President-elect Donald Trump. PHOTO: JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP
The US Senate dives into hearings on Donald Trump’s cabinet picks this week with several not completing customary ethics reviews, though the president-elect waved off the concern Monday and expressed confidence that “they’ll all pass.”
“Confirmation is going great,” Trump told reporters in the lobby of his building in New York as he made an unexpected appearance with Jack Ma, chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Trump’s choice to head the Justice Department as US attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, will be in the hot seat beginning Tuesday, as will homeland security secretary designate John Kelly, a retired Marine general.
Four more hearings begin Wednesday, including that of secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson, as the Republican-led Senate coordinated with the Trump team to schedule nine confirmation hearings this week despite calls by Democrats to slow the process.
“I think they’ll all pass,” Trump declared.
But the rushed scheduling has drawn flak from ethics officials.
“The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me,” Walter Shaub Jr, director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote to Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
The schedule has created “undue pressure” on ethics officials to rush the reviews, he said.
Shaub warned that some of the nominees still have “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues,” and that some had yet to file initial financial disclosure reports.
Schumer accused Trump’s team of colluding with Senate Republicans “to jam through these cabinet nominees” before they had been thoroughly vetted.
Democrats have little chance of derailing the nominees, who require a simple majority in the 100-seat Senate. Republicans control 52 seats.
Trump’s team wants several nominees confirmed by Inauguration Day on January 20.
“Everybody will be properly vetted as they have been in the past, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get up to six or seven — particularly national security team in place — on day one,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday after meeting with Trump.
Several nominees are billionaires or multi-millionaires, and critics warn against rushing investigations into their financial investments and dealings.
First up is Sessions, a 70-year-old former federal prosecutor who grew up in the segregated Deep South, whose confirmation may be among the most controversial.
The mild-mannered Alabaman will face questions not just about Trump’s campaign pledges, including his call to jail Hillary Clinton over her emails, but about his civil rights record.
Session’s federal judgeship nomination collapsed in the 1980s amid accusations he made racially insensitive comments as a prosecutor.
They included statements that the NAACP, the nation’s largest grassroots-based civil rights organization, was “un-American” and did “more harm than good.”
Trump was confident Sessions would win confirmation.
“I think he’s going to do great. High quality man,” he said.