Senate Democrats Prepare For Their 2017 Theatrical Debut As Confirmation Hearings Loom

Starting Tuesday Americans will be subjected to what will feel like endless hours of torture as Senate Democrats get their opportunity to question Trump cabinet appointees.  The hearings will undoubtedly focus on the wealth accumulation of many of his nominees as key Democrats have already started to apply pressure for them to turnover historical tax filings. 

That said, given that Republicans control a 52-48 majority in the Senate and that Democrats eliminated the 60-vote threshold in 2013, the Democrat theatrical displays this week will ultimately amount to nothing more than an attempt to discredit and shame Trump's appointees.  As John Cornyn of Texas pointed out, "[Democrats] can delay the process, they can’t stop it."

Of course, their lack of leverage (due to their own rule changes which have now come back to haunt them in just 3 short years) has Senate Democrats "triggered" over Republican efforts to fast track the nomination approval process.  As The Hill notes, Chuck Schumer seems particularly upset about the amount of work he'll have to do this week saying “It shouldn’t be the case that 6 hearings occur all on the same day."

The fast-tracking of nominees is frustrating Democrats, who want to use the hearings to press Trump’s team on a host of issues.


Blocking any of these nominees is unlikely since the GOP needs just 50 votes to win a confirmation battle. Democrats changed the filibuster rules for nominations when they controlled the Senate, easing the process.


It has also drawn criticism from the federal Government Ethics Office, which in a letter to Democrats on Saturday argued that the confirmation process has become so rushed, it is difficult to do ethics probes.


Democrats argue the picks deserve extra scrutiny because of the massive wealth of several nominees. Trump’s cabinet in total is worth more than a third of American households.


“It shouldn’t be the case that 6 hearings…  occur all on the same day, and on the same day as a potential vote-a-rama – that is mostly unprecedented in the modern era of Cabinet considerations, happening only once in history,” Schumer said. “It is not the standard.”

While all of Trump's picks will be put through the wringer, a handful, including Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), Steve Mnuchin (Secretary of Treasury), Jeff Session (Attorney General) and Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education), are expected to draw the most criticism from the left.

Tillerson will undoubtedly be grilled over is ties to the head "Russian Hacker," Vladimir Putin, his audacity to spend 40 years building shareholder value and personal wealth at Exxon and his past comments on climate change.  Per Bloomberg:

Democrats will focus on his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and whether Tillerson can put U.S. interests first after a 40-year career focused on boosting Exxon’s shareholder value. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to impose new sanctions on Russia for its election-related computer hacking that U.S. intelligence agencies said was ordered by Putin. Tillerson has spoken out against sanctions.


Democrats also plan to question him for hints that he would seek to overturn the Paris climate agreement to limit carbon emissions. Tillerson has spoken favorably of the accord and has acknowledged that emissions will have a “warming impact,” though he has said poverty is a bigger immediate problem. They will also look for possible conflicts in his financial disclosures: Tillerson reported assets of up to $400 million and said he’ll receive a cash payout of $180 million from Exxon.



Sessions will likely face the most criticism on some comments he made several decades ago and his views on immigration.

In addition to having to address his race-related comments from decades ago, the four-term senator will face questions on his opposition to legal status for undocumented immigrants, especially those brought here as children and granted work permits by President Barack Obama.  He can expect to be grilled on the Voting Rights Act, a key piece of which was struck down by the Supreme Court as outdated; Congress hasn’t updated that section. He also has been targeted by some marijuana advocates who worry he will enforce the federal prohibition in states that have legalized the drug.



Meanwhile, Mnuchin will take heat for being a former Goldman Sachs Partner and for the purchase of a failed mortgage lender in 2007/2008 which allegedly participated in "unfair lending practices" under his leadership.

The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner profited from the 2007-2008 housing market crash when he and a group of investors bought a failed mortgage lender later renamed OneWest Bank. It was accused of unfair practices when Mnuchin was chief executive, such as backdating mortgage documents to speed foreclosures, manipulating the results of home auctions and avoiding business in minority neighborhoods. Democrats labeled him the "foreclosure king" in a website they created to seek examples of OneWest’s aggressive practices.


A political advocacy group called Allied Progress is running television ads targeting Republican senators in Arizona and Nevada, whose constituents had high foreclosure rates after the subprime mortgage crisis. The ad calls on Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada, who sits on the Finance Committee in charge of vetting Mnuchin, to vote against his confirmation. Both face re-election in 2018.



And last, but certainly not least, Trump's pick for Education Secretary will be grilled endlessly over her support for charter schools and taxpayer-funded school dare someone try to impose changes at public schools that might actually work.

A billionaire and Republican donor, DeVos has spent more than two decades promoting expanded charter schools and taxpayer-funded school vouchers. In her home state of Michigan, she helped shepherd a charter-school sector that has been criticized as lacking quality and appropriate oversight.


She is expected to face questions about $5.3 million in unpaid fines and penalties imposed by Ohio officials over campaign-finance violations by her All Children Matter Political Action Committee in 2008. Democratic senators including Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tom Udall of New Mexico have demanded she pay the fine. Her confirmation is opposed by the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.



Don't you wish you could just hibernate until this week is over?