Trump takes office with just 2 Cabinet secretaries – Politico
Newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump is settling into office this weekend with a mostly-empty Cabinet that will likely take weeks to fill.
He has a nasty nominations war in the Senate to blame.
Story Continued Below
Even as the chamber cleared two national security nominees on Friday, and vowed to take up a third on Monday, Democrats are threatening a prolonged fight over key administration posts, including for secretary of state, attorney general and Treasury secretary.
Gone is the bipartisan bonhomie in 2009, when Barack Obama got seven of his Cabinet picks installed in rapid succession on his first day as president. Trump is starting his presidency with just two by his side — Defense Secretary James Mattis, confirmed with just one dissenting vote Friday, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, installed with an 88-11 vote in the Senate.
Trump was close to getting a third, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to lead the Central Intelligence Agency. But liberal Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), raised alarms about Pompeo’s support of broad government surveillance powers, and successfully delayed his confirmation vote until Monday.
That prompted Republicans to accuse the minority of endangering national security.
“The Democrats are obstructing the nomination of Mike Pompeo as CIA Director for no good reason,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a Friday evening statement. “For Senator Wyden’s sake, I hope the jihadists take the weekend off from trying to kill Americans.”
Friday’s scuffle that postponed confirmation of an overwhelmingly popular Cabinet official — 89 senators voted to advance Pompeo’s nomination in a procedural vote — was merely a preview for a broader fight facing the Senate that could clog weeks of floor time and hamper momentum for Trump’s legislative agenda.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Republicans that his caucus was prepared to do battle over controversial nominations such as Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, Tom Price for Health and Human Services secretary and Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin. Republicans, Schumer said, have “made a mockery” of the confirmation process.
“We intend to have a full and rigorous debate on the president’s remaining nominees,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “If there was ever a group of Cabinet nominees that cry out for rigorous scrutiny, it’s this one.”
Trump used his first written statement from the White House to pressure senators to move speedily on the rest of his administration.
“I call on members of the Senate to fulfill their constitutional obligation and swiftly confirm the remainder of my highly qualified Cabinet nominees, so that we can get to work on behalf of the American people without further delay,” Trump said.
Pompeo is set to be confirmed on Monday, following six hours of debate after Wyden objected to holding a vote for him on Friday. Republicans had demanded a quick vote on Day One for Pompeo, a key member of Trump’s national security team.
Earlier Friday, the Democratic resistance to swiftly confirming Pompeo to lead the Central Intelligence Agency was so strong that Schumer personally reached out to Vice President Mike Pence to keep on John Brennan, former President Barack Obama’s CIA director, through the weekend, Schumer spokesman Matt House said.
But Brennan officially stepped down at noon, as did the agency’s deputy director — and Republicans used the vacancies atop the nation’s intelligence agency to pressure Democrats to relent quickly on giving Pompeo a vote.
“It makes no sense to leave the post open, not for another week, not for another day, not for another hour,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “America’s enemies will not pause in plotting, planning and training simply because the Democrats refuse to vote.”
Allowing votes for just Mattis and Kelly, McConnell said, is “not enough.”
Senate Democrats can’t stop Trump’s nominees from getting confirmed without Republican defections, since most nominations need just a simple majority to be confirmed. But they can wield significant leverage by objecting to swift consideration of Cabinet nominees, even those who face little opposition among senators.
Pompeo had been a growing concern for several liberal Senate Democrats.
Wyden officially objected to holding a Friday vote for the Kansas lawmaker, raising alarms about Pompeo’s support for an intelligence database that would collect a broad array of information on Americans, including financial data and social media postings. Joined by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Wyden insisted on more time to debate Pompeo’s nomination.
The trio of senators released a statement Friday afternoon noting that no CIA director in history had been confirmed on Inauguration Day and that the position deserved more thorough vetting and debate.
The CIA is “capable of protecting the nation and serving the president under the leadership of its senior professional personnel. Certainly the incoming administration acknowledges that this would be consistent with their decision to hold over 50 current administration national security appointees,” Wyden, Leahy and Blumenthal said in the joint statement. “Our constituents expect Congress to be a check and balance on the incoming administration, not a rubber stamp.”
Pompeo, who had his confirmation hearing last week, has not yet been taken up by the Senate Intelligence Committee — though the Senate can circumvent panel action and bring the nomination straight to the floor as long as all 100 senators agree. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said Friday that Republicans believed they had a deal with Schumer on Pompeo, which is why he didn’t schedule Pompeo for a committee vote this week.
“It’s unfortunate that after hours in a public hearing and hours in a closed hearing, having answered over 150 questions for the record and volunteering to meet personally with every member on the committee, one member felt they hadn’t had enough time to assess a nominee’s qualifications,” Burr said Friday evening.
A large group of Democratic senators, including Schumer and Wyden, had huddled on the floor to strategize as McConnell pushed forward, with several shaking their heads and taking the urgent-appearing conversation into the Democratic cloakroom.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said he believed that Schumer wanted to confirm Pompeo, but worked instead to accommodate Wyden, Leahy and Blumenthal.
After the extensive floor negotiations culminating in six hours of debate on Monday, Wyden leaned into Schumer and told him: “Much better.”
Responding to GOP criticism that Democrats were risking national security by holding up Pompeo, Wyden said career officials at the CIA are more than equipped to handle any potential crisis situation. And the Oregon senator predicted earlier Friday that Republicans, eager to celebrate Trump and attend inaugural balls, would ultimately agree to kick Pompeo’s vote to next week.
Though they relented on threats to keep the Senate in session into Friday night and through the weekend to confirm Pompeo, the GOP made clear their displeasure with Democrats.
“When President Obama first took office, Republicans took the high road and worked with our counterparts to confirm nearly all of his Cabinet within two weeks,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said. “The election is over, and it’s time for Democrats to drop this divisive strategy for the good of the country.”