Trump un­fazed about con­tra­dic­tions of Cab­i­net picks

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - NATION - By Erica Werner Erica Werner is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump is shrug­ging off con­tra­dic­tions with his own Cab­i­net picks that have been on dis­play dur­ing Se­nate hear­ings this week.

“All my Cab­i­net nom­i­nee are look­ing good and do­ing a great job. I want them to be them­selves and ex­press their own thoughts, not mine!” Trump tweeted Fri­day.

The com­ment comes af­ter mem­bers of Trump’s fu­ture Cab­i­net sep­a­rated them­selves from the pres­i­dent-elect on a se­ries of is­sues, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, tor­ture and Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion.

Partly as a re­sult the nom­i­nees have got­ten mostly gen­tle treat­ment from Se­nate Democrats who say they’ve found the Cab­i­net choices more palat­able than the fu­ture pres­i­dent him­self.

“As I meet mem­bers of the Cab­i­net I’m puz­zled be­cause many of them sound rea­son­able,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illi­nois, the No. 2 Se­nate Demo­crat. “Far more rea­son­able than their pres­i­dent.”

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, picked for at­tor­ney gen­eral, said he’s against any out­right ban on im­mi­gra­tion by Mus­lims, in con­trast to Trump’s one­time call to sus­pend ad­mit­tance of Mus­lims. Sec­re­tary of State can­di­date Rex Tiller­son af­firmed U.S. com­mit­ments to NATO and took a rel­a­tively hard line on Rus­sia, both in con­trast to Trump — though Tiller­son irked GOP Sen. Marco Ru­bio by re­fus­ing to la­bel Vladimir Putin a “war crim­i­nal.”

And CIA pick Rep. Mike Pom­peo, R-Kansas, af­firmed his op­po­si­tion to tor­ture and said he would refuse any Trump or­der to tor­ture, adding he could not imag­ine Trump would give such a di­rec­tive. Trump, while cam­paign­ing, sug­gested bring­ing back wa­ter­board­ing and more.

Tiller­son’s nom­i­na­tion is in ques­tion in light of con­cerns from Ru­bio and oth­ers, but it looks like smooth sail­ing for Pom­peo; re­tired Gen. James Mat­tis for De­fense; and re­tired Gen. John Kelly for Home­land Se­cu­rity, among oth­ers.

“Pom­peo’s very pop­u­lar, Mat­tis, Kelly — these are pop­u­lar selections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Ses­sions was de­nied con­fir­ma­tion once be­fore by the Se­nate, but that was three decades ago for a fed­eral judge­ship. This time around the Alaba­man is a sit­ting sen­a­tor and was treated gen­tly, for the most part, by his col­leagues, even when Democrats brought up the racial is­sues that brought him down him last time around. There was po­ten­tial for drama as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., broke with Se­nate tra­di­tion to tes­tify against his col­league, but it came on the se­cond day of the hear­ing af­ter Ses­sions had fin­ished tes­ti­fy­ing, so he was not even in the room.

“The pur­pose of con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings is to ex­am­ine the record and views of po­ten­tial nom­i­nees and I think that’s what these hear­ings are do­ing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “I think it’s likely that all of the Cab­i­net nom­i­nees are go­ing to be con­firmed, I think the hear­ings have gone quite well this week.”

The out­ings also lack drama due to Democrats’ de­ci­sion while in the Se­nate ma­jor­ity to lower the vote thresh­old for Cab­i­net nom­i­nees and oth­ers from 60 votes to 50, al­low­ing Repub­li­cans to en­sure ap­proval as long as they can hold their 52-seat ma­jor­ity to­gether.

There could be fire­works yet to come be­cause sev­eral of the most po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive hear­ings are still pend­ing, in­clud­ing for for­mer Gold­man Sachs part­ner Steven Mnuchin for Trea­sury sec­re­tary. Democrats have set up a web­site to solicit sto­ries from the thou­sands of peo­ple whose homes were fore­closed on by OneWest Bank while Mnuchin headed a group of in­vestors who owned the bank. They hope to use Mnuchin’s nom­i­na­tion hear­ing to at­tack Trump’s pop­ulist ap­peal with work­ing-class vot­ers.

Chip So­mod­ev­illa / Getty Im­ages

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., is among the Cab­i­net nom­i­nees whose tes­ti­mony con­flicted with Don­ald Trump’s state­ments.

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