President-elect Donald Trump has yet to finalize all of his appointments to his new administration, but the confirmation process is about to begin for those he has announced — and it appears it will be a fast one. The 45th President and the GOP has scheduled eight confirmation hearings for the week of January 9, all within a matter of three days.
If the process seems a little rushed, that’s likely intentional. While Trump and his allies claim they simply want to be sure everyone is voted on and in place before the next president is sworn in on January 20, others point out how rushing the screening process will leave many of the new appointees mostly unvetted even with their hearings just days away.
A number of nominees have not turned in their financial disclosures, making it impossible to be sure what — if any — conflicts of interest they may hold when it comes to joining the administration.
“In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released Saturday, [Office of Government Ethics] Director Walter Shaub wrote that ‘the announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me’ and that the current schedule ‘has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews,” reports NPR. “‘More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings,’ Shaub continued. ‘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.'”
With a vast percentage of Trump’s administration being drawn from the private sector, a rigorous disclosure process is imperative. Because many have never served in office — and often are in fact some of the GOP’s biggest donors — many have never been asked to disclose financial ties in the past, making all of this new ground for the hearings.
As the most politically inexperienced cabinet in recent history, there’s a very high risk that something that should be disclosed will either unintentionally or intentionally be missed.
Republicans are eager to jam the appointments through before Democrats can block any nominations, but do Democrats even have the power or the votes to do it? Probably not, explains Michael Bobelian at Forbes:
Democrats trying to torpedo any of Trump’s nominations face an uphill battle. Outnumbered 52-48 in the coming Senate, they won’t be able to control the committees reviewing the nominations. Such committees will vet Trump’s selections and call witnesses but, in Republican hands, are unlikely to pursue these tasks with the same level of alacrity that Democratic-controlled committees would undertake.
That’s why the disclosure information is so important. As Bobelian adds:
But lacking the majority needed to ultimately scuttle Trump’s selections, Democrats are left to hope that the vetting process by Senate committees, members of the press, and federal agencies (most notably, the FBI) will unearth enough troubling personal, financial or political disclosures to derail the cabinet postings they have targeted. Such discoveries have crashed prior cabinet appointments, even when a president’s party controlled the reins of the Senate.
In light of that tactic, it’s obvious why the GOP is rushing through the confirmation process before disclosure is anywhere near complete — and why they are stacking hearings on top of each other in the hopes that no one will be able to even pay attention to them. That means that the Democrats have only one real shot at torpedoing a nomination, and that likely target is Alabama Senator and Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.
Because Sessions has already been through a confirmation hearing (unsuccessfully) his controversial past and possible issues as an Attorney General are already well known — especially his history of racism. The right is vigorously defending Sessions by calling the accusations a “smear” and a “lie from the left.” And even sitting Democratic senators are admitting they sort of like him, apparently deciding a charming demeanor outweighs the downside of having a racially biased politician leading the country’s legal team.
In fact, if the Sessions situation is any indication, it probably doesn’t matter in the long run whether the disclosure documents come in before the hearings, or if they are all happening at the same time, anyway. Because sadly, it does not appear that Senate Democrats have the teeth to fight against any of these nominees being seated.