Senate seeks deal on Trump nominees

Senate seeks deal on Trump nominees
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Senate leaders are negotiating a deal that could allow votes on a number of President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE’s Cabinet picks on the day of his inauguration.

The talks are focused on key national security posts, including Trump’s nods to lead the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security.

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“We’re discussing that with Senator McConnell right now,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Feds seek 25-year sentence for Coast Guard officer accused of targeting lawmakers, justices Clinton: McConnell's rules like 'head juror colluding with the defendant to cover up a crime' MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters when pressed on how many nominees Democrats would allow to get a vote on Friday.

While Democrats do not have the votes to stop any of Trump’s nominees without GOP defections, they can slow the work of the Senate, making it difficult to move nominees. Democrats have just 48 votes in the Senate.

Under a deal, Republicans could hold several votes on Friday so that members of Trump’s Cabinet could join him on day one. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions What to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial MORE hasn’t commented on his ongoing talks with Schumer, but said from the Senate floor that there could be votes Friday. A spokesman for the Kentucky Republican declined to comment, but GOP leaders have repeatedly said getting Trump’s national security team confirmed first is their top priority.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Cornyn disputes GAO report on withholding of Ukraine aid: It's 'certainly not a crime' MORE (R-Texas) signaled Wednesday that he would like seven nominees confirmed on day one of the Trump administration — the same number President Obama got in 2009. 

“I would expect parity,” Cornyn said. Asked about the potential for three or four nomination votes on Friday, he added that seven sounded like a “better number.”

Cornyn declined to say who those seven nominees would be, stressing that he “didn’t want to limit myself to specific ones, but obviously some of them are farther along in the process than others.”

Three Trump nominees who seem like strong bets to win confirmation on Friday are retired Gen. James Mattis, retired Gen. John Kelly and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) — Trump’s picks to lead the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and CIA, respectively.

Schumer noted the three nominees weren’t top targets for Democratic opposition. 

“Those three nominees were not on the list of the nine that we had the most trouble with and wanted the most extensive hearings, and we’re discussing that with Senator McConnell and some of the folks in the White House,” he added. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved Mattis’s nomination in a 26-1 vote on Wednesday, paving the way for a potentially quick confirmation vote.

A few other Trump picks could move through Congress with relative ease.

Elaine Chao and Ben Carson, Trump’s picks to lead the Transportation Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department respectively, also got hearings last week and are considered less controversial.

Other Trump nods are winning more opposition from Democrats.

Democrats have repeatedly criticized Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump-aligned group launches ad campaign hitting Doug Jones on impeachment ICE subpoenas Denver law enforcement: report Bottom Line MORE (R-Ala.), Trump’s nominee for attorney general, and Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO nominated for secretary of State.

Both are expected to get Senate committee votes next week.

Schumer on Wednesday ripped into the GOP for rushing Trump nominees, a frequent criticism of Democrats.

He also criticized Trump for nominating a number of wealthy people to serve in his Cabinet.

“This is a swamp cabinet full of bankers and billionaires,” Schumer told reporters at his weekly press conference.

The Senate minority leader also criticized Republicans for scheduling so many hearings — some of them even as nominees failed to hand in paperwork to the Office of Government Ethics.

Schumer specifically pointed to Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Education, noting lawmakers did not have all of her paperwork before Tuesday’s hearing.

“The last two weeks have not been good for open and transparent government,” he said.

Democrats want another hearing for DeVos, and Schumer warned on Wednesday that if Democrats feel like Republicans are rushing nominees they will force “extensive debate” on the floor.

Schumer also floated the possibility that Republicans should block Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) from leading the Office of Management and Budget over his failure to pay taxes on a household employee, comparing it to a scandal that sunk President Obama’s initial Health and Human Services pick.

“If Tom Daschle couldn’t become a Cabinet member for not paying taxes for a household employee, then a same standard ought to apply for Mick Mulvaney,” he told reporters.

“We say to our Republican colleagues, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Mulvaney said he has since paid the $15,000 in taxes as well as penalties, and the Trump team dismissed criticism, noting the congressman has already taken “appropriate follow up measures.”

Daschle withdrew his 2009 nomination amid reports that had failed to pay nearly $130,000 in taxes.

Schumer blasted McConnell on Wednesday, saying while he had been accommodating for Democrats last week on rearranging the schedule of confirmation hearings, “this week we’re making no progress at all.” 

Still, senators signaled after a closed-door Wednesday lunch meeting that they expect at least some Trump nominees to get votes on Friday. 

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedSix mayors making a difference Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall MORE (R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that “there is a sense” among senators that Trump’s national security team should be confirmed quickly. 

“What I hear is three are being considered,” Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinRoberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight Senate opens Trump impeachment trial Democrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said separately. 

Asked about the potential for Friday votes on Chao — who is married to McConnell — as well as Kelly, Pompeo and Mattis, Feinstein added, “Well, you’re three for four.”