WASHINGTON, United States — The top Democrat in the US Congress blasted Donald Trump on Monday for seeking hasty confirmation of cabinet nominees without sufficient ethics and security vetting, as the president-elect expressed confidence that “they’ll all pass.”
The confirmation hearings for Trump’s top picks were emerging as flashpoints between the incoming administration and critics including minority Democrats in Congress who want more time to thoroughly study and vet the nominees.
Trump’s choice for 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 on Wednesday, including that of secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson. The Republican-led Senate coordinated with the Trump team to cram in nine confirmation hearings this week despite Democrats’ calls to slow the process.
“Confirmation is going great,” Trump told reporters in an unexpected appearance Monday in the lobby of his New York building. “I think they’ll all pass.”
But the rush 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” to rush the reviews, he said, noting that several nominees had “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues” as they headed into their hearings.
“I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process,” Shaub said.
Schumer accused Trump’s team of colluding with Senate Republicans to jam the nominees through.
He took to the Senate floor Monday to read a 2009 letter from Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, who expressed similar concerns about President Barack Obama’s nominees.
Republicans at the time demanded that the picks have their ethics reviews, FBI background checks and financial disclosure statements completed before their hearings.
“These are common sense standards,” Schumer said. But “several if not most of the (Trump) nominees have actually failed to meet the qualifications laid out by this letter, given the hearing schedule.”
Democrats have little chance of derailing the nominees, who require a simple majority in the 100-seat Senate, unless some Republicans defect and oppose their president-elect’s picks. Republicans control 52 Senate 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… in place on day one,” McConnell, now the Senate majority leader, said Monday after meeting with Trump.
On Sunday, McConnell told CBS’s “Face the Nation” talk show that Democrats were acting out of “frustration” that they lost the election, and that they needed to “grow up.”
First up is Sessions, a 70-year-old former federal prosecutor who grew up in the segregated Deep South, and 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 own civil rights record.
Sessions’ 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.
NAACP president Cornell Brooks was among six protesters who were arrested last week during a sit-in at Sessions’ office where they demanded he withdraw his name for consideration for attorney general.
Brooks is scheduled to testify against Sessions at his confirmation hearing.