Connect to Congress: Cabinet picks begin public hearings

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks have already begun. Attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., was first on Tuesday, facing the Senate Judiciary Committee – which was day one of a two-day hearing. Transportation secretary nominee Elaine Chao faced the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; and secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, former ExxonMobil CEO, faced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, the secretary of Homeland Security nominee faced the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Wednesday afternoon.

These hearings have kicked off despite criticism from the Office of Government Ethics that many of Trump’s nominees have not fully finished the vetting process with that office.

It is also an issue of concern for Democrats.

“We need to have full disclosure. There has to be transparency for every one of these nominees,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., told WEYI-TV. “We’ve got to make sure that all of those disclosures are made before a hearing begins, so that senators have an opportunity - as well as the American public – have an opportunity to know what those potential conflicts of interest are and ask the tough questions in a hearing.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., says he’s concerned about the caliber of some of the cabinet selections.

In an interview with Washington, D.C.’s NewsChannel 8, Van Hollen said, “A lot of choices that the incoming president has made in picking people to head agencies where their career, their focus in the past has been to destroy those agencies or their entire mission has been to undermine the activities in those agencies. And that’s why it’s been so important to have a full, public vetting.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., believes the nominees are a part of Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp.”

“Donald Trump said himself when criticized for having a couple of these billionaires that he didn’t want to find people who had failed in business, he wanted to find people who succeeded in business and allow them to apply their skills and experiences on behalf of the American people,” Cotton told KATV.

Cotton went on to point out that the majority of Trump’s picks – with a few exceptions, like Chao who was the secretary of Labor under former President George H.W. Bush – have little to no experience in Washington.

The hearing for Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan. – nominated to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – with the Senate Select Intelligence Committee was postponed from Wednesday to Thursday this week.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sits on that committee and will be a part of his confirmation process. While praising Pompeo’s nomination to KHQA in a interview, Blunt spoke about the need to get Trump’s national security picks through as soon as possible.

“I think of all the people that we get confirmed, the national security team – the director of the CIA, the director of National Intelligence, the secretary of Defense – are all right at the top of the list of who it’s most important we get in place the quickest, and I believe we’ll see that happen in the next few days,” Blunt said.

In addition to Pompeo, other cabinet nominees expected to face Senate panels publicly for the first time on Thursday include Defense secretary nominee James Mattis and secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) nominee Ben Carson. The Foreign Relations Committee will also resume examination of Tillerson’s nomination for a second day.

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