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 TrumpBiden administration to keep Trump-era rule of turning away migrants during pandemic On The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Lack of transatlantic cooperation on trade threatens global climate change goals 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 PompeoNoem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis Pence v. Biden on China: Competing but consistent visions 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 PaulFive things to watch in two Ohio special election primaries Up next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators 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 ThuneGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate Key Senate Republican praises infrastructure deal Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 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: Bipartisan infrastructure pay-fors are insufficient This week: Democrats move forward with Jan. 6 probe Bipartisan senators ask CDC, TSA when they will update mask guidance for travelers 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 to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' 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 CoatsBiden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Former Trump officials including Fiona Hill helped prepare Biden for Putin summit: report Will the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? 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 WydenUp next in the culture wars: Adding women to the draft Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats release data showing increase in 'mega-IRA' accounts 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 LankfordAbbott slams Ben & Jerry's for Palestine support: 'Disgraceful' Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Republican calls on Oklahoma to ban Ben & Jerry's 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 BluntGraham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate New spotlight on secretaries of state as electoral battlegrounds Biden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet 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 McConnellOn The Money: Biden, Pelosi struggle with end of eviction ban | Trump attorney says he will fight release of tax returns Graham's COVID-19 'breakthrough' case jolts Senate McConnell warns Democrats against 'artificial timeline' for infrastructure deal 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 PruittWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Saluting FOIA on its birthday Watchdog found EPA employees kept on payroll by Trump appointees after they were fired: report MORE, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases MORE and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBen CarsonSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Government indoctrination, whether 'critical' or 'patriotic,' is wrong Noem takes pledge to restore 'patriotic education' in schools 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.