By the end of the week, some of President-elect Donald Trump’s top Cabinet-level nominees will have spent dozens of hours in the hot seat. Senate Republicans are trying to confirm as many of Trump’s picks as possible by his inauguration on Jan. 20, so they’ve crowded in about a half-dozen hearings, from secretary of state to attorney general, into four days. But it won’t take you dozens of hours to find out what happened. Every day we’ll be bringing you the top quotes from each hearing. Here’s the latest.
Nominee to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
On the presidential campaign trail, Ben Carson often spoke of growing up poor. Now he's President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead an agency that provides benefits to the urban poor. But Carson, a brain surgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate with no government experience, has made clear in the past he does not approve of the many federal housing and rental-assistance policies that do just that. He sounded a somewhat different note in his nomination hearing.
Said by: Carson. These were strange words coming from a man who said months earlier he’d be “like a fish out of water” as a federal bureaucrat and who, an adviser said, was hesitant to run a federal agency because “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience.” When Carson was running for president, he said getting rid of “all the regulations” is the key to getting rid of poverty. He also said he didn’t support affirmative action. But in his hearing Thursday, Carson repeatedly emphasized the positive role that housing assistance can play in people’s lives and declared: “I don’t have any problem whatsoever with affirmative action.”
“For people to imply that I don’t ... want to do anything for poor people, I believe that they are perhaps only looking at words that have been skewed and not at actions.” See full context
Said by: Carson. Carson, whose inner city to surgical ward life path is the stuff of lore in conservative circles, once said poverty is “really a choice more than anything else.” Comments like that — and his inexperience in government — prompted low-income-housing advocates to criticize his nomination. Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, described his nomination as “surprising and concerning.” Carson repeatedly defended himself in Thursday’s hearing.
“Running this department is not really brain surgery, and if you can handle that, you most certainly have the capabilities to step in and look at this with fresh eyes.” See full context
Said by: Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). Republican senators inclined to support Carson’s nomination have defended his lack of government experience. Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) told The Post he thought it could even be an asset: “Somebody said, ‘Well, he doesn’t know a lot about housing.’ I said, ‘Look at the shambles it’s in now, public housing.’ I said, ‘Maybe we need to start anew.’” In Thursday’s hearing, one GOP senator after another made the case that Carson’s inexperience could work in his favor.
“Housing development is an area in which President-elect Trump and his family have significant business interests. Can you assure me that not a single taxpayer dollar that you give out will financially benefit the president-elect or his family?”
“I can assure you that the things that I do are driven by a sense of morals and values and therefore I will absolutely not play favorites for anyone.”
“… Can you just assure us that not one dollar will go to benefit either the president-elect or his family?”
Said by: Exchange between Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Carson. Read that last sentence again: “It will not be my intention to do anything to benefit any American.” Oops. Carson quickly realized his gaffe and added: “It’s for all Americans, the things that we do.” Warren didn’t seem to notice. She was focused on making her point that there’s no way Carson can assure the American people that some of the grants he hands out won’t financially benefit the Trump family. To the consternation of ethics experts, Trump hasn’t released his tax returns, which would give a fuller picture of his assets and liabilities. “He can divert taxpayer money into his own pockets without anyone knowing about it,” Warren said, plugging her bill to require Trump to release his tax returns. Watch the full exchange.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.)
Nominee to be director of the CIA
Elected in the tea party wave of 2010, Pompeo is one of the most reliably conservative members of Congress — and one of its most vocal. He said that the way U.S. officials responded to the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, is “worse in some ways” than Watergate and accused Hillary Clinton of trying to cover that up. The West Point graduate has little intelligence experience beyond a brief stint on the House Intelligence Committee but is viewed as a serious national security thinker.
“You have my commitment that every day I will not only speak truth to power, but I will demand that the men and women [in the CIA will] ... do that each and every day.” Hide context
Said by: Pompeo. This was Pompeo’s diplomatic-as-possible response to questions about how he plans to run an agency that his would-be boss has repeatedly derided. Just a day before Pompeo’s hearing, Trump dismissed as “nonsense” an intelligence report summarizing allegations that Russia may have compromising information on him. In a tweet, Trump appeared to compare the intelligence community to “Nazi Germany.” The president-elect has spent weeks questioning not only the CIA’s findings that Russia tried to meddle in U.S. elections but also investigators’ intentions. Pompeo promised senators reviewing his nomination: “I will continue to pursue foreign intelligence with vigor, no matter where the facts lead.”
“It’s pretty clear about what took place about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information.” See full context
Said by: Pompeo. Pompeo is referring to the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking into Democratic Party emails to try to undermine Clinton’s campaign and erode faith in American democracy. Later in the hearing, Pompeo described Russia’s actions as “aggressive.” Trump does not seem to agree. Wednesday was the first time he conceded Russia was most likely behind the hacks into the Democratic Party emails. The president-elect has yet to recognize who ordered it or why they did it. And he added Wednesday that he still wanted to “get along” with Putin: “I hope I do.”
“Absolutely not.” See full context
Said by: Pompeo. That was Pompeo’s answer when asked whether he would comply with an order from Trump to restart now-shelved “enhanced” interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding. (“Moreover,” he added, “I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect.”) In 2015, a Republican Congress passed a law attempting to prohibit waterboarding. Pompeo had previously said waterboarding is “within the law,” but he broke with his past comments Thursday — and Trump’s more recent ones. “Torture works,” Trump said on the campaign trail, adding that he would like to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” After the election, Trump allowed that not everyone thinks torture works.
“It’s going to require an incredibly robust American response.” See full context
Said by: Exchange between Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Pompeo. Pompeo said he’s not quite sure what that response would look like — but he did say that he thinks the government should put up stronger American defenses and hold actors like Russia accountable for hacking in the first place. Just one problem with that: Trump appears to have no real desire to hold Russia accountable. Just the day before, the president-elect simultaneously acknowledged Russia’s role in the attacks — then suggested the hacking was actually beneficial: “Hacking’s bad, and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.”
Marine Gen. James Mattis (Retired)
Nominee to be secretary of defense
Mattis, who served 40 years in the Marine Corps and has made waves for his hawkish views on Islam, is attempting to be just the second person in 60 years to serve as head of the Department of Defense after recently retiring from the military. (Congress must pass a waiver to help him get around a law that requires at least seven years of separation between active duty and the job.)
Said by: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). When Kaine offered up this bipartisan praise to Mattis about three-quarters of the way through the hearing, it was a sign that Democrats might not be likely to oppose the waiver Mattis needs to serve as Trump’s secretary of defense, nor his nomination. (Procedurally, the waiver is more difficult for Mattis to acquire than his nomination because it require 60 votes in the Senate, while his nomination can clear with just 50.)
“We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard.” See full context
Said by: Mattis. Mattis, like nearly every one of Trump’s nominees on the hot seat this week, did not shy away from describing Russia as a foe, despite Trump’s tendency to frame Russia as a friend. Mattis threw cold water on Trump’s desire to “get along” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that approach hasn’t worked in the past. Mattis also said he thinks Putin is meddling with key European-U.S. alliances, even “ trying to break” NATO.
Said by: Mattis. Yet another subject where Trump and his potential secretary of defense appear to disagree. In a news conference Wednesday, Trump speculated that the intelligence community could have been involved in an unsubstantiated news report that he was presented with evidence that Russia has compromising information on him; he offered no evidence for the charge, but derided the hypothetical move as “disgraceful.” And in a tweet Tuesday, Trump appeared to compare the intelligence community to “Nazi Germany.” Mattis clearly has a different view — and said in his hearing that he thinks Trump will “be open to my input on this.”
“Frankly, senator, I’ve never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.” See full context
Said by: Mattis. As President Obama’s administration opened up all combat roles to women, Mattis made clear he thinks men and women and battle don’t mix. “Do you really want to mix love, affection, whatever you call it, in a unit?” he said in a 2014 speech. He moderated that statement Thursday when he said: “I have no plans to oppose women in any aspect of our military.” He has also been cagey about whether he believes openly LGBT people should be allowed to serve in the military; when asked directly Thursday whether there was anything innate that would prevent women or gay people from serving in the military, he said no. Mattis’s answers could be critical to how Democrats ultimately respond to his nomination.
Said by: Mattis. Mattis has also been critical of the nuclear deal the Obama administration signed with Iran, but on Thursday he broke from Trump’s campaign promise to “tear it up,” saying it’s “imperfect” but there’s not much room to back out of it now.
“That nickname was given to me by the press, and some of you may have experienced similar occasions with the press where perhaps they didn’t get it quite right.” See full context
Said by: Mattis. Mattis is referring to one of his more colorful nicknames, “Mad Dog” — a nickname he apparently hates but his potential new boss favors. News reports on how Mattis got the nickname indicate it wasn’t the media that gave it to him; it was his Marines. Here’s the Los Angeles Times in 2004 profiling Mattis: “Behind his back, troops call him ‘Mad Dog Mattis,’ high praise in Marine culture.”
Nominee to be secretary of transportation
Chao is one of the most experienced of Trump’s nominees. She was President George W. Bush’s labor secretary for eight years and served as deputy secretary of transportation under his father, George H. W. Bush. She is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“Kentucky or Louisville?” Hide context
Said by: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.). This was the last question of the hearing, but we’re sharing it first because it underscores how Chao was treated with “kid gloves,” The Washington Post’s Ashley Halsey III reported: “When she responded that she needed to be briefed before she could answer a question . . . there was nary a harsh follow-up or sharp challenge.” It’s probably a reflection that Chao is one of the more experienced of Trump’s picks. She’s also the wife of literally the most powerful person in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Kentucky resident dodged the divisive question about which of the state’s college basketball teams to support: “I’ll take a pass on that.”
“She’s got really great judgment — on a whole variety of things” See full context
Said by: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It’s tradition for the home-state senators of a nominee to testify on the nominee’s behalf. But McConnell’s testimony had adding meaning: The two have been married for more than two decades. Random fact: If confirmed, Chao will actually be the second person to serve as both transportation secretary and labor secretary AND be married to the Senate majority leader. (The other is Elizabeth Dole, wife of former Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.)
“The government does not have the resources to address all the infrastructure needs within our country.” See full context
Said by: Chao. Trump wants to spend $1 trillion over the next decade to rebuild the United States’ roads, bridges and transportation systems and to attempt to revitalize the economy (not unlike Obama’s stimulus package in 2009). But his pick for transportation secretary appears skeptical of having government doing all the heavy lifting. In her hearing, she championed the need for public-private partnerships: “The way we build and deliver projects is as important as how much we invest.”
“I’d like to get confirmed first.” See full context
Said by: Chao. Chao made this quip in response to a question of one of the most contentious issues that she’ll face: Whether to support the privatization of more than 14,000 air traffic controllers in the Federal Aviation Administration. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is supportive of the idea; the more moderate Senate is wary. Chao is somewhere in the middle: “I’m open to all ideas.” Judging by the relative friendliness of her hearing Wednesday, she probably won’t have any problem getting confirmed before she tackles that problem.
Nominee to be secretary of state
Tillerson is an unconventional choice to be the nation’s top diplomat. The ExxonMobil chief executive has no government or formal diplomacy experience, and his extensive business dealings in Russia concerned even some Republicans, which created a rocky first day of his hearing.
“It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, and I find it discouraging your inability to cite that, which I think is globally accepted.” Hide context
Said by: Exchange between Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tillerson. This was part of a tellingly heated exchange between Tillerson and one of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s most hawkish Republicans, Rubio. Tillerson said the intelligence agency’s reports that concluded Russia interfered in U.S. elections was “clearly troubling” and it’s “a fair assumption” Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the hacking. (Rubio and other hawkish senators go a lot further — they say it’s a sure thing.) But what really frustrated Rubio was Tillerson’s unwillingness to confirm he’d keep sanctions on Russia. Rubio’s tough line of questions — and apparent disappointment with the answers he got — suggests there is a growing coalition of hawkish Senate Republicans who could block Tillerson’s nomination.
Said by: Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.). Trump has a tendency to react quickly, and often unpredictably, to world news on Twitter. (Or ratings for “The Celebrity Apprentice.”). But diplomacy is not conducted in 140 character bursts, so senators wanted to know how Tillerson would respond if one of Trump’s tweets undermined his delicate diplomacy. Tillerson’s response: “I have his cellphone number, and he’s promised me he’ll answer.”
“I think you called me at the time.” See full context
Said by: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Another concern for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle is the fact that Tillerson has spent nearly his entire professional life working for ExxonMobil; the past decade as its CEO. Tillerson is untangling himself financially from the company and said for at least the first year he’d recuse himself from any questions involving his past company. But for some lawmakers, he punctured a hole in that veneer of impartiality when he inaccurately stated ExxonMobil does not lobby for or against sanctions against a particular country. Corker corrected him: “I think you called me at the time.”
“That’s pretty amazing.” See full context
Said by: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). Senators on both sides of the aisle repeatedly pressed Tillerson about how tough he would be willing to get toward Russia, given his company’s extensive business there and the fact that he’d be working for a president who, until Wednesday, refused to fully acknowledge intelligence officials’ findings that Russia hacked into the Democratic Party. Tillerson struggled to answer those questions with specifics because, he said, he hasn’t yet had classified briefings. At one point, Tillerson said he and Trump hadn’t had an in-depth conversation about Russia’s actions in Syria, which amazed Menendez.
“The risk of climate change does exist.” See full context
Said by: Tillerson. “And the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken,” he said. That’s a marked departure from Trump’s statements about climate change, such as his belief that it’s “a hoax.” (Tillerson went out of his way to tell senators he feels “free to express my views” on climate change to the president.) But Tillerson’s concerns about climate change are also outside the current GOP orthodoxy. He better aligned himself with Republicans when he would not directly say whether he believes human activity is contributing to climate change.
Gen. John F. Kelly (Retired)
Nominee for Homeland Security Secretary
The retired Marine general is aiming to be the first non-civilian to run the Department of Homeland Security, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to coordinate counterterrorism efforts. The department also has a major role in enforcing immigration policy.
“I don’t think we should ever come close to crossing a line that is beyond what we as Americans would expect to follow in terms of interrogation techniques.” Hide context
Said by: Kelly. Here is one of many instances where President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for homeland secretary appeared to diverge or even disagree with him. “Torture works,” Trump has said. Trump also wants to bring back waterboarding, a CIA practice Congress banned. Kelly did not seem nearly as gung-ho on torture. He also said later he intended to let the law be his guide “on everything I do.”
“A physical barrier in and of itself … will not do the job.” See full context
Said by: Kelly. Building a wall along the southern border of the United States — and somehow making Mexico pay for it — remains Trump’s headline policy prescription to curb illegal immigration. But Kelly said in his confirmation hearing that a wall or fence alone will not keep out Trump’s feared “drugs,” “crime” and “rapists.” “If you were to build a wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico,” Kelly said, “you’d still have to back up that wall by patrolling, with human beings, with sensors, with observation devices.”
“I don't agree with registering people based on ethnicity or religion or anything like that.” See full context
Said by: Kelly. Registering people in the United States by their religion or country of origin was an incredibly controversial idea Trump floated during the campaign. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) pointed out during Kelly's confirmation hearing that the Supreme Court, looking back on the registering of Japanese during World War II, essentially said that the move had been unconstitutional. Kelly seemed to agree.
“Very large numbers.” See full context
Said by: Kelly. Kelly gave somewhat mixed messages on whether he'd follow through with Trump’s plan to deport all 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. He wants to speed up deportations — that’s where the “very large numbers” comes in. But he didn’t say how large — and has also said he has “given no thought” to Trump’s idea of launching a deportation force, whose sole purpose is to kick out undocumented immigrants. Kelly said he’d keep an “open mind” on President Obama’s decision to shield some law-abiding, young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Said by: Kelly. Another part of Kelly’s job would be to help protect Americans from a terrorist attack. But he signaled he wasn’t okay with trying to restart the controversial practice of gathering phone call data on all Americans; Congress banned the practice, known as bulk collection, back in 2015.
“He is one of the finest people I have ever known. I would trust him with my life.” See full context
Said by: Former secretary of defense Robert Gates. Gates, who served under President Obama and George W. Bush, gave one of two glowing bipartisan reviews for Kelly — Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) also testified on Kelly's behalf. It’s a sign that, despite the fact Kelly wants to take the department in a much more hard-line direction than the Obama administration did, he is expected to be easily confirmed by the Senate.
Nominee for attorney general
Sessions was the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump. The staunchly conservative positions Sessions has taken the past 20 years in the Senate prompted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to ask whether he can be an impartial enforcer of U.S. law as head of the Justice Department.
“I did not harbor the kind of animosities or race-based discrimination that I was accused of.” Hide context
Said by: Sessions. Try as he might, Sessions has struggled to live down the charges raised during his last set of nomination hearings 30 years ago. In 1986, the Senate denied him a federal judgeship over allegations he made racially insensitive remarks as the U.S. attorney for Alabama. Sessions has insisted he got an unfair hearing, but losing that judgeship almost derailed his career and has haunted him since. On Tuesday, he addressed those allegations head on.
“No one is above the law.” See full context
Said by: Sessions. “The attorney general must hold everyone, no matter how powerful, accountable,” Sessions said in his opening remarks. To some, this sounded like an assurance Sessions would not accommodate any rule-bending by Trump, who some ethics experts think could already be flouting nepotism laws. Sessions said he did not support the bans on Muslims that Trump has floated and said he would resign “before ultimately agreeing to execute a policy the attorney general believes to be unlawful and unconstitutional.”
Said by: Sessions. In the heat of the campaign, Trump declared he would appoint a special prosecutor to look into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state (something he has since backed away from). Sessions didn’t go that far, but like many Republicans, he was critical of the FBI’s decision not to press charges against Clinton. Sessions acknowledged his political views on Clinton could undermine the impartiality of the job, and he said he would recuse himself from any kind of investigation involving Clinton’s emails or her family’s charitable foundation.
“I have no reason to doubt that and have no evidence that would indicate otherwise.” See full context
Said by: Sessions. Trump still has not acknowledged what our nation’s intelligence agencies have concluded: That Russia tried to influence the U.S. presidential election to undermine American democracy and help him win. Sessions was asked point-blank whether he doubts the intelligence agencies’ findings, to which he replied no. But he also declined to say whether he agreed with the conclusion that the Russian government was behind the hacking. “I have done no research into that,” Sessions said.
“Clearly it would be.” See full context
Said by: Sessions. That was Sessions’s answer Tuesday when asked whether “grabbing a woman by her genitals without consent” is sexual assault. But the line wasn’t always so clear to Sessions. When the nation — and plenty of Republicans — recoiled in October after listening to a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape of Trump bragging about groping and kissing women, Sessions was asked by the Weekly Standard whether grabbing a woman’s genitals constituted sexual assault. He said he didn’t know.
“You know, free speech is a wonderful thing.” See full context
Said by: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). Cruz made this quip after protesters interrupted Sessions’s hearing for the sixth or seventh time Tuesday. More than 150 activist groups, including the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign, have protested his nomination. Despite this opposition, Sessions appears to have support from almost all (if not all) of his Republican Senate colleagues, and that’s all he’ll need to get confirmed.
“The job of an attorney general requires a more courageous empathy than Sen. Sessions’s record demonstrates.” See full context
Said by: Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). On Wednesday, Booker became the first sitting senator to testify against one of his colleagues. Backed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Booker echoed the civil rights community's concerns with Sessions's civil and voting rights record. "Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job – to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens," he said. But Booker's public condemnation of Sessions likely says more about him than it does Sessions: It fueled speculation the freshman senator is considering a 2020 presidential run.