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 John TrumpTrump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier DNC says it was targeted by Russian hackers after fall midterms BuzzFeed stands by Cohen report: Mueller should 'make clear what he's disputing' 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 PompeoOvernight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation Trump to meet with top North Korean official to discuss 'fully verified' denuclearization 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 PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria 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 ThuneLeaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions Mnuchin meets with Senate GOP to shore up ranks on Russia sanctions vote 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 Shulkin‘We Can Do It!’: Women and bipartisanship Reforming veterans benefits will be controversial, but necessary Trump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces 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) MoranOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions 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 McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally 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 — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test Dems zero in on Trump and Russia National security center launches program to help US firms guard against foreign hackers 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 WydenCongress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law 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 LankfordSenate GOP blocks bill to reopen Homeland Security What the government shutdown means for our nation’s cybersecurity GOP senators challenge Trump on shutdown strategy 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 BluntMcConnell: Senate won't override Trump veto on shutdown fight Senate immigration talks fall apart Emergency declaration option for wall tests GOP 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 McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation 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: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Dem senator expresses concern over acting EPA chief's 'speedy promotion' MORE, Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Health Care: Thousands more migrant children may have been separated | Senate rejects bill to permanently ban federal funds for abortion | Women's March to lobby for 'Medicare for All' Acting AG Whitaker's wife defends him in lengthy email to journalist Watchdog: Thousands more migrant children separated from parents than previously known MORE and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonTop Trump official resigned over White House plan to withhold disaster-relief funds from Puerto Rico: report Trump taps Commerce watchdog to be new Interior inspector general DOJ probing whether Zinke lied to Interior investigators: report 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.