Despite criticism from voters, Democrats, and ethics experts, the Senate GOP is unwavering in their scheme to rush President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees through tightly-scheduled confirmation hearings, despite a lack of comprehensive ethics vetting and financial disclosures. This is a stark reversal from the expectations Republicans had for President Obama's nominees — as Senator Chuck Schumer made abundantly clear with a biting communique.
Senate Republicans are proceeding full steam ahead to railroad Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees through a fast-track confirmation process, shielding them from ethics scrutiny and financial disclosure requirements.
Voters have raised their voices in opposition, and Democrats — including Senator Elizabeth Warren — have forcefully criticized Senate Republicans for abetting the Trump transition ethics crisis.
Senator Chuck Schumer pointedly called out the evident double standard by marking up the letter Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell sent to then-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid in 2009, and sending it back to him.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 9, 2017
Schumer’s rejoinder is devastatingly witty, but the subject itself is no laughing matter. Ethics experts Norman L. Eisen and Richard W. Painter, who were respectively Chief White House Ethics lawyers under Presidents Obama and George W Bush, penned a piece for the Guardian arguing that the nomination hearings must be delayed.
As the former White House ethics counsels for Presidents Bush and Obama, we were involved in the submission of many presidential nominations to the US Senate for confirmation. We and others worked hard to make sure those nominees’ financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements were finalized and certified by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) before their hearings, so that the Senate and thus the public could explore any conflicts of interest and how they were addressed.
This week’s hearings for the president-elect’s cabinet are flouting that practice, and for that reason, should be postponed.
…Completion of the ethics review process prior to Senate confirmation hearings ensures that all parties have a detailed understanding of the nominee’s commitments prior to taking office, offers full transparency to the Senate, and mitigates the opportunity for undue influence on the independent ethics review process.
…To preserve the integrity of the ethics review process, we urge Senate leadership to postpone any confirmation hearing unless the nominee’s financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements are finalized in advance.
In a statement to Shareblue, Jordan Libowitz, Communications Director for CREW, on whose board sit ethics experts Eisen and Painter, underlined the import of delaying hearings:
Congress should refuse to give hearings to nominees until after they submit financial disclosures and ethics agreements. Trying to force hearing before ethics reviews are completed raises serious questions–and serious issues if a major ethics issue comes out after confirmation. This administration has so far been uninterested in following ethical norms. Congress is in the best position to force them to.
Thus far, Senate Republicans have brazenly ignored such pleas, and have scheduled the first two confirmation hearings for Tuesday: Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), whom Trump has nominated to serve as U.S. Attorney General; and Ret. Marine Corps General John Kelly, who has been nominated to serve as Homeland Security Secretary.
Sessions’ abysmal record on civil rights and hostility toward reproductive rights, among his other objectionable positions on immigration, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights, have already prompted Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown to announce he will vote “no” to Sessions’ confirmation.
Their records alone warrant detailed, considered nomination hearings, as both men need to face serious questioning about their regard for the people with whose lives and safety they would be entrusted, if confirmed.
If the GOP is, as they assert, convinced that Trump has put forth solid, ethical, competent nominees, who are able to fill the roles for which they have been nominated with proficiency and decency, then the GOP should have nothing to fear by allowing these nominees to go through a thorough vetting process.
That they would prefer these nominees are rubber-stamped without scrutiny is all the more reason to look at them and their records very closely indeed.