The Senate is gearing up for a second round of fights over President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees as Republicans race to clear his picks ahead of Friday’s inauguration.
Eight nominees are heading to Capitol Hill this week to face what is expected to be an hourslong grilling from lawmakers — and half are on Democrats’ hit list.
The Senate will hold hearings this week for Betsy DeVos, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Steve Mnuchin and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s picks for Education, Health, Treasury and Environmental Protection Agency chiefs, respectively.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Wilbur Ross and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), Trump’s picks to respectively lead the Interior, Commerce and Energy departments — as well as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), tapped to be his United Nations ambassador — will also get hearings this week.
Democrats face an uphill battle to block any of the nominees, who will only need 50 votes to clear the upper chamber, but plan to use the showdowns to grill them on a myriad of issues.
Here are five things to watch during what’s expected to be an explosive week of hearings.
Who gets votes on ‘day one’?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has stressed that he wants to confirm Trump’s national security team on the first day of his administration, despite the pomp surrounding the inauguration.
“It is still my hope that regardless of the hearing schedule, some of which have been moved slightly, we will be in a position to confirm a significant number of the president’s nominees on day one,” he told reporters last week.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, told The Hill that at a “minimum” he wants votes on day one to confirm five of Trump’s picks: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) as attorney general, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) as CIA director, retired Gen. John Kelly as Homeland Security secretary, Rex Tillerson as secretary of State and former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) as director of national intelligence.
But to get any of Trump’s nominees through the Senate on the first day, Republicans will need help from Democrats, who could use the upper chamber’s procedural levers to drag out a nomination, potentially for days.
Democrats haven’t publicly ruled out letting nominees through, but stressed that all paperwork must be finalized and lawmakers given enough time to review it before they get a full vote before the Senate.
Republicans note that the then-Democrat controlled Senate confirmed seven of President Obama’s nominees on the same day of his 2009 inauguration, with five additional nominees confirmed within the first week.
Will Democrats try to change the schedule?
Democrats were successful in the first round of fights over delaying the hearing of at least one of their top targets, DeVos for Education secretary, amid pushback over paperwork and a busy Senate floor schedule.
But the move, coupled with a Friday announcement for Mnuchin’s hearing, means the second week of confirmation fights will include as many total hearings as the first week, at eight. It also includes four of the eight nominees Democrats are pledging to oppose, compared to two last week.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) previously credited McConnell with being willing to work with him to move around the hearings schedule and indicated he hoped to work out another agreement going forward.
A spokesman for Schumer didn’t respond to request for comment on if he was trying to move any of the hearings. The current schedule will come to a head on Wednesday when four nominees, including Pruitt and Price, are expected to testify at hearings that each start at 10 a.m.
Approximately eight Democrats will be double-booked on hearings for Wednesday, based on a review of committee assignments. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — a member of the Foreign Relations, Environment and Public Works, and Commerce committees — is expected to attend three hearings scheduled to occur simultaneously.
Price faces grilling on investments, ObamaCare
Democrats are seizing on a report
that Price purchased shares in Zimmer Biomet, a medical device manufacturer, and then introduced legislation benefiting the company.
Schumer pointed to the CNN report on Monday evening, saying the Office of Congressional Ethics “needs to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into these potential violations of the STOCK Act” before Price’s nomination is allowed to move forward.
“This report and his previous trades cast serious doubt on whether Congressman Price is fit to hold the office of Secretary for Health and Human Services,” the Senate’s top Democrat said in a statement.
Price has announced plans to divest from 43 companies, including Zimmer Biomet, to avoid any appearances of conflicts of interest.
Democrats are poised to question Trump’s Health and Human Services nominee on the Affordable Care Act, as well as his plans for Medicare, during a hearing Wednesday.
Schumer singled out Price on the Senate floor recently, calling him the “most glaring example” of a Trump nominee who is to the right of the president-elect’s campaign rhetoric regarding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
Price will be at the center of the fight over when to repeal ObamaCare and how to replace it. Trump has said his administration will submit a replacement plan to coincide with Price’s confirmation.
Price could also face questions from Republicans on the committee, including moderate Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), about the replacement plan. Collins has called for a “detailed framework” for a replacement before repeal.
What will Heller do?
Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.), considered the most vulnerable Republican up for reelection in 2018, is facing pressure from outside groups to oppose Mnuchin, who Democrats have nicknamed the “foreclosure king.”
Heller told The Hill that he’s withholding his judgement on Mnuchin until he’s able to question him about his housing policies during Thursday’s hearing.
“I looked at him eye to eye and asked him what he was going to do about the housing issues,” he said
Democrats have seized on a wave of foreclosures by the California-based OneWest Bank while Mnuchin was at the helm from 2009 to 2015.
Though no charges were ever brought against the company for the tens of thousands of foreclosures, Democrats are planning to make it a key issue in his hearing.
Twenty-five Democratic senators sent Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chairs the Finance Committee, a letter on Friday asking him to allow families affected by the foreclosures to testify at Mnuchin’s hearing.
Can Pruitt dodge Dems’ fire?
Pruitt has one rule during his Wednesday confirmation hearing: Do no harm.
The Oklahoma attorney general is likely to be confirmed, only needing 50 votes in the upper chamber, and has already earned the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
But Democrats are planning to use the hearing to launch a multi-pronged trap for Pruitt, with the committee meeting representing their best shot to win an uphill battle to sink his nomination.
Democrats want to get Pruitt on the record on climate change and his ties to the oil industry and to try to probe how he will lead the department he frequently sued as Oklahoma’s attorney general.
Democrats view Pruitt as the most worrisome of Trump’s energy-related nominees, and environmentalist view him as threat to the EPA.
They’re also getting help from progressive groups working to sway senators, including the Sierra Club, which has launched a digital ad in 14 states calling Pruitt “one of the most hostile, outspoken opponents of EPA’s clean air and water protections in history.”
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