The US Senate starts considering President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks in confirmation hearings on Tuesday, and he is extremely confident “they will all pass.”
If history is any indicator, Trump has little to worry about.
In 228 years of the Executive Branch, the Senate has only outright rejected nine Cabinet nominations, while 11 were withdrawn or not acted on by the Senate.
Asked about the confirmation hearings after meeting with Alibaba founder Jack Ma on Monday, Trump said he expected them to go smoothly.
“Confirmation is going great. I think they will all pass,” Trump said. “I think every nomination will be — they’re all at the highest level. Jack was even saying, they are the absolute highest level. I think they’re going to do very well.”
The picks most likely to face opposition
Democratic senators — and some Republicans — have objected to many of Trump’s picks, most notably Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, and Scott Pruitt as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But to successfully reject one of them with the required simple majority, all of the 48 Democrats in the Senate would need to oppose a nominee, plus have three Republicans join them.
The loudest concerns senators have voiced have come over Tillerson’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who awarded the former Exxon Mobil CEO an Order of Friendship medal in 2013.
Top US intelligence agencies concluded in a report released last week that Russia was behind the Democratic National Committee hacks, which they said was part of a campaign orchestrated by Putin and designed to discredit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and aid Trump.
Sessions, meanwhile, was nominated to be a federal district court judge by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. But the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee blocked his nomination because of racially charged comments and actions that he denied. His hearing for attorney general, in front of the same committee that rejected him years ago, begins Tuesday.
After his nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts urged GOP senators to join her in opposing Sessions.
“Today, a new GOP Senate must decide whether self-interest & political cowardice will prevent them from once again doing what is right,” she tweeted.
Pruitt, meanwhile, is embroiled in a lawsuit against what he has called overreach of the EPA, the agency Trump has nominated him to lead, for President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
He is the only Cabinet pick that incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has outright opposed, raising concerns on Twitter that Pruitt denies the overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change.
Environmental group Sierra Club compared Pruitt heading the EPA to “putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
A historical rarity
The last time the Senate outright blocked a nomination was Republican President George H.W. Bush’s choice of Sen. John Tower for defence secretary in 1989.
“Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the majority leader … and Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, both argued that Mr. Tower’s nomination was a special case,” The New York Times wrote at the time, “a nominee for a particularly sensitive job plagued by an unusually long list of allegations about purported drinking problems, misconduct toward women and lax attitudes toward conflicts created by his work as a consultant to military contractors.”
More recently, Obama withdrew Tom Daschle as his nominee for secretary of health and human services in 2009 because the former senator came under scrutiny for unpaid taxes. President George W. Bush withdrew two Cabinet nominees, and President Bill Clinton withdrew three.
The very first Cabinet pick to be outright rejected by the Senate was Roger B. Taney in 1834, whom President Andrew Jackson appointed as Treasury Secretary to dismantle the National Bank.
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