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Republican plans to quickly confirm Trump nominees are upended

Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at his confirmation before before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Alex Brandon / AP)
Attorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, at his confirmation before before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Alex Brandon / AP)
By Ed O’Keefe The Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Republican plans to quickly confirm Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees were upended Tuesday amid Democratic pressure to slow down the examination of picks.

The Senate Intelligence Committee announced early Tuesday that it would delay by a day a hearing for Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., to serve as CIA director. Originally scheduled to be considered amid several other nominees on Wednesday, Pompeo will appear instead on Thursday.

The Senate health and education committee also announced late Monday that it would postpone its hearing with Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for education secretary, until next week.

Hearings for Trump’s nominees began Tuesday with consideration of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to serve as attorney general and retired Marine general James Kelly to serve as homeland security secretary. On Wednesday, a schedule that once had as many as six hearings now has just three: the second day of hearings for Sessions; a Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state; and a Commerce Committee hearing with Elaine Chao to serve as transportation secretary.

There are no indications that any of Trump’s Cabinet choices are at risk of being rejected by the Senate – a rare occurrence – and Republicans continue to insist that all of Trump’s choices will be confirmed.

“Everybody will be properly vetted as they have been in the past, and I’m hopeful that we’ll get up to six or seven – particularly national security team – in place on Day One,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on Monday after meeting with Trump in New York.

But the last-minute calendar changes came despite McConnell’s assurances that hearings would commence quickly and simultaneously this week to get as many as seven nominees confirmed on Inauguration Day.

Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has been pressuring McConnell for days to reconsider the packed schedule, arguing that the unprecedented wealth of Trump’s nominees needs to be carefully reviewed before votes. Schumer and most Democrats have not suggested that Trump’s choices will be defeated – merely that they deserve more time.

On Tuesday, Schumer called McConnell’s plans to delay the hearings “a very good first step.”

“This proposed Cabinet is unlike any other in terms of its wealth, corporate connections and hard right ideological views, and the American people deserve nothing less than open and deliberate hearings going forward,” Schumer said in a statement. “Democrats will do everything we can to make sure that happens.

Over the weekend, the director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) – a clearinghouse for all executive branch nominees – complained to senators that agency officials were struggling to simultaneously review the extensive backgrounds of so many wealthy Trump nominees who had never been subjected to public scrutiny. Those arguments buoyed Democratic complaints about a rushed schedule.

By late Monday, the ethics office had released reports for five top picks subject to hearings this week: Chao, Pompeo, Sessions, Tillerson and defense nominee James Mattis.

The agency had not posted reports for the four others: DeVos, Kelly, commerce nominee Wilbur Ross, and housing and urban development nominee Ben Carson.

As part of Schumer’s campaign, he trolled McConnell on social media – posting a doctored version of a 2009 letter McConnell sent to then-Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., complaining about a rushed schedule of confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama’s nominees. In the letter, sent after the first batch of Obama’s picks had been confirmed, McConnell asked Reid to ensure that future hearings would not be held until after ethics and criminal background checks were completed and reviewed by senators.

Schumer is now making the same exact argument to McConnell, so he changed ”Dear Harry“ to ”Dear Mitch,“ changed the date on the letter and sent it back to the Republican leader.

Pompeo’s hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday morning, has been moved to Thursday, aides said. He’s unlikely to face much resistance from Democratic senators.

DeVos’ hearing, also originally scheduled to take place on Wednesday morning, has been rescheduled for Jan. 17 at 5 p.m., according to a joint statement from Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and the ranking Democrat, Patty Murray, Wash.

The move comes after Democrats raised concerns about the fact that the ethics office had not yet completed its review of DeVos’ financial holdings and potential conflicts of interest.

Alexander and Murray did not mention those concerns in a joint statement announcing the postponement. They said the change in timing came ”at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.“

Emma Brown contributed to this report.

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