It will be a busy week for U.S. senators involved in confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.
On Tuesday, senators will consider the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General. The next day, senators will consider the nominations of Kansas’ 4th District Congressman Mike Pompeo to be CIA director, Betsy DeVos as Education secretary, retired Gen. John Kelly as director of Homeland Security and Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation. Also, the first of two days of hearings will begin for Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil CEO who is Mr. Trump’s nominee for secretary of State. Two more nominees, Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development and Wilbur Ross as Commerce secretary, will be considered Thursday.
This is all happening too fast for Democrats. And although Republican allegations that Democrats want only to slow the process down in hopes of derailing some nominations have merit, the pace with which the Republican-controlled Senate is moving is faster than is either necessary or prudent.
The founders didn’t envision Senate confirmation as a rubber-stamp process. They wisely made it something of a partnership so that the individuals who lead powerful government agencies would do so after Senate scrutiny and approval.
Such scrutiny and queries into possible conflicts of interest aren’t too much to ask. In fact, they’re the minimum tasks senators should perform.
The director of the federal Office of Government Ethics, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said he didn’t know of any previous instances in the four decades since the office was established in which confirmation hearings were held before nominees’ ethics reviews had been completed. Yet several nominees to be considered this week haven’t filed their employment and conflict of interest data.
The Trump transition team’s response was to accuse the office of “politicizing” the process and said in a statement, “President-elect Trump is putting together the most qualified administration in history, and the transition process is currently running smoothly.”
The reality is that both parties are trying to exploit the confirmation process for political advantage. Another reality is that the Senate generally defers to the president’s choices for Cabinet posts.
Even if that’s likely to be the case with Mr. Trump’s nominees, that doesn’t excuse Republicans who control the process from ensuring that the vetting of these leaders is both thorough and even-handed.