Writing about the timing for Senate confirmation hearings—at least accurately!—has become almost impossible. A few days, I was bemoaning how Cabinet members are being rushed through without deliberation, but every hour seems to change the GOP game plan. Originally, six Cabinet-level confirmations were scheduled on the same day that the chamber works on the budget (that one that grows the deficit by $10 trillion in the next decade) and Donald Trump (DT) gives his first press conference in six months to divert attention from his nominees. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “There is a whole lot of: ‘Don’t watch what we’re doing here.” Watchers now, however, can see how the GOP is failing at its job.
The inability of Betsy DeVos (Department of Education) put off her hearing until next Tuesday in the hopes that she can finished her required ethics paperwork. Her investment in a for-profit charter school would be a conflict of interest in any other administration. As more cabinet nominees are shown to have possible conflicts of interest, they have also been postponed without the necessary review of background checks and ethics review.
Andrew Puzder (Department of Labor) may not get a hearing until February. The postponement comes at the same time as a new survey finding that two-thirds of the women who work at his fast-food restaurants (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) reported sexual harassment in the workplace. That was followed by a spokesperson for Puzder who confirmed that his ex-wife appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about his domestic violence against her in the 1980s.
Wilbur Ross (Department of Commerce), also scheduled for today, has his hearing next Thursday, again because the committee has not received his ethics agreement. The hearings for CIA director nominee, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KA) for CIA Director was postponed until tomorrow. That makes hearings for four different cabinet members on one day.
Conservatives are blaming Walter M. Shaub Jr., the director of the ethics office, for the delay, but nominees have not submitted their information to him.
The schedule as of recently:
- Attorney General: Jeff Sessions – Jan. 10-11
- Homeland Security: John Kelly – Jan. 10-11
- State: Rex Tillerson – Jan 11 (may go into Jan 12)
- Transportation: Elaine Chao – Jan. 11
- CIA: Mike Pompeo – Jan. 12
- Labor: Andrew Puzder – February
- Defense: James Mattis – Jan. 12
- HUD: Ben Carson – Jan. 12
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of trying to slow down the process in demanding the necessary paperwork, but he had been a stickler for this requirement when President Obama was elected. Now he calls them “little procedural complaints.” Necessary submissions require tax returns, FBI background checks, and Office of Government Ethics information.
Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (Department of Justice) had completed the FBI background check, but his original application skipped over years of experience. He withheld decades of records about his career—information about 1981-1993 as U.S. Attorney to the Southern District of Alabama, 1995-1997 as the state’s attorney general, and 1997-2002 as a first term U.S. senator. Also missing are the hearings after his nomination for federal judge in 1986 when he was determined to be too racist for the position and dozens of recent interviews when he made controversial statements. It all came out in the hearing anyway.
The Alabama Republican criticized Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Goodwin Liu for incomplete questionnaires, accusing the latter of his incompetence because of his “extraordinary disregard for the Committee’s constitutional role” or attempting “to hide his most controversial work from the Committee.” Sessions said that Liu might be committing a felony by omitting information from his questionnaire. After almost a year of the Senate ignoring the nominee, President Obama withdrew the nomination. Liu is now seated on California’s Supreme Court.
Sessions is perhaps the most controversial nominee, and McConnell had limited the number of witnesses called by Democrats to four in the two-day hearing, only half the length of four days for John Ashcroft, the last nominees for AG plucked from the Senate. Ashcroft’s hearings included 19 outside witnesses plus four senators. Committee Chair Chuck Grassley refused to push back the time of Sessions’ hearing because of his omissions on his applications. Two witnesses against Sessions were Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—the first time a sitting senator has testified against a sitting senate nominee—and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Sessions did not appear for today’s hearing–but that is another story for later.
Although Sessions’ racist record goes back many decades, his current record shows racist, homophobic, and misogynist attitudes. For example, he gave Trump a pass for his sexist comments and admissions to sexual assault because “everybody knows that Trump likes women” and “uses this kind of talk.” He praised the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; he voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act; he voted for a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage; he opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the hate crimes prevention act; and he voted to abolish a program that helps businesses owned by women and minorities compete for federally funded transportation projects. In 2015, he praised a 1924 immigration law to end “indiscriminate acceptance of all races.”
In addition to being racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, and anti-woman, Sessions has connections to Southern Co., one of the nation’s biggest electric companies and his biggest corporate donor. Favors for the company could impact his legal work on the Clean Power Plan which regulates carbon emissions from electric utilities. A power plant that the company is building is also being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. ExxonMobil also gave to campaigns of Sessions who then vociferously objected to any investigations into the company concealing its knowledge of climate change from its shareholders and the public. This is the man who would be guiding the country in protecting the laws and civil rights.
Sessions has said that he will not recuse himself from voting on his own nomination as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry did.
Even the Republicans admit that they have different standards for DT’s nominees. Asked if past standards of disclosing foreign payments apply to DT’s Cabinet nominees, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said it should not. HuffPo repeated, “So it’s different now because it’s Trump?” Inhofe said twice that’s “just right” about different standards for DT. The question came from a GOP letter, also signed by Inhofe, demanding “unprecedented disclosures” from former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) when he was President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. At that time, Senate Republicans had a concern about “the potential for foreign conflicts of interest.” The same Republicans no longer have that concern.
The hearing for Elaine Chao (Department of Transportation) went quite well if you can stomach sexist comments such as “I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country’s infrastructure” (Mitch McConnell and “I keep thinking … how excited your daddy is right now … and that he is responsible for you and your performing” (Jim Inhofe). Even the Democrats joined the nonsense.
John Kelly (Department of Homeland Security) said gave all the right answers to keep his hearing audience happy, but the questions were softballs.
Donald Trump’s press conference was also today. But that, too, is another story as is information from the hearing for Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State).
The lights have already gone out twice in a week at the Washington Monument. It could be an indication of the coming dark ages.