Senate braces for showdown over Trump’s nominees

Senate braces for showdown over Trump’s nominees
© Getty Images

The Senate is barreling toward a showdown over President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE’s latest Cabinet shuffle, with three critical departments looking for new leaders and more that could follow.

Republicans are preparing for a weeks-long battle as they try to confirm CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIn Afghanistan, give peace a chance — and a lot of time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Mystery surrounds elusive sanctions on Russia MORE to be secretary of State and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to succeed him.

Haspel’s nomination in particular is controversial, and the GOP has little margin for error given Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFirst responder calls senators blocking 9/11 victim funding 'a--holes' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP Jon Stewart rips into Rand Paul after he blocks 9/11 victim compensation fund: 'An abomination' MORE’s (R-Ky.) opposition to both of Trump’s picks.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I mean that's going to take a lot of floor time,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report White House abruptly cancels Trump meeting with GOP leaders McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, told The Hill. “Who knows how long and how much the Democrats are going to want to weigh in with some of those. But it will for sure be time consuming. That's not going away.”

Senators will also need to consider Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, to replace David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week Trump sent policy pitch from Mar-a-Lago member to VA secretary: report MORE as Veterans Affairs secretary.

GOP senators have largely remained mum over Jackson’s nomination, which has come under scrutiny given the physician’s lack of experience in running a large bureaucratic organization.

“I've never met him, don't know him. And what I do know does suggest that he needs to demonstrate that he has the qualifications, the capabilities despite the lack of experience,” Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse Bottom Line Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, told NPR.

Nominations need a simple majority to clear the Senate. But with a fragile 51-seat grip on the chamber, Republicans have no room for error.

Democrats haven’t signaled if they will unanimously vote against the three nominees.

The White House, GOP leadership and outside groups are expected to pressure red and purple state Democrats up for reelection to vote for Trump’s picks, and there’s reason to think some Democrats could see reason to vote for one or more of the nominees.

Haspel is seen as facing a more challenging confirmation battle than Pompeo, as several key Republican senators remain on the fence.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain promotes July 17 as #GBMday to raise awareness of father's cancer The peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Lindsey Graham: 'Graham wants to bring back 1950s McCarthyism' MORE (R-Ariz.), who has been absent from Washington for months as he battles brain cancer, wants Haspel to detail her views and involvement on Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which are now widely viewed as torture, saying the issue is critical to the Senate’s consideration of her nomination.

Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Chuck Todd on administration vacancies: 'Is this any way to run a government?' MORE would not commit to fully declassifying all information on Haspel’s involvement in the techniques but said “every effort will be made to fully explain exactly what her role was and what [it] wasn’t.”

Outside groups and advocates are already gearing up for an intense fight.

Dozens of former Pompeo staffers released a letter on Friday urging support for his nomination. The letter said Pompeo had “never shied away from speaking the truth” and that his “leadership at State will empower American diplomacy, strengthen America's influence and make the world a better place.” [Read the letter below.]

Progressive and human rights groups want the Senate to reject Haspel’s nomination over her role in interrogations at a so-called black site prison and the destruction of videotapes documenting the waterboarding sessions of an al Qaeda suspect there.

Several Democratic senators — including Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid Top Democrat demands answers on election equipment vulnerabilities Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform MORE (Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee — have already come out against her.

The Senate Intelligence Committee hasn't yet scheduled a hearing date for Haspel. 

Pompeo is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. Aides to several Democratic senators on the panel noted their bosses are also expected to meet privately with him.

The fight comes as Republicans and Democrats bicker over the length of time it has taken to consider Trump nominees.

Under the rules, senators can force up to 30 hours of post-cloture debate time, eating up days of Senate floor time. It has taken Trump’s nominees an average of 84 days to be confirmed, according to a tracker from The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service.

Changing the rules to speed up votes for Trump’s nominees has been under discussion among Senate Republicans for roughly a year.

GOP Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordOvernight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers MORE’s (Okla.) proposal would cut down debate time from 30 hours to eight hours for most nominations once they’ve overcome an initial hurdle that shows they have the simple majority to pass. Most Cabinet-level nominations would not qualify for the shorter debate time under Lankford’s proposal.

A GOP aide told The Hill that the proposal could see movement in the Rules and Administration Committee in May. Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm Top Democrat demands answers on election equipment vulnerabilities MORE (R-Mo.), the next chairman of the committee, predicted the proposal will get a vote, adding that “Republicans have every right to be offended by the way the rules have been abused.”

Republicans are putting the fight over Trump’s nominees at the center of their messaging heading into the 2018 elections.

“Even if we were to lose the House and be stymied legislatively, we could still approve appointments, which is a huge part of what we do,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (R-Ky.) told the Kentucky Today editorial board.

It’s unlikely that the current slate of confirmation fights will be the final Cabinet shake-up senators face amid speculation that several officials — including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits MORE, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank The Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question MORE and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonBen Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week Harris, Ocasio-Cortez pitch bill to increase housing assistance for individuals with criminal record MORE — could be next on the chopping block. 

Read letter from former Pompeo staffers by kballuck1 on Scribd

Updated on April 9 at 11:02 a.m.