Washington (CNN)Senate Democrats strongly complained Wednesday that Republicans were trying to "jam" President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks through the chamber, and warned they would not rush to confirm the nominees on a timetable being advocated by Republicans.
Schumer warns GOP against jamming Trump nominees through Senate
"These past two weeks we have seen repeated efforts from the Trump transition, aided and abetted by Senate Republicans, to jam through nominees (in a way) that hides their views from the American people," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, after a meeting with his caucus during which they strategized over a path forward on the nominees.
Schumer's escalated rhetoric came as Republicans pressed Democrats to get Trump's nominees confirmed quickly, including as many as seven on Friday, in the hours after Trump is sworn in. The New York Democrat's skeptical comments remarks indicate he may not be willing to confirm that many, a sentiment confirmed to CNN by other Democratic senators and aides.
In fact, Schumer said GOP handling of several of the nominations could cause Democrats to slow down confirmations. He warned Democrats may demand "extensive debate" on the floor for some of the nominees.
If Democrats decide to put the brakes on floor action -- something they can easily do using procedures of the Senate -- it could cause a backup confirming Trump's Cabinet. The Senate is only in session two days next week as both parties are leaving Washington for their annual legislative retreats.
Schumer presented a long list of complaints about how he thinks Republicans have mishandled the confirmation process of some of the more controversial of Trump's picks. For instance, he said the hearing for education secretary nominee Betty DeVos was held at night, making it harder for the American public to focus on it. And he said Democrats were limited in their ability to probe DeVos and Health and Human Services secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, because each senator was limited to just one round of questions.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of Senate HELP Committee, on Wednesday night pushed back on Schumer and said that Price's hearing was longer than the last six HHS nominees dating back to 1993, and DeVos' was longer than the last two education secretary nominees.
"The Democrats are making up excuses because they can't find better reasons to oppose the nominees," Alexander said.
Schumer also complained that there were only seven seats set aside for the public at the hearing for Scott Pruitt, Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, who is under fire from environmentalists and he decried that Democrats were limited in their ability to get outside witnesses to testify about some of the nominees.
Most importantly, he said, DeVos testified before she had reached an agreement with the government ethics office to ensure she would not have any financial conflicts of interests if she is confirmed to run the department.
"It's an affront to the openness and transparency that the American people are entitled to," Schumer said. "This is a swamp Cabinet full of bankers and billionaires."
Fresh allegations that Price may have improperly traded stocks and the Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-South Carolina, who is tapped by Trump to run the Office of Management and Budget, didn't pay taxes for a nanny, are further complicating the situation, Schumer said.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the GOP whip, warned Democrats against overreaching.
"I'm sure they'll try to grab for every straw they can to delay the President-elect's Cabinet. Don't get me wrong, I think there should be a thorough vetting, and people should have to answer all the hard questions. But delay for delay's sake should be unacceptable," he said.
While Democrats can complain about the process and delay confirmations, they are limited in their ability actually to block nominees. New Senate rules, installed by Democrats last Congress over the objections of Republicans, mean all the nominees can be approved on 51 votes, not the 60 that was the norm for controversial choices.
Schumer indicated that three of Trump's national security picks -- Ret. Gen. James Mattis, Trump's nominee to be defense secretary, Ret. Gen. John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security nominee and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, the CIA director nominee -- may get confirmed on Inauguration Day. But he said negotiations over them and all the other nominees were still underway. Another nominee, Elaine Chao to head the department of transportation, may get confirmed, too. She is the wife of McConnell and a former Cabinet member under George W. Bush.
Republicans pushed back on Schumer's complaints and pointed to what they said was their cooperation with President Barack Obama when they helped confirm seven nominees on the day he was sworn in.
"When President Obama was elected, Republicans and Democrats worked together and expeditiously to carefully consider his nominees. The Senate held hearings on multiple nominees before he was even sworn in," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. "Sen. Schumer and others approved wholeheartedly of this approach at the time, so it's surprising that they'd object to treating the incoming president's nominees with the same courtesy and seriousness with which the Senate acted on President Obama's nominees."