WASHINGTON — Two. That’s how many nominees Democrats are willing to approve for President-elect Donald Trump when he is sworn into office Friday.
That’s a far cry from the seven appointees that President Barack Obama got when he was sworn in eight years ago, but Democrats say the Trump transition team bears all the blame for the scanty number.
The problem, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday, is that Trump is trying to pick a “swamp cabinet” that is loaded with rich people carrying trunk loads of complicated ethical baggage.
“Every day there is a report of a major ethical lapse by this cabinet, the swamp cabinet,” said Schumer.
Among those he listed were Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’ billions in wealth and unpaid $5 million election fine; Health Secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price’s potential insider trading of medical stocks; new reports that Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin left millions of dollars of Cayman Island assets out of his ethics disclosures, and Budget Director nominee Rep. Mick Mulvney’s revelations that he didn’t pay nanny taxes for four years.
“The president-elect isn’t draining the swamp with his cabinet picks,” Schumer said. “He’s filling it up, contrary to everything he promised during his campaign.”
Republicans have repeatedly pointed to the larger number of nominees that Obama got, arguing that Democrats are treating Trump unfairly.
But Schumer insisted that Democrats flagged eight or nine nominees early on as some who would need to be subjected to tough hearings because of their wealth, complicated finances, or positions that Democrats find unacceptable.
And he argued that those nominees have been slow to provide information that would allow Democrats to move more quickly. The Secretary of State nominee, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, for instance, did not provide his completed ethics disclosures until the day before his hearing. DeVos still has not handed hers in, even after getting a hearing.
“The more we learned about the nominees, the more important a thorough, fair process became, and the more it became clear Republicans were simply trying to jam through these nominees out of sight of the American people,” Schumer said. “They’re not really proud of this cabinet, and so they want the hearings to be as quick, as short and as bunched up as they can be.”
He also insisted that Democrats were not being obstructionists or “dilatory,” which is why he said his party would back quick action on Defense Secretary nominee Gen. James Mattis and Department of Homeland Security Secretary nominee Gen. John Kelly.
“Senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the president-elect’s key national security nominees,” Schumer said, adding that Democrats would also at least start debate on CIA director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo.
Schumer said he was still in discussions with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on other nominees. Democrats changed the rules of the Senate in 2013 to allow appointments to be approved on simple majority votes, so they cannot stop any nominees without Republican help. But they can string out the process while seeking more information by refusing to waive time limits and other rules.
“It’s possible that some other noncontroversial nominees could be considered relatively quickly, but from there, we intend to have a full and rigorous debate on the president-elect’s remaining nominees,” Schumer said. “Senate Republicans did not want to have a full debate on the merits of these nominees in committee, but they should be prepared to do so on the floor of the United States Senate.”