Senate Democrats take aim at Trump’s Cabinet picks – Politico (blog)

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Scott Pruitt’s belief that climate change may not be rooted in human actions makes him a top target for Democrats. | AP Photo

Democrats intend to draw out the confirmation process for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, slated to start next week, in an attempt to hobble the start of Trump’s presidency and cripple both the nominees and the president-elect himself with damaging revelations and a focus on their wealth. Some hope they could take it a step further by sinking one of Trump’s nominees — but it’s not yet clear who that would be.

There’s a “target-rich environment” of extremely wealthy nominees whose fat-cat images run counter to Trump’s populism and campaign promises to champion the working class, said Center for American Progress executive vice president Winnie Stachelberg.

Eight Trump nominees will be especially targeted by Senate Democrats, The Washington Post reported recently: former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson; Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions; Betsy DeVos; Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.); Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.); Andrew Puzder; Steve Mnuchin and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA.

Pruitt’s belief that climate change may not be rooted in human actions makes him a top target for Democrats, who hope to use his climate skepticism to turn some Republican votes against him. And Democrats are spoiling for a fight over Puzder, Trump’s pick for labor secretary, who is CEO of a company that franchises Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurants and has criticized raising the minimum wage.

Puzder has “a clear history of squeezing workers and has explicitly expressed positions that would hurt workers and benefit people at the top,” one Senate aide said, making him the archetype of a nominee Democrats think reflects poorly on Trump.

Tillerson is the only nominee thus far who has drawn some scrutiny from the GOP; but, ultimately, the former ExxonMobil chief is in many ways a moderate, which will make it difficult to build a case capable of sinking his nomination, some Democrats said.

But it would be “short-sighted” to focus on a small group of nominees because Democrats are still waiting for some of them to submit important supporting materials, such as tax returns, said one senior Senate Democratic aide.

“We don’t have the full picture yet, so it’s difficult to say who has that thing in their past that might trip them up,” the aide said. The nominees that Democrats are focused on fall into two buckets: people who have “complicated and vast financial holdings, and people who are diametrically opposed to things Trump wants to take on,” the aide said.

Other Democrats described their approach to the nomination hearings as a spaghetti-at-the-wall strategy: Committee Democrats will throw everything they have at targeted nominees and hope their scrutiny sticks to one or two of them, while damaging others.

Outside groups, meanwhile, are doing research of their own to share with the media and Senate offices. Opposition research firm American Bridge, for example, is doing rapid-response efforts on all nominees and has launched in-depth investigations into Tillerson, Sessions, Mnuchin, DeVos, Ben Carson (Trump’s pick for HUD secretary) and Pruitt. The group sent a researcher down to Alabama late in the fall to comb through old records on Sessions.

Nominees rarely fail in a Senate floor vote — but it has happened before.

John Tower, President George H.W. Bush’s nominee for secretary of Defense, was not confirmed in 1989, losing by a vote of 53-47. Tower’s private conduct, including alleged drinking and womanizing, eroded his support. It had been 30 years since the last nominee failed in a Senate vote before Tower. But nominees withdrawing themselves from consideration is more common. When Obama was nominating Cabinet members, three withdrew their nominations for various reasons — HHS nominee Tom Daschle and Commerce nominees Bill Richardson and, then, Judd Gregg.

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