Cotton, Boozman praise Trump’s Cabinet picks
WASHINGTON — The two Arkansans who will vote on President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks say he deserves high marks for his choices thus far.
“I think he’s nominated an excellent group of men and women to serve this administration, to represent the United States,” U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said this week. “In some ways it’s less conventional than traditional nominees: less experience in Washington, more experience out in the real world. … I tend to think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
The Republican from Dardanelle was busy Thursday with three confirmation hearings. First, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, he questioned the defense secretary nominee, retired Gen. James Mattis. Next, Cotton joined other Intelligence Committee members in quizzing Central Intelligence Agency director nominee Mike Pompeo. From there, he rushed to the Banking Committee so he could converse with the Housing and Urban Development Secretary nominee, Dr. Ben Carson.
The three selections “reflect very well on Donald Trump’s Cabinet and his judgment in assembling that Cabinet,” Cotton said during the Banking Committee hearing.
The senator asked Carson about homelessness among veterans, telling him that there are 40,000 former servicemen without places to stay, including several hundred in Arkansas.
Cotton thanked Mattis for his willingness to serve again, politely questioning him about the nation’s nuclear triad. For five minutes, Cotton asked about Columbia class nuclear submarines, long-range B-21 bombers and a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile system, formally referred to as a “ground-based strategic deterrent.”
Thursday afternoon, he voted to approve a waiver allowing Mattis, a retired general, to lead the Pentagon. Unless waived, U.S. law requires a seven-year waiting period before a former military leader can lead the Defense Department.
Cotton declined to ask Pompeo, a Republican U.S. representative from Kansas, any questions during the public portion of the Intelligence Committee’s hearing, saying they could have “a little more frank discussion” once it had finished.
But he said he is proud to see Pompeo, perhaps his closest friend in Congress, poised to lead the CIA.
“We’ve spent Lord knows how many hours at the agency and traveling around the world, so I think I have a pretty good sense of your views on these questions,” he said.
Afterward, Cotton said all three hearings had gone well, adding, “I expect they all will be confirmed with a healthy bipartisan majority.”
The rest of the Trump nominees, thus far, appear to be in good shape, he said, adding, “I see no reason why any nominee would fail to get a majority vote at this point.”
Thanks to a rule change championed by Democrats in 2013, senators can no longer use filibusters to block a proposed Cabinet member.
To block one of these nominees, Democrats would have to sway some of their Republican colleagues, who occupy 52 of the chamber’s 100 seats.
That doesn’t appear likely, according to Cotton.
Since Trump’s victory, Cotton has been meeting with a steady stream of nominees.
Wednesday, he met with the nominee for interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, and Environmental Protection Agency director nominee Scott Pruitt.
Earlier in the month, he met with attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, Mattis and Carson. He met with several others shortly before Christmas.
Arkansas’ other U.S. senator, John Boozman, is also welcoming nominees to his office.
On Tuesday, he met with U. S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., Trump’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
“He is a budget hawk. He has spent his whole time in Congress being very concerned about the debt and the deficit and he plans to address that,” Boozman said.
Last week, Boozman also met with Pruitt, who is now the Oklahoma attorney general.
Pruitt “is certainly somebody that’s very serious about following the laws that are being written and not trying to expand EPA jurisdiction,” Boozman said.
As a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Boozman will participate in Pruitt’s confirmation hearing Wednesday. Sometime soon, the budget committee he serves on will consider Mulvaney’s nomination. He’ll also join with his Veterans Affairs Committee members in examining David Shulkin, Trump’s pick to be VA secretary.
Many of Trump’s nominees don’t live or work in Washington, Boozman noted.
Trump will be bringing “a lot of people here that aren’t just the typical government-type bureaucrats. … I think there’s a lot to be said for that,” he said. “These are people that I think will be change agents in a very positive way.”
Boozman and his Agriculture Committee colleagues are still waiting to see whom Trump selects as his agriculture secretary.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford has been mentioned as a potential candidate for the post.
“I think Rick would do a very, very good job,” Boozman said, highlighting the Jonesboro Republican’s record as a former agriculture reporter and the owner of a farm news network.
In order to succeed, the secretary will need to “communicate in a way that people understand [about] pretty complex programs,” Boozman said. “Rick has that knowledge and that gift of being able to do that which is so very important.”
Crawford has said little, thus far, about Trump’s search for an agriculture secretary, though he says he’d prefer to see a Southerner get the post.
“Should Congressman Crawford be chosen for ag secretary, he would of course take the opportunity to serve the agriculture community and rural America with passion and enthusiasm,” his spokesman, James Arnold, said Thursday.