WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said priorities for the upper chamber between now and Inauguration Day will be getting President-elect Trump’s cabinet nominees through the confirmation gauntlet and passing Obamacare repeal without a replacement.
“We hope the minority will treat President-elect Trump’s cabinet selections in the same way that we treated President Obama, and we confirmed a number on Inauguration Day itself. We hope to be in a position to do that once again,” McConnell told reporters alongside Vice President-elect Pence following a closed-door policy luncheon on Capitol Hill today.
“And we’re also going to process the waiver for Secretary of Defense-designee Mattis,” he added. “Those are the priorities between now and January the 20th.”
The congressional waiver is needed as U.S. Code says “a person may not be appointed as Secretary of Defense within seven years after relief from active duty as a commissioned officer of a regular component of an armed force.” Mattis, the former commander of United States Central Command, retired in 2013.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) met with Mattis for 45 minutes today, and told reporters afterward that she would continue to oppose a waiver because “Congress very intentionally said the secretary of Defense will also be a civilian to be consistent with our constitutional requirements of civilian control of the military.”
McConnell didn’t have a timeline on a Trump pick to replace late Justice Antonin Scalia, but said he “will be looking forward to receiving a Supreme Court nomination and moving forward on it,” warning that “the American people simply will not tolerate” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) vow to block a nominee who is not “mainstream.”
He voiced optimism that “all the president-elect’s cabinet appointments will be confirmed.”
“I think it would be great if the Democrats would understand that particularly with regard to the national security team, the secretary of Defense, CIA, Homeland Security, it would make a lot of sense to have those folks in place on day one. And I hope we get to the point where that’ll be possible,” McConnell said.
The GOP leader told reporters “we’re going to move forward with the Obamacare repeal resolution first and we’ll take the second step a little bit later.”
Outside of the Democrats’ luncheon, Schumer said there are “eight nominees that we find the most troublesome, and we have asked for fair hearings on all of those nominees.”
Those nominees are Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary, Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency, Betsy DeVos for Education secretary, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) for Health and Human Services secretary, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) for budget director, Andy Puzder for the Labor Department and Wilbur Ross for Commerce secretary.
“What is a fair hearing? First, it means all their paperwork is in. Now, Leader McConnell has talked about the fact that a lot of nominees were approved in President Obama’s first few days after he was inaugurated. But they all had their paperwork in early, their ethics reports, their 90-day plan to extricate themselves from conflicts, their FBI briefings,” Schumer said.
“To our knowledge — and maybe someone else has information — but our committees have only received this information for a very few of them. Most of them have none. They wanted to schedule a hearing for DeVos on the 11th, we don’t have any information on her, and she, in addition, has a $ 5 million fine outstanding that she’s refused to pay.”
That’s referring to a decade-old election law violations fine against DeVos’ All Children Matter school-choice advocacy group; a DeVos representative told Politico that the nominee cannot “be held liable for the fine.”
Schumer said Dems have asked for “two days at least on each nominee so you get a chance to look at what they said overnight.”
“We’ve asked for complete paperwork, we have asked for tax returns, we think with so many nominees that are billionaires and have so many potential conflicts of interest, that tax returns are appropriate, although in the past they were only asked for on a few nominees. We have asked that the nominees not all be put together at the same time and place, so members can spend a lot of time studying the hearings,” he said.
“And I would like to succeed in negotiating something when we get full and fair hearing. We’re not trying to be dilatory and hear what these nominees have to say. There are so many issues about so many of them, that to rush them through would be a disservice to the American people.”