Republicans blow past Trump Cabinet controversies – Politico
Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks have been battered by revelations of questionable stock trades and potentially undocumented employees. They’ve undergone rocky confirmation hearings and faced criticism from Democrats that they’re unfit to lead a major federal agency.
Consider Republicans unmoved.
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From the top tiers of GOP leadership to rank-and-file committee members, Republicans are fanning out en masse to defend Trump’s Cabinet selections. They’ve got the back of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price, who’s come under fire from Democrats about his investments in health care companies that may have benefited from legislation he supported. And they’re standing by Betsy DeVos, the education secretary hopeful who stumbled during her confirmation hearing earlier this week, and Commerce pick Wilbur Ross, who told senators that he recently fired a household employee who could not show proof of legal immigration status.
“I’m sure they’ll grab for every straw they can to try to delay the confirmation of the president-elect’s Cabinet,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of Democrats Wednesday. “Don’t get me wrong, I think there needs to be thorough vetting, and people need to answer the hard questions. But delay for delay’s sake should be unacceptable.”
As the confirmation process for the incoming administration continues to grind through the Senate this week, controversies that have flared up around key Trump nominees have shown little chance of tanking their prospects, no matter how much Democrats cry foul. With only a simple majority needed in the GOP-controlled chamber to confirm most nominations, the most Democrats can hope for short of Republican defections is to rough up the nominees politically so they start out with diminished capital to carry out Trump’s agenda.
And there’s no sign that those GOP defections are coming.
A broad array of Senate Republicans immediately leapt to Price’s defense on Wednesday, when he faced the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee for the first of his two confirmation hearings. As she left the hearing, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was inclined to support Price, though she added that she would review the stock trades issue. She noted that Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said “there’s nothing untoward” about Price’s investment activity.
“Anyone in the House or Senate is subject to being accused of the same thing they are trying to accuse him of,” said Isakson, who introduced Price, a fellow Georgian, at his hearing Wednesday. “If you take two extraneous facts and put them together to make a wrong, that’s not the right thing to do. That’s what they’re doing.”
Republicans were less swift in defending Trump’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), after he disclosed he failed to pay more than $15,000 in taxes for a nanny who cared for his young triplets. Two members of GOP leadership — Cornyn and South Dakota Sen. John Thune — declined to comment on Mulvaney, saying they wanted more information first.
A transition spokesman said Trump “fully stands” behind Mulvaney and said the lawmaker is properly taking care of the issue.
Mulvaney is set to appear before the Senate budget and homeland security committees on Tuesday.
Republicans believe the extent of damage Mulvaney incurs will depend on whether Democrats train their fire exclusively on him or continue to level attacks against multiple nominees, one top GOP source said. Democrats were quick to note that similar tax issues had sunk previous Cabinet nominees, such as Zoe Baird, who in 1993 was President Bill Clinton’s choice to become attorney general until she withdrew following revelations that she did not pay Social Security taxes for a nanny and driver.
“I want to look at the details on it,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of Mulvaney’s tax issues. “But the fact that it did disqualify nominees under [previous administrations] shows that it’s worthy of concern.”
But while Senate Republicans declined to weigh in immediately on Mulvaney’s prospects, they mounted a unified defense of Price and DeVos. At her Tuesday hearing, the education secretary designee was unfamiliar with federal disability laws and remarked that guns may be needed in schools to protect students from grizzly bears.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate HELP Committee who dealt with the nominations of Price and DeVos this week, offered a full-throated defense of both Cabinet hopefuls.
“Betsy’s tougher than she looks, which is a good thing, and her answers to the vast majority of the questions were spot on,” Scott said. As for Price, “It is not unusual for members of Congress to trade stocks. And their answer is and should be, did they do it legally? And every answer I’ve seen is that [Price] did.”
HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also praised Price, saying the Georgia congressman “made an exceptional case for his confirmation” during his hearing Wednesday.
At his own confirmation hearing earlier Wednesday, Ross told members of the Senate Commerce Committee that he recently fired a household worker — one of a dozen he’s employed over the years — for failing to provide documentation of being in the country legally. The committee didn’t appear to take issue with Ross’ revelation.
“Our nominee had paid taxes and, I think, took reasonable steps to abide by the law,” said Thune, who chairs the committee. “I think that’s certainly something that members on the committee appreciated and recognized, and he was very forthcoming about it as well in his disclosure.”
The Senate has slogged through a host of confirmation hearings for Cabinet nominees this week, with two more highly-scrutinized picks facing key committees on Thursday: Treasury secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin before the Senate Finance Committee and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, chosen to lead the Energy Department, before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Democrats said they weren’t surprised by the drumbeat of disclosures about Trump’s nominees, blaming the incoming president for failing to sift through the records of his top administration officials.
“The Trump people didn’t really vet the way that Bush did, Clinton did, Obama did on these nominees. There’s going to be all kinds of things that come out,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “People aren’t defeated very often for confirmation. But they withdraw.”
Still, there are signs that some of the controversial new information could be turning off key swing votes from Democrats. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of several red-state Democrats courted by the GOP to support Trump’s nominees, said Price’s stock trading issue is “very much concerning.”
Manchin added that explaining the issue as “just a coincidence, it happened the week before, or this or that — it’s an awfully convenient coincidence, isn’t it?”