Ethics official warns against cabinet confirmations before reviews are complete – Chicago Tribune

Tillerson is scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday. The health and education panel is set to consider DeVos the same day, while the Senate Intelligence Committee has announced plans to review the nomination of Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., Trump’s nominee for CIA director. Elaine Chao – a former secretary of labor who is married to McConnell – is set to appear before the Commerce Committee to discuss her nomination as transportation secretary.

On Tuesday, in addition to Sessions, retired Marine general John Kelly is scheduled to testify at a Homeland Security committee hearing to review his nomination to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

In a statement, the Trump transition team said Saturday that the president-elect “is putting together the most qualified administration in history and the transition process is currently running smoothly.” The statement added that “it is disappointing some have chosen to politicize the process in order to distract from important issues facing our country. This is a disservice to the country and is exactly why voters chose Donald J. Trump as their next president.”

McConnell had already vowed Wednesday that “all the president-elect’s Cabinet appointments will be confirmed.” He called on Democrats to not delay votes on Trump’s less controversial choices for national security posts, including Kelly and retired Marine general James Mattis, the nominee for secretary of defense.

“Basically, they can delay the process. They can’t stop it,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., said of his Democratic colleagues.

Republicans said they are proceeding quickly in the hope of confirming a handful of Trump picks on Inauguration Day, as happened eight years ago, when seven of Obama’s Cabinet nominees were confirmed unanimously on his first day in office.

But Democrats said Obama’s nominations moved quickly because nominees had submitted requisite paperwork by early January. On Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Shaub’s warning “makes crystal-clear that the transition team’s collusion with Senate Republicans to jam through these Cabinet nominees before they’ve been thoroughly vetted is unprecedented.”

Murray said in an interview last week that Trump “ran his campaign telling people he was about jobs and workers. Many of these nominees don’t share that view. Our responsibility is to make sure that we know what we are buying and the country knows what they bought.”

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said: “We’re dealing with more billionaires than we’ve ever seen in one place in this Trump Cabinet. It creates a special challenge.”

Democrats said they plan to focus intently on nominees’ business interests and financial disclosures. Several nominees, including DeVos and other picks not yet scheduled for hearings, will probably be grilled over past statements in support of dismantling portions of the departments they have been tapped to lead.

Kelly, Pompeo, Sessions and Tillerson are the furthest along in responding to written questionnaires and divulging personal and financial information, according to Senate aides. But reviews by the FBI and OGE are still underway for most nominees, according to the aides, who are tracking the process but not authorized to speak publicly about details. Sessions’s FBI check is complete, but other nominees have yet to complete all of the paperwork required by committees, because the FBI and OGE reviews continue, the aides said.

Many of Trump’s picks are widely unknown on Capitol Hill, prompting his transition team to recruit former GOP senators and the party’s top-flight communications and policy talent to make introductions and assuage concerns among Republicans and Democrats alike.

Nominees have been scheduled for more than 60 meet-and-greets with senators of both parties, according to Senate aides. Dress rehearsals to prepare for contentious lines of questioning have been underway for several days.

Given Trump’s refusal to release tax returns and other financial information during the presidential campaign, Democrats see his Cabinet choices as a way to revive the issue. But if Trump uses his scheduled news conference to divulge details of his finances amid a flurry of confirmation hearings, it may capture the news cycle and neutralize opposition.

While each committee has different disclosure rules for Cabinet picks, just three panels – Budget, Finance, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs – have the authority to require nominees to release three years of tax returns. Republicans have rebuffed Democratic requests to force all Cabinet nominees to do so.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, recalled that his panel’s long-standing tax disclosure rules unearthed trouble for several of Obama’s Cabinet choices, including former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle, who was forced to withdraw his nomination to serve as secretary of health and human services due to questions about unreported earnings and gifts.

With Democrats vowing to pepper Tillerson about his tenure as an oil executive, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said the former chief executive’s decision to completely cut ties with ExxonMobil was “responsible.”

“It certainly takes away an issue that we knew had to be taken away,” Corker said. “I mean, my very first conversation with him – he knew that, Exxon knew that.”

Corker added that Tillerson will probably have “one of the cleaner [financial] disclosures because his whole life and his whole net worth’s been in one company.”

Some Democrats on the judiciary panel say they have no plans to give Sessions an easy pass, despite his status as a well-liked senator and a former U.S. attorney. Several have vowed to rehash his staunch opposition to immigration reform, his recent support for Trump’s call to require “extreme vetting” of Muslim immigrants and his civil rights record. Sessions was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 over charges of racial insensitivity and prejudice.

“A person’s whole lifetime career should be considered in such an important position,” Blumenthal said in an interview last week. “This position is not just a government lawyer or another Cabinet position. It is the nation’s chief enforcer of the rule of law, which is the bedrock of our democracy.”

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