Trump picks face dif­fi­cult con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings

Se­nate rarely re­jects Cabi­net nom­i­na­tions

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

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nees are headed for bru­tal con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, and his choice of Exxon Mo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son for sec­re­tary of state is shap­ing up to be the most gru­el­ing, but history shows that the Se­nate rarely musters the nerve to re­ject Cabi­net picks.

Only nine Cabi­net nom­i­nees in U.S. history have been de­feated in com­mit­tee or Se­nate votes, although 12 others have been with­drawn in the face of strong op­po­si­tion. The last time a nom­i­nee was de­feated out­right came in 1989, when for­mer Sen. John Tower, Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush’s pick for de­fense sec­re­tary, went down in a party-line vote in a Demo­crat-ma­jor­ity Se­nate.

Nearly ev­ery one of Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nees has en­coun­tered ob­jec­tions from Se­nate Democrats, from ac­cu­sa­tions that his pick for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Scott Pruitt, is anti-en­vi­ron­ment to charges his choice to head the La­bor Depart­ment, fast-food ti­tan An­drew F. Puzder, is anti-worker.

The ex­pected nom­i­na­tion of for­mer Texas Gov. Rick Perry for sec­re­tary of en­ergy met op­po­si­tion from Democrats and lib­eral groups that noted he once pro­posed elim­i­nat­ing the En­ergy Depart­ment.

Mr. Tiller­son en­coun­tered the stiffest op­po­si­tion

yet, in­clud­ing from sev­eral Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who said they share Democrats’ con­cerns about his close busi­ness ties to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

In the past, how­ever, nom­i­na­tions were more likely to be de­railed over per­son­al­ity than pol­icy.

Mr. Tower, the only for­mer se­na­tor to be de­nied con­fir­ma­tion in a vote by his col­leagues, was re­jected amid re­ports of past drink­ing prob­lems and claims that it ren­dered him un­fit for of­fice.

Prior to Mr. Tower’s ill-fated nom­i­na­tion, his­to­ri­ans have to go back to Dwight Eisenhower’s pick of Lewis L. Strauss for com­merce sec­re­tary in 1959 to find an­other con­fir­ma­tion ca­su­alty. Mr. Strauss, who played a key role in for­mu­lat­ing early U.S. nu­clear weapon pol­icy, was known for his prickly dis­po­si­tion, which proved his big­gest li­a­bil­ity and ul­ti­mately un­der­mined his nom­i­na­tion.

In that case as well, a Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate de­nied the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent’s choice.

In re­cent years, it has been more com­mon for a nom­i­na­tion to be with­drawn rather than suf­fer the hu­mil­i­a­tion of be­ing voted down. Since 1996 six nom­i­na­tion have been with­drawn: three of Bill Clin­ton’s, two of George W. Bush’s and one of Mr. Obama’s.

Mr. Obama’s choice for health and hu­man ser­vices sec­re­tary, for­mer Sen. Tom Daschle, with­drew over ques­tions about his tax re­turns and his work as a lob­by­ist, which ap­peared to con­tra­dict the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign pledge to bring change to Wash­ing­ton. Mr. Daschle’s nom­i­na­tion foundered de­spite fel­low Se­nate Democrats be­ing in the ma­jor­ity.

Sen­a­tors re­vere their con­sti­tu­tional duty of “ad­vice and con­sent” over nom­i­na­tions, but they also pride them­selves on show­ing def­er­ence to pres­i­dents in fill­ing their Cab­i­nets. That ex­plains the rar­ity of nom­i­nees be­ing re­jected.

But those rules may no longer ap­ply, said po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Jim Man­ley, a for­mer top aide to out­go­ing Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Harry Reid. He pre­dicted that at least one of Mr. Trump’s nom­i­na­tions would be de­feated or forced to with­draw.

“It’s true in the past that the Se­nate has strug­gled to make sure that the pres­i­dent gets the peo­ple he asks for to serve in his Cabi­net. What I don’t know is whether ‘that was then and this is now,’ be­cause the norms have changed so much,” he said.

Se­nate Democrats could be look­ing for ret­ri­bu­tion against Repub­li­cans for deny­ing both a vote and con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings on Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­na­tion this year of Judge Mer­rick Gar­land for the Supreme Court. Repub­li­cans shelved the nom­i­na­tion for eight months, wait­ing for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and the chance a Repub­li­can would win and next year name a con­ser­va­tive jus­tice to the high court.

“What they did to Mer­rick Gar­land is ab­so­lutely, flat out un­ac­cept­able. And the ques­tion is what kind of im­pact that is go­ing to have go­ing for­ward,” Mr. Man­ley said.

Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nees ben­e­fit from hav­ing his party in the ma­jor­ity, which means Democrats would need Repub­li­can votes to block con­fir­ma­tion.

When Mr. Tiller­son goes be­fore the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, he will face 10 Repub­li­cans and 9 Democrats.

If Democrats re­main united in op­po­si­tion, it would take just one Repub­li­can vote to stall the nom­i­na­tion. How­ever, a straight Demo­cratic Party line then puts in­cred­i­ble pres­sure on each Repub­li­can not to break ranks.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Florida Repub­li­can and a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee, said he has “se­ri­ous con­cerns” about Mr. Tiller­son. Whether he would stand as the lone Repub­li­can to deny Mr. Tiller­son the post re­mains to be seen. He promised a “full and fair but also thor­ough hear­ing.”

At a rally Tues­day evening in West Al­lis, Wis­con­sin, Mr. Trump took the bull by the horns, say­ing he picked Mr. Tiller­son for the same rea­son others op­pose him — be­cause he knows how to be friendly with some of the world’s un­friendly lead­ers.

“Rex is friendly with many of the lead­ers in the world that we don’t get along with, and some peo­ple don’t like that. They don’t want to be friendly,” Mr. Trump said at the thank-you rally. “That’s why I’m do­ing the deal with Rex. That’s what this is all about.”

At the same time, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn an­nounced they would sup­port con­fir­ma­tion of Mr. Tiller­son, sig­nal­ing a con­sol­i­da­tion of GOP sup­port.

When the nom­i­na­tions reach the cham­ber’s floor, Repub­li­cans hold a 52-48 ma­jor­ity. If Democrats march in lock­step against a nom­i­nee, they will need three Repub­li­cans to join them.

Democrats also lost the lever­age of the fil­i­buster. When in the ma­jor­ity in 2013, Se­nate Democrats re­sorted to the “nu­clear op­tion,” chang­ing the cham­ber’s rules to al­low con­fir­ma­tion of Pres­i­dent Obama’s ap­point­ments with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity rather than the pre­vi­ously re­quired 60vote su­per­ma­jor­ity.

The new rules fur­ther smooth the way for Mr. Trump’s picks.


At a rally Tues­day evening in West Al­lis, Wis­con­sin, pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump said he picked ExxonMo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son for the job of sec­re­tary of state be­cause Mr. Tiller­son knows how to be friendly with some of the world’s un­friendly lead­ers.

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