WASHINGTON – Republicans have planned a jam-packed hearing schedule to expedite confirmations of half of Donald Trump’s cabinet next week — leaving Democrats fuming that they won’t get enough time to properly vet some controversial picks.
Republicans have scheduled confirmation hearings for eight different cabinet picks from Tuesday through Thursday, with six alone on Wednesday. That makes it tough for even some of the more controversial picks to get much attention.
Confirmation hearings Wednesday include Rex Tillerson — the former ExxonMobil chief with ties to Vladimir Putin who’s Trump’s pick for Secretary of State — and Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General pick whose nomination for a federal judgeship in the 1980s was blocked in the Senate because of alleged past racial comments.
The move on behalf of Trump — who will be giving his first press conference as President-elect on Wednesday as well — will make it impossible for a number of senators to attend the full hearings of all the committees they serve on.
“To do them all together is unacceptable. We need to spread them out because we’ve got to make sure the American people gets to know these people and perceives what they’re made of,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told the Daily News.
The former Dem Vice-Presidential candidate said he’s on committees that will vet six different nominees — and is worried overlapping hearings will mean he won’t be able to fully vet Trump’s candidates to run major government agencies.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) knows she’ll have to make a tough scheduling decision.
Feinstein is the top Democrat responsible for vetting Sessions’ (R-Ala.) nomination, and will use her position as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member to question his past controversies over civil rights and immigration. But Wednesday, the second day of Sessions’ hearings, is also the confirmation hearing for Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to be CIA Director. That means the former Intelligence Committee chair will have to miss one or the other.
“Personally I’m very concerned,” she told The News. “I can’t be in two places at one time. What they’ve done is consolidate them all with the view, I think, of just moving them through. I don’t think that even before the President-elect is President that this makes a lot of sense.”
Democrats don’t have nearly the leverage the minority used to have because of a rule change they pushed through in 2013 that lowered the threshold for presidential cabinet nominations from 60 to 51 votes, and may not be able to block a single Trump nominee.
But they’re frustrated that they won’t even be able to get the press coverage needed to get a public vetting of each nominee.
The Judiciary Committee will kick off the Senate’s busy week of confirmation hearings Tuesday, with the first of two days vetting Sessions, while the Armed Services Committee meets to discuss civilian control of the armed forces, a meeting relating to the nomination of James Mattis as Secretary of Defense.
They’ll continue on Wednesday, while the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing to vet Tillerson, whose appointment some Republicans have voiced skepticism about.
Pompeo’s hearing will kick off Wednesday morning, along with the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s hearing Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee’s hearing with Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Former Marine Gen. John Kelly will be vetted by the Homeland Security Committee that afternoon.
On Thursday, Ben Carson will be vetted to run Housing & Urban Development by the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, while the Commerce Committee will sit down with Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross.
Republicans dismissed Democrats’ concerns, pointing out that they allowed Democrats to rapidly confirm most of President Obama’s cabinet in 2008 and arguing that senators are used to juggling overlapping meetings.
“This is the precedent that’s been done in the past. If you look at former presidents, a number of people have gotten confirmed and hearings have gone forward in a very expeditious way,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a close Trump ally, said he was “excited” Republicans were moving so fast to confirm much of Trump’s cabinet.
“This is about putting a new team in place and making a turn for the better. I’m anxious to get them in here as fast as we can. These people have overlapping meetings every single week here in this body, you know that. This is nothing new,” he said.
Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) admitted that the packed schedule will lead to a harried week for senators, and make it difficult for the media to focus on one candidate. But he said that was necessary to get Trump’s team in place and help him start governing on day one of the new administration.
“It’s hard. We’re trying to get a lot of this stuff done and make sure the President-elect has a team ready as soon as possible,” he said. “There’s no question that there’s any given day a deluge of information coming out and various hearings being held up here and there’s challenges for the media and public to be able to cover it all. … but I don’t know how else you do this.”