Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin hesitant on some Donald Trump Cabinet nominees – Chicago Tribune
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says he knows Elaine Chao, President-elect Donald Trump‘s nominee to be secretary of transportation, and is likely to support her confirmation. He’s also heard good things about retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s pick for secretary of defense.
But in general, the senior senator from Illinois, who is second-in-command of Senate Democrats, said in an interview Friday that he finds the Trump Cabinet nominees seeking confirmation to be “a complex group” who are “very rich.”
When Chicago native Penny Pritzker, who is a billionaire, was being confirmed as President Barack Obama‘s commerce secretary, Durbin said, “It took six months to clear her financial background information before she could be seriously considered for the job.
“Well, there are a handful or more of people in the same category in the Trump list of nominees, so this is a complicated situation. They certainly should not be disqualified because of their wealth, nor should they be given a free ride because of their wealth. But we have to look at each candidate honestly and determine if there is any conflict of interest.”
Among the Republican Trump’s nominees is Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, who is worth more than $300 million, according to Forbes.
The oil company, Durbin said, has interests around the world, and Tillerson received a friendship award from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among “obvious questions” for Tillerson, Durbin said, is “Are you able to walk away from a lifetime of corporate leadership, particularly in the petroleum industry, and … make decisions that are unpopular, if not unacceptable, to that same industry?”
Betsy DeVos, daughter-in-law of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos, is Trump’s choice for secretary of education, and Forbes pegged her wealth at $1.25 billion.
“She has been a champion for charter schools, which I believe have a place in our educational picture,” Durbin said. “But the vast majority of students in America are in public schools, and the jury is out as to what she feels about those schools and public education, so I’m withholding any judgment on her until she’s had a chance to testify.”
Charter schools get public funding but don’t have to follow all the rules that apply to regular public schools.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Energy, which was among three agencies Perry said during his 2012 presidential campaign that he would abolish if elected, and the one he forgot when listing those agencies in a debate.
“What a dramatic departure from the two secretaries of energy under Barack Obama, who were both considered expert globally when it comes to issues of energy,” Durbin said. “Governor Perry does not hold any of those titles, that’s for sure.”
“I can’t understand how a man could take on the responsibility of administering a department when he has stated that he wants to turn out the lights,” Durbin added. “And God forbid he would.” He said the agency is critical to Illinois research facilities, including the Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, both in suburban Chicago.
“I mean, the kind of research that’s being done through the Department of Energy, not just in energy, but in the whole area of imaging, in hospitals, all of these things,” Durbin said. “In addition to that, he has custodial responsibility for our nuclear arsenal. … I mean, here’s a man who has literally no background in this area, so he has a lot of questions to answer.”
Trump also has named Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Durbin said that pick is like Perry at energy, saying Pruitt has “made it clear that he opposes the basic mission” of the agency.
“That to me is a very poor choice,” Durbin said. “I don’t know what he’s going to say in his testimony, but his actions leading up to this are not encouraging.”
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who ran for president last year, has been named by Trump to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Armstrong Williams, a friend of Carson’s, had told the publication The Hill in November that Carson “feels he has no government experience; he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
“Housing and Urban Development is a tough assignment, and it takes a lot of hard work,” Durbin said. “He’s obviously a bright man, to be a neurosurgeon, but whether he has the skills to manage a department with thousands of employees and to deal with the serious housing issues and urban development issues across America remains to be seen.”
Not sure on Sessions
Durbin met last week with his Senate colleague Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is Trump’s choice for attorney general.