Speed Reads

Trump Transition

Senate GOP sticks with full-bore Trump Cabinet confirmation schedule despite ethics questions

Senate Republicans have scheduled confirmation hearings for at least nine of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees this week, starting Tuesday with Homeland Security nominee John Kelly, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general. On Friday, the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics (OGE) raised a red flag, saying that, because Trump's nominees have not been vetted for conflicts of interest, some of them have "potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues" and "this schedule has created undue pressure on OGE's staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews."

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brushed aside concerns about nominees not yet cleared by the FBI or OGE, saying "papers are still coming in" and suggesting the Democrats' "little procedural complaints" are due to their "frustration" at having lost. "We need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that," he said on CBS's Face the Nation. When President Obama won in 2008, McConnell said, "we confirmed seven Cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn't like most of them, either. But he won the election."

Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, and thanks to filibuster reforms Democrats enacted amid robust GOP procedural delays, the majority party needs only 51 votes to confirm Trump's nominees. On Jan. 20, 2009, the Senate — with 58 Democrats and 41 Republicans — did confirm some big Obama nominees, like Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and Janet Napolitano as Homeland Security Department secretary (Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican, was a holdover from the previous administration). But Democrats noted that in February 2009, McConnell had written his counterpart, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), asking him not to schedule any hearings until both the FBI and OGE had finished their vetting.

"No administration, Republican or Democrat, has tried to do what these Republicans are trying to do with their nominees," Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday. "This is not an issue that pits Republicans against Democrats — it pits Republicans against all Americans and an independent ethics agency that is tasked with ensuring the president's Cabinet follows the law," he added, urging Republicans to hold off on presenting the nominees to Senate scrutiny rather than "trying to ram them through as quickly as possible."