Cot­ton, Booz­man praise Trump’s Cab­i­net picks

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - FRANK E. LOCK­WOOD

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.

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