trump has tapped to head the Department of Homeland Security, at 2 p.m. Kelly has often taken a tough stance on border security, but he is seen as a more moderate choice for the job than some of the other names that were in the mix.

Trump’s choice for secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who will go before the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee at 10:15 a.m. that same day, is one of the president-elect’s less controversial Cabinet picks. She was previously secretary of Labor under George W. Bush, and, if confirmed, could oversee Trump’s pledge to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao’s husband, has said that he will not recuse himself from considering her nomination.

Another controversial pick slated for a hearing next week is Andrew Puzder, whom Trump has tapped to lead the Department of Labor. Puzder has publicly opposed overtime rules and criticized the push to increase the minimum wage, positions that are expected to open the fast food executive up to additional scrutiny from Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Democrats on Thursday.

Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis will also go before the Senate on Thursday. And while Mattis’ confirmation is seen as likely, the Senate will need to grant the general a waiver to head up the DOD because of a law that requires secretaries of defense to be out of the military for at least seven years prior to leading the department.

Mattis’s main challenge will be convincing some Democrats, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), to grant that waiver. Gillibrand has said she staunchly opposes waiving the seven-year requirement for Mattis.

The crush of hearings comes as GOP leaders push to help set up Trump’s Cabinet as quickly as possible.

On Tuesday, McConnell noted that in the past, many Cabinet appointments have been confirmed on day one of a new presidency.

“Even though there’s a lot going on that day, we hope to be able to vote on and confirm a number of the president’s selections for the Cabinet so he can get started,” he added.

– Updated at 9:09 a.m. on Thursday

Tags Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell

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