Senate confirmation hearing: Donald Trump's picks should be 'treated the same as Barack Obama's nominees'

Democrat leader Chuck Schumer makes point to opponents by sending letter they themselves wrote in 2009

Benjamin Kentish
Tuesday 10 January 2017 17:07
Chuck Schumer is the Democrat minority leader in the Senate
Chuck Schumer is the Democrat minority leader in the Senate

A senior Democrat senator has complained to the Republicans over the schedule for Donald Trump’s cabinet appointment confirmations – by sending the exact same letter sent by his Republican counterpart eight years ago.

Chuck Schumer, the Democrat’s leader in the Senate, wrote to Republican leader Mitch McConnell to raise concerns that full background checks on Mr Trump’s nominees have not yet been completed. He sent exactly the same letter Mr McConnell himself had sent to the then majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, during the confirmation process for Barack Obama’s appointments in 2009.

After the election of Mr Obama, Mr McConnell, then the Senate minority leader, wrote to his Democrat counterpart demanding “the Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a committee hearing” for the President’s nominees.

Now, with the appointment process of Mr Trump’s picks going ahead despite a lack of vetting, Mr Schumer sent the letter back, crossing out his name and instead writing ‘Dear Mitch’ and signing the bottom in black marker pen.

He tweeted a copy of the letter and said: “Our requests are eminently reasonable, shared by leaders of both parties. I’ll return this letter to [Mr McConnell] with the same requests.

It comes amid growing concern that the US Office for Government Ethics (OGE) has not been able to complete its vetting process on schedule because of the complex financial arrangements of many of Mr Trump’s nominees – several of whom are billionaires. Further delays were caused by some of the candidates submitting their paperwork late.

The backlog means confirmation hearings by Senate committees could take place before senators have received the findings of background checks on the candidates, and before the nominees have pledged what action they will take to prevent conflicts of interest relating to their business or financial links.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has already announced it will delay the hearing of Betsy DeVos, Mr Trump’s pick for Education Secretary. Although no reason was given other than “to accommodate the Senate schedule“, it is known the OGE is still completing its assessment of Ms DeVos billion-dollar finances and her business links.

Two former chief White House ethics lawyers earlier warned it would be “absurd” for hearings to take place before the OGE has completed its checks and called for the process to be delayed.

In an article for The Guardian, Norman L Eisen, who served under George W Bush, and Richard W Painter, who held the post under Barack Obama wrote: “Short-changing the ethics review process in Congress jeopardises nominees’ ability to do their jobs if confirmed.

“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.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments