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Donald Trump's billionaire pick for Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has been called a "true enemy" of public schools—and could face a contentious confirmation hearing. (Photo: AP)

Democrats Aim to Slam Brakes on Key Members of Trump's "Rigged Cabinet"

Tillerson, Sessions, DeVos, and Mnuchin among those set for messy confirmation process

Deirdre Fulton

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been warned that Senate Democrats are planning to "aggressively target" eight of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees, aiming to delay as long as possible the confirmation hearings slated to start next week. 

"President-elect Trump is attempting to fill his rigged cabinet with nominees that would break key campaign promises and have made billions off the industries they’d be tasked with regulating," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Sunday reported by the Washington Post.

"Any attempt by Republicans to have a series of rushed, truncated hearings before Inauguration Day and before the Congress and public have adequate information on all of them is something Democrats will vehemently resist," Schumer said. "If Republicans think they can quickly jam through a whole slate of nominees without a fair hearing process, they're sorely mistaken."

The nominees in the Democrats' crosshairs are:

  • Secretary of State nominee and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson;
  • Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump's pick for attorney general;
  • Heiress Betsy DeVos, nominated for Education secretary;
  • Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Fast-food CEO and Labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder;
  • Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner;
  • Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency; and
  • Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

Confirmation hearings for Tillerson and Sessions are expected to begin next week. 

But environmental groups have vowed to make Tillerson's hearing a referendum on his company's climate record, while civil rights and progressive advocacy groups are mounting a concerted fight against Sessions. 

In a statement released late last week, the NAACP explained its opposition to Sessions' nomination "for the following reasons: a record on voting rights that is unreliable at best and hostile at worse; a failing record on other civil rights; a record of racially offensive remarks and behavior; and dismal record on criminal justice reform issues."

The statement read:

Given that these are issues our nation the attorney general is sworn to protect and enforce his nomination represents an ongoing and dangerous threat to our civic birthrights.

We call upon the Senate to reject Sessions and for President-elect Donald J. Trump to replace Sessions with a nominee with a record of inclusion and commitment to protecting the civil rights of the American majority.

Meanwhile, CNN reported Sunday that three groups—the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, People For the American Way, and Alliance for Justice—are calling for Sessions' hearing to be blocked until he provides sufficient information as requested on a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. 

According to CNN:

The groups say Sessions failed to provide media interviews, speeches, op-eds, and more from his time as U.S. attorney in Alabama, the state's attorney general, and from his first term as senator, from 1997 through 2002.

They said Sessions listed just 20 media interviews, 16 speeches outside the Senate, two op-eds, an academic article, and a training manual, as well as just 11 clips of interviews with print publications—including none prior to 2003.

"Sen. Sessions claims that records do not exist for the vast majority of press interviews he has given over the years. However, many are easily located online," the groups said, calling the omission "inexplicable."

As Common Dreams reported, the wealthy nominees' financial conflicts of interest could also prove to be a stumbling block. Last month, 16 leading Democrats demanded that each confirmation only move forward if the nominee has cleared an FBI background check; provided a complete financial disclosure; submitted an ethics agreement approved by the Office of Government Ethics; and "satisfied reasonable requests for additional information" that lawmakers have time to review.

On Twitter last week, Schumer noted that while the Senate now has tax returns from Mnuchin and Price, "we're still waiting on Tillerson & rest of Cabinet."

While it remains unclear exactly how Democrats could gum up the confirmation works, Politico reported:

Democrats can use Senate procedures to throw sand in the gears of the chamber, though a 2013 rules change prevents them from unilaterally blocking Trump's cabinet selections. One strategy would force the Senate to go into recess in order to hold some committee hearings; they could also deploy parliamentary tactics to force cloture votes on nominees and drag out debate for days. Democrats estimate they could make the confirmation process take as long as two months.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) is vowing to force a "full conversation" on the Senate floor as allowed by the rules, which allow up to 30 hours of debate on cabinet nominations.

The Post points out: "Absent from the Democratic hit list are retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, the pick for defense secretary; South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whom Trump has nominated to serve as ambassador to the United Nations; and John Kelly, a former Marine general and Trump's selection to lead the Department of Homeland Security, signaling that all three should expect little trouble from Democrats."

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