Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday rebuffed Democratic calls to slow down rapid confirmation of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, even after a nonpartisan federal watchdog raised “great” concerns about moving ahead with hearings for nominees without their ethics reviews completed.
Walter Shaub, the director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, laid out his warning in a letter disclosed by Senate Democratic leaders on Saturday. Among Shaub’s concerns: Some of Trump’s nominees — particularly those with a complex web of financial interests and little background in public service — are left with “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues” before their hearings.
Despite those warnings — and calls from Democrats to delay hearings — McConnell wants Democrats to buck up and move on.
“I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation and the other guy’s won the election,” McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “What did we do? 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. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustrations.”
McConnell added: “We need to sort of grow up here and get past that.”
So far, there are nine Cabinet confirmation hearings scheduled in the Senate this week, with as many as five on Wednesday — the same day the president-elect will hold his first news conference in months, and senators will participate in a budget “vote-a-rama” expected to go late into the night.
The extensive background check processes and document reviews for Trump’s Cabinet picks are at varying levels of completion. For instance, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), whom Trump intends to formally nominate as attorney general, has completed both the ethics review and the FBI background check, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’ll go before the committee Tuesday.
But other nominees with confirmation hearings on tap this week, including Betsy DeVos for education and John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security, have yet to finish their ethics reviews. DeVos goes before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, while Kelly has his confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday.
“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,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday.
“Until these nominees have fully cooperated with the ethics review process, the hearings and confirmation schedule should not be rushed.”
McConnell noted during his Sunday interview that “at least five” of Trump’s intended nominees have all of their paperwork completed. He added that documents were still rolling in and that it was only critical to have all the records and reviews finished for each nominee before the confirmation vote on the Senate floor.
The Senate HELP committee has also noted that the panel held a confirmation hearing for Rod Paige, President George W. Bush’s pick for education secretary, eight days before the committee received Paige’s OGE paperwork.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to get up to seven nominees on Day One,” McConnell said, referring to Jan. 20, when Trump will be inaugurated as president. On Obama’s nominees, he said: “We found most of his Cabinet appointments just as disturbing as they would find President Trump’s, and that’s what happens when you lose the election.”
Separately, McConnell pledged that Republicans would craft a replacement plan for Obamacare “soon” and that it would “rapidly” follow a repeal of the nearly 7-year-old health care law. A growing number of Republicans have signaled concern about not having their Obamacare alternative in place as they vote to repeal it.
“You have to both repeal and replace, and there ought not to be a great gap between the first step and the second,” McConnell said. The Kentucky Republican declined to answer directly when asked whether those covered by Obamacare now would still have coverage under the GOP plan.
And the majority leader again dismissed concerns about Trump’s attitude toward Russia, noting that his incoming national security team is composed of officials who are not “conflicted with the view that Russians are not our friends.”
“I don’t think it’s all that unusual for a new president to want to get along with the Russians,” McConnell said. “My suspicion is, these hopes will be dashed pretty quickly.”