Battle over Trump nominees
President Donald Trump made slow progress this week in filling out his administration, as several Cabinet nominees edged closer to confirmation but other candidates were grilled by Senate Democrats or had their committee votes delayed. By a 66-32 margin, the Senate confirmed former Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo as CIA director, while five nominees advanced through committees, including Rex Tillerson for secretary of state; Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development; Elaine Chao for Transportation; and Wilbur Ross for Commerce. But Georgia Rep. Tom Price, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, encountered fierce opposition. In a heated hearing, Democrats questioned Price about the discounted shares he was offered in an Australian biotech firm that was seeking FDA approval of a multiple sclerosis drug. Lawmakers also noted that Price had bought and sold some $300,000 in health-care stocks—even though he voted on and sometimes sponsored legislation that could affect the value of his holdings. “It’s hard to see how this can be anything but a conflict of interest,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Price denied any wrongdoing.
The Senate education committee postponed a planned vote for Betsy DeVos, a charter-school proponent strongly supported by conservatives but vehemently opposed by Democrats. Votes were also delayed for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for attorney general; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for energy secretary; and Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, for Interior. Only two of 15 Cabinet nominees have been confirmed—Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly—and Trump has yet to make some 5,000 lower-level appointments.
What the editorials said
President Trump has “assumed office with the most incomplete team in recent history,” said The New York Times. Transition veterans recommend new presidents have nominees for the top 100 slots requiring Senate confirmation, but Trump only has one-third that number. So much for the canard that a businessman could “run government more efficiently than people with, you know, experience in government.”
Last week’s confirmation hearing for DeVos “alternated between interrogation and crass disparagement,” said the Chicago Tribune. In her home state of Michigan, she’s spent more than a decade fighting for greater school choice for mostly minority kids. Yet Senate Democrats tried to the paint the billionaire “as an out-of-touch nincompoop whose goal was to destroy public schools.” Never mind that half those senators went to private schools themselves or have children or grandkids attending them. Why deny the same privilege to “families that need it most?”
What the columnists said
This could be “the worst Cabinet in American history,” said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. DeVos “displayed shocking ignorance of basic issues in education policy” in her hearing—including how student performance is measured, and that public schools are required by law to provide equal access to disabled children. Carson “has precisely zero experience in housing policy,” and Perry initially didn’t seem to understand that the energy secretary is guardian of the nuclear arsenal. “One can only imagine the damage they’re going to do.”
Democrats excoriate nominees like DeVos and Carson as unqualified, said Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. But candidates with the best résumés can be disasters. Former Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, Obama’s secretary of veterans affairs, “resigned in disgrace” after veterans’ care deteriorated drastically on his watch. And while supposed expert organizer Katherine Archuleta was in charge of Obama’s Office of Personnel Management, Chinese hackers stole the personal data of thousands of government employees. “At least no one in the Senate thought she was unqualified.”
Despite some bumps, Trump should “become the first president in decades to pull off a perfect nomination performance,” said Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal. “Barring some strange event,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer won’t claim a single scalp, mainly because Democrats scrapped the Senate filibuster for nominees when they were in the majority. With a 52- 48 GOP edge in the upper chamber, Trump is free to fill his Cabinet with “the kind of picks that send liberals around the bend,” and there’s little Schumer can do about it.