Democrats push new rules for Cabi­net nom­i­nees

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER

Se­nate Democrats fired a shot across the bow Thursday for Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s Cabi­net choices, push­ing for a rule that would re­quire all nom­i­nees to hand over their past three years of tax re­turns in or­der to get a con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing.

The de­mand for the rule change, which has next to zero chance of gain­ing ap­proval from the Se­nate’s Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity, nev­er­the­less sig­naled that Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nees are in for a bumpy ride through the con­fir­ma­tion process.

The tax re­turn is­sue was aimed at wealthy busi­ness­men whom Mr. Trump has tapped to run the Trea­sury and the Com­merce de­part­ments. But a drum­beat of op­po­si­tion was ris­ing against other picks, such as Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, Alabama Repub­li­can, whose con­fir­ma­tion for at­tor­ney gen­eral must over­come ac­cu­sa­tions from lib­eral groups that he is a racist.

Mr. Trump said Thursday that he would name re­tired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis as de­fense sec­re­tary. The gen­eral, known as “Mad Dog Mat­tis,” has a sto­ried ca­reer in the mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing serv­ing as com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand and as NATO’s supreme al­lied com­man­der.

But Gen. Mat­tis would need some special treat­ment to be el­i­gi­ble for Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion: Congress would have to waive a fed­eral law that bars any­one who has been on ac­tive duty in the pre­vi­ous seven years from be­com­ing de­fense sec­re­tary.

Democrats said the ex­tra scru­tiny of tax re­turns is nec­es­sary be­cause Mr. Trump is stack­ing his Cabi­net with mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires. They ac­cused the pres­i­dent-elect of reneg­ing on his cam­paign prom­ise to “drain the swamp” of cor­rup­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

“As Don­ald Trump floods the swamp in­stead of drain­ing it, Amer­i­cans de­serve a strong vet­ting process to hold his Cabi­net nom­i­nees

ac­count­able for all pos­si­ble con­flicts of in­ter­est,” Sen. Deb­bie Stabenow of Michi­gan, the in­com­ing chair­woman of the Se­nate Democrats’ pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions op­er­a­tion, said at a press con­fer­ence at the U.S. Capi­tol.

“Amer­i­cans de­serve to know whether or not Pres­i­dent-elect Trump’s team of mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires will ac­tu­ally work for all the Amer­i­can peo­ple or only the wealthy and well-con­nected,” said Ms. Stabenow.

She said tax re­turns would re­veal whether Mr. Trump, who re­fused to re­lease his tax re­turns dur­ing the cam­paign, had se­lected Cabi­net of­fi­cials who broke tax laws, hid money off­shore or didn’t pay any taxes. She said Amer­i­cans have a right to know.

Trump tran­si­tion team of­fi­cials said the nom­i­nees will be pre­pared to ac­com­mo­date any re­quire­ment for the con­fir­ma­tion process.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans shrugged off the call for tax re­turns.

Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch, Utah Repub­li­can, said his Demo­cratic col­leagues are play­ing a game be­cause Se­nate com­mit­tees al­ready pos­sess am­ple au­thor­ity to fully vet nom­i­nees.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Se­nate Agri­cul­ture, Nutri­tion and Forestry Com­mit­tee, said Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nees de­serve the same scru­tiny that was ap­plied to Mr. Obama’s choices.

“After all, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was the so-called ‘most trans­par­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion in his­tory,’ ” said Mr. Roberts. “The vet­ting process is com­pre­hen­sive and in­cludes broad in­quiries into nom­i­nees’ fi­nances. Un­til now, I was not aware of any con­cerns about the com­mit­tee’s doc­u­ment re­quests. I see no rea­son to change course.”

Nom­i­nees al­ready are re­quired to dis­close po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est and sub­mit fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures. Three Se­nate com­mit­tees — Fi­nance, Bud­get and Home­land Se­cu­rity — have the op­tion to re­quest tax re­turns.

The pro­posed rule would make it manda­tory for all com­mit­tees that hold con­fir­ma­tion hearings to re­view a nom­i­nee’s pre­vi­ous three years of tax re­turns.

The de­mand for tax re­turns fol­lowed Democrats’ sharp crit­i­cism of Mr. Trump’s nom­i­na­tions of two bil­lion­aire busi­ness­men with ties to Wall Street: Steven Mnuchin for Trea­sury sec­re­tary and Wil­bur Ross to head the Com­merce Depart­ment.

Mr. Trump also named Betsy DeVos, a bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can donor and school re­form ad­vo­cate from Michi­gan, as ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary.

Sen. Patty Mur­ray of Wash­ing­ton, the chamber’s in­com­ing as­sis­tant mi­nor­ity leader, said that in­stead of drain­ing the swamp, Mr. Trump is fill­ing it with “even big­ger swamp crea­tures.”

“Pres­i­dent-elect Trump is put­ting to­gether a gold-plated and ma­hogany, Trump-style Cabi­net of Wall Street bankers, bil­lion­aires, mil­lion­aires, friends, in­sid­ers, cam­paign con­trib­u­tors and cronies,” she said.

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