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House GOP raise concerns over Biden’s top Cabinet nominees

Greg Nash

House Republicans on the Oversight panel are asking the Biden transition team to provide information on the president-elect’s nominees for key Cabinet posts, laying the groundwork for GOP pushback for positions that require Senate confirmation.  

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is homing in on four nominees announced by President-elect Biden in recent weeks: Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines, Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, and Office of Management and Budget Director nominee Neera Tanden.

The letter was also signed by Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), the incoming ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

The House does not get to vote on confirmations, but the records requests likely signal GOP arguments as the battle over Cabinet posts heats up on Capitol Hill.

The criticisms will be particularly prescient if Republicans retain control of the Senate. Democrats must win two runoff races next month in Georgia to win a majority through a 50-50 tie, which would allow Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to break ties. 

In a letter to Biden’s pick for chief of staff, Ron Klain, Comer and Smith raise concerns about several nominees. 

They ask whether Blinken’s work for the consulting firm he co-founded, WestExec, and possible work for foreign governments could be seen as “disqualifying conflicts of interest.”

Blinken co-founded WestExec in 2017 at the end of the Obama administration and the firm promotes itself as bringing senior national security government experience to the business community. Their tagline reads, “Bringing the situation room to the board room.”

GOP lawmakers want to know if he did any work related to China and any financial ties he may have through that work.

The Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this month that WestExec had removed from its website references to its work helping “U.S. research universities” maintain standards for sponsored research grants from the Department of Defense while also accepting foreign research collaboration, foreign donations and foreign students.  

A spokeswoman for WestExec told the paper that the service was offered to universities “to help them avoid inadvertently becoming involved with the Chinese government,” but that the company no longer offered the service.

But GOP lawmakers are asking for any and all information related to whether Blinken had any dealings with a foreign government during his time at WestExec, details of foreign clients, compensation for such work, whether he plans to recuse or divest himself from a corporate board or entity, and if he faces any conflicts of interest. 

A companion letter was addressed to Blinken at WestExec at its headquarters in Washington, and three of the other co-founders and managing partners. The letter requests records related to Blinken’s time at the agency as well as Avril Haines, who worked at the company until July. 

The GOP lawmakers are asking the Biden transition team to address a 2015 Office of Inspector General report involving Mayorkas.

The report found that Mayorkas, in his position as director for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Obama administration, exerted “improper influence” on at least three matters related to long-term visas, called the EB-5 program, that benefited the applicants. 

The report was sent to then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson for whatever disciplinary action the secretary considered appropriate, although it’s unclear if any was taken.

A spokesperson for Mayorkas responded to a request for comment by The Hill by pointing out that the Inspector General report found that every action Mayorkas took was legal and “legitimately within his purview” as director.

The spokesperson defended Mayorkas’s time as the agency as instituting key reforms to the visa program at the center of the report that was “badly broken and subject to complaints from both sides of the aisle, including over the rejection of applications that could lead to the creation of jobs while the country was in the middle of a recession.”

The spokesperson further praised Mayorkas for instituting reforms that strengthened “the quality and integrity of the process.”

Tanden, who has led the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) and is a familiar face on cable television where she has frequently thrown partisan barbs, has already drawn Senate GOP opposition. The House Republicans say she has an “unsettling” background, and accuse her of “bullying, outing a victim of sexual harassment, making viciously partisan statements, and overall, exhibiting poor leadership.”

Tanden’s office said the naming of a sexual assault victim at CAP in 2018 was a mistake. She is Indian American and would be the first woman of color to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

The House Republicans also take issue with her deletion of social media posts, something noticed after she was nominated. 

“Have any of these potential nominees deleted social media material either two weeks prior to the November 3, 2020, election or since the election? If so, why?” the lawmakers ask in their letter to Klain.  

Tanden supporters say the argument from Republicans that her attacks on the GOP over social media is a reason to not confirm her is ridiculous coming from a party that has ignored President Trump’s repeated attacks on women and other political figures on Twitter.

“Donald Trump’s tweets don’t seem to bother them, so I think they might want to try to get over that and look at her for the tremendous help that she is,” John Podesta, former White House chief of staff to former President Clinton and Tanden’s predecessor at CAP, told NPR.

Updated at 12:21 p.m.

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas Antony Blinken Biden cabinet Biden transition Bill Clinton Donald Trump James Comer Jason Smith Kamala Harris Neera Tanden Ron Klain

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