Republicans Unfazed by Controversies Surrounding Cabinet Nominees – ABC News
Republicans have twice signaled their intention to let President Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet picks sail through the nomination process, prioritizing a unified party front, despite issues that could have easily disqualified them in past sessions of Congress.
Thanks to a rule change that Democrats pushed through when they were in control of the Senate, barring the minority party from filibustering most presidential nominations, Republicans know they do not need votes from across the aisle to confirm Trump’s cabinet. They have enough votes for the simple majority they need if they vote as a unified block.
Despite flashy headlines and some eyebrow-raising revelations about some of Trump’s selections to oversee government agencies, Republicans are choosing not to pick fights with the new White House after an election where their unity was vigorously tested.
Citing the need to show deference to the President, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a Facebook post that, despite serious reservations about Rex Tillerson as Trump’s Secretary of State, he would back the billionaire businessman.
Rubio appeared to be the last Republican holdout on the nomination, criticizing Tillerson for his coziness with Russia. Rubio was also displeased by Tillerson’s unwillingness to acknowledge human rights abuses committed by dictators around the world. Still, he and colleague Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, decided to toe the party line.
Republicans also circled the wagons around Besty DeVos, another one of Trump’s more controversial picks, tapped to lead the Department of Education despite her lack of teaching and administrative experience. The GOP mega-donor stumbled through her confirmation hearing with some major gaffes about guns in schools and programs for students with disabilities. Plus, she failed to complete her financial conflicts of interest review with the Office of Government Ethics before her hearing. Democrats asked for a second round of questioning, but Republican committee leadership Monday said, ‘no.’
The willingness to stand steadfast behind nominations, along party lines, is a change from past cycles.
In 2009, weeks into this new presidency, Barack Obama said he made a mistake with original nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Tom Daschle withdrew his name from contention after it came to light that failed to pay approximately $140,000 in back taxes.
The former Senate Majority Leader from South Dakota was one of Obama’s trusted advisers, but the new Democratic White House at the time decided he was not worth the fight. A month earlier, before Obama was even sworn-in, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his name as a nominee to run the Department of Commerce, after questions about whether state contracts may have been awarded to his campaign donors.
In 2004, Bernard Kerik, nominated by President George W. Bush to head the Department of Homeland Security, abruptly pulled his name after facing questions about the immigration status of one of his housekeepers. Similarly in 2001, Bush’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Linda Chavez, withdrew her name after she was accused of providing haven to an undocumented immigrant. At the time, Chavez said she had become too much of a “distraction.”
This year, issues of potential past misconduct do not appear to be as critical.
Trump’s choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Mike Mulaney, R-South Carolina disclosed openly that he failed to pay more than $15,000 in taxes for his family’s nanny.
Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, said during his confirmation hearing that he fired a longtime household employee after he could not verify the employee’s immigration status.
Steven Mnuchin, a billionaire investment banker tapped to head the Treasury Department, initially failed to disclose almost $100 million dollars in assets kept in a Cayman Island corporation. He eventually corrected the oversight.
Meanwhile, Democrats are calling for further, formal investigations of Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, nominated by Trump to run the Department of Health and Human Services. Price has been accused of knowingly purchasing stocks in health care companies that directly benefited from legislation he was working on in Congress. Price said he took offense at the insinuation of illegal or nefarious behavior and argued the traders were part of a large, managed portfolio.
In the past, mistakes like Mnuchins’ or questions like those swirling around Price could have seriously derailed a cabinet nomination and sent a new administration scrambling. The Trump team has stood by all of its nominees and the Senate GOP seem to be aligning.