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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 TrumpNearly 300 former national security officials sign Biden endorsement letter DC correspondent on the death of Michael Reinoehl: 'The folks I know in law enforcement are extremely angry about it' Late night hosts targeted Trump over Biden 97 percent of the time in September: study 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 SchumerChuck SchumerTrump to lift Sudan terror sponsor designation Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts The 2016 and 2020 Senate votes are about the same thing: constitutionalist judges 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 McConnellSenate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal Overnight Health Care: Trump takes criticism of Fauci to a new level | GOP Health Committee chairman defends Fauci | Birx confronted Pence about Atlas 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 CornynSenate GOP eyes Oct. 26 for confirming Barrett to Supreme Court GOP noncommittal about vote on potential Trump-Pelosi coronavirus deal The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters 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 SessionsHarris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House The Memo: Team Trump looks to Pence to steady ship in VP debate 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 ReedOvernight Defense: Famed Navy SEAL calls Trump out | Yemen's Houthi rebels free two Americans | Marines fire commander after deadly training accident Trump slight against Gold Star families adds to military woes Dems to focus on issues, not character, at Barrett hearings 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 FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Tipping point week for Trump, Biden, Congress, voters This week: Clock ticks on chance for coronavirus deal Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big 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.”