Senate Democrats will allow votes to confirm two of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees immediately after his inauguration Friday — but are promising to delay proceedings for many of the rest.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Democrats would agree to vote Friday on the nominations of defense secretary pick Gen. James Mattis and homeland security secretary choice Gen. John F. Kelly, both of whom have support on both sides of the aisle. Schumer added that Democrats would be willing to start debating Friday the nomination of CIA director nominee Michael Pompeo, as well, and vote on his nomination if time allows.
But Schumer added that if Trump doesn’t send some of his other, more controversial nominees back to Senate committees for more questioning, Democrats will use the Senate floor to lob their complaints and questions about those nominees, potentially drawing out the process of confirming the Cabinet picks by several days each.
“We will not be dilatory for the sake of it,” Schumer said, adding: “If Republicans continue to stonewall and cover up the serious issues that many of those nominees are trying to avoid, they should be prepared to have those debates on the floor of the full Senate.”
Republicans have protested that they are putting Trump’s nominees through the same committee process as President Obama’s nominees when he took office. They say that Democrats are asking for a comparatively unreasonable amount of time and paperwork — such as the tax returns of many nominees — as an attempt to keep Trump from getting his Cabinet installed in a timely fashion.
GOP leaders had hoped to hold confirmation votes for several more of Trump’s nominees following his inauguration Friday afternoon.
But Democrats say there are real problems with Trump’s nominees, particularly the wealthy ones, whose holdings and, in some cases, incomplete filings have raised questions about conflicts of interest.
Schumer accused Republicans of trying to “jam through [Trump’s] nominees” and “attempting to orchestrate a cover-up of the president-elect’s ‘swamp Cabinet’ ” — a term Democrats have adopted to mock Trump’s campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”
Democrats are somewhat hamstrung procedurally: Because of a 2013 rule change pushed through by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), they cannot use a procedural filibuster for Cabinet nominations, a move that in the past could be used to require 60 votes to approve a nomination. But they can draw things out on the Senate floor, even if they ultimately fail in their effort to block nominees.
“Certainly it would have been easier to defeat them had the rules not changed, but I still have some faith that when our Republican colleagues see what’s here, they’re going to cringe,” Schumer said.
Democrats want to use that time to highlight the many places in which certain Cabinet nominees part ways with Trump, as well as any conflicts of interest posed by financial holdings that Democrats believe are disqualifying. Schumer indicated there are at least eight Cabinet picks that are problematic enough to merit further scrutiny.
As examples of such problems, Schumer raised secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson’s refusal to pledge to recuse himself from matters concerning ExxonMobil, where he served until recently as chief executive; education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’s incomplete paperwork; treasury secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin’s initial omission of some offshore holdings from his paperwork; and legislation that health and human services secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) filed last year that seemingly benefited companies whose stock he had recently purchased.
“Any prosecutor worth his salt knowing that fact would want an investigation,” Schumer said.
But so far, Republicans do not seem to be parting ways with Trump’s Cabinet picks in large enough numbers to threaten their fate on the Senate floor.
The biggest current threat appears to be to Tillerson, who leaders are not confident will get the full support of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when it votes on his nomination, likely Monday. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who sharply criticized Tillerson for his position on Russia and human rights issues during his confirmation hearing last week, has not said how he will vote.
But even if Tillerson does not win the support of a majority of the committee members, committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters there are “multiple ways” to get his nomination through.
“I see no way at present he’s not going to be secretary of state,” Corker told reporters.