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Confirmation Speculation Swirls in the Senate

Leaders are negotiating whether Cabinet picks can be swiftly confirmed Friday

Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis could be one of the nominees confirmed on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis could be one of the nominees confirmed on Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)


Senators’ focus on President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees continued Wednesday afternoon, with some attention turning toward which nominees might be confirmed on Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-NY., are currently in negotiations over which nominees could be swiftly confirmed. Democrats will need to cooperate to either confirm nominees by unanimous consent or agree to limiting time for their consideration. 

When asked about three national security nominees — Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo to be CIA Director, Retired Gen. John Kelly to lead the Homeland Security Department and Retired Gen. James Mattis to lead the Pentagon — being confirmed on Friday, Schumer hedged but seemed to tip his hand a bit.

Confirmation Hearings Bring Out the Senate Angst ]

“Those three nominees were not on the list of the nine who we had the most trouble with and wanted the most extensive hearings, and we’re discussing that with Sen. McConnell and some of the folks in the White House right now,” Schumer said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said she expected Kelly to be confirmed on Friday. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee also voted 26-1 Wednesday to favorably report Mattis’ nomination for Defense secretary, meaning his nomination can be sent directly to the Senate after he is formally nominated by Trump.

Elaine L. Chao, Trump’s pick for Transportation secretary, is also expected to receive bipartisan support. The former Labor Secretary is married to McConnell.

As for the broader issue of confirming Cabinet picks for agencies with more of a domestic focus, Schumer said, “This week we’ve made no progress at all.”

Still, even extended debate would not doom nominees, since the Democratic majority pushed through rules changes in 2013 that require only a simple majority to limit debate.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he hoped seven Cabinet nominees would be confirmed on Friday, which would be comparable to the number confirmed on the first day of President Barack Obama’s administration. 

“I would expect parity,” Cornyn said. “The only difference is what the Democrats will allow us to do without having to file for cloture on each one of them.”

But Democrats have increasing concerns about some of Trump’s nominees with vast financial holdings, and they have pushed back on GOP demands for quick confirmation of nominees who haven’t filled out the basic paperwork nominees do.

[ Mulvaney: I Paid $15,583 in Back Taxes for Household Employee ]

Trump’s pick to run the Office of Management and Budget, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, revealed he did not pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee. The South Carolina Republican informed the Senate Budget Committee in a questionnaire that he re-payed the taxes.

Democrats were quick to cite past incidents when failing to pay taxes disqualified Cabinet hopefuls.

Schumer compared the tax issues that surfaced in Mulvaney’s nomination to the household employee issue that helped stop former Sen. Thomas Daschle’s selection to be Health and Human Services Secretary in 2009 under President Barack Obama.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Schumer said.

“He didn’t pay his taxes?” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy when asked about the issue.

“In the past — this has come out a couple of times before, and in both Democratic and Republican administrations — usually at that point, their nominee says, ‘Oh, you know what?…I need to spend more time with my family, I can’t accept this great honor,’” Leahy said.

Sparring Over Price Takes Center Stage ]

At a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing Wednesday, Democrats also raised concerns about Rep. Tom Price investing in biomedical companies while working on health care policy. The Georgia Republican was before the committee for his confirmation hearing to be the next HHS secretary.

“Everything that we have done has been above board, transparent, ethical and legal,” Price told the committee.

Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.

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