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Senate braces for showdown over Trump’s nominees

Senate braces for showdown over Trump’s nominees
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The Senate is barreling toward a showdown over President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' 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 PompeoMike PompeoPompeo not ruling out 2024 White House bid Houthis: US sanctions prolonging war in Yemen China plays the Trump card, but Biden is not buying it 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 PaulHouse approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers House sets vote for George Floyd police reform bill MORE’s (R-Ky.) opposition to both of Trump’s picks.

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“I mean that's going to take a lot of floor time,” Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill 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 ShulkinBiden's nominee for VA secretary isn't a veteran — does it matter? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress slogs toward COVID-19 relief, omnibus deal A crisis that unites veterans 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) MoranGraham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden vs. Trump, part II Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy 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 McCainFormer Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra 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 CoatsHow President Biden can hit a home run Former Trump intel chief Coats introduces Biden nominee Haines at hearing Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security 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 WydenProgressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks GOP pulling out all the stops to delay COVID-19 package Overnight Health Care: Biden slams Texas, Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions: 'Neanderthal thinking' | Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra |Over 200K sign up for ACA plans during Biden special enrollment period 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 LankfordRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Senate coronavirus bill delayed until Thursday GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra 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 BluntTop Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing Biden convenes bipartisan meeting on cancer research 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 McConnellRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Klain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster 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: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule Restoring the EPA: Lessons from the past MORE, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Manchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBen CarsonBiden administration buys 100,000 doses of Lilly antibody drug Ben Carson launches conservative think tank Trump's '1776 Report' released on MLK Day receives heavy backlash 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.