Dems won't commit to confirm some of Trump's top Cabinet picks on Inauguration Day

Rex Tillerson grilled on foreign policy
Rex Tillerson grilled on foreign policy


    Rex Tillerson grilled on foreign policy


Rex Tillerson grilled on foreign policy 03:33

Washington (CNN)Senate Republicans are pressing their Democratic counterparts for help confirming at least seven Cabinet nominees in the hours after Donald Trump is sworn in as President Friday.

While Democrats are not committing to that number, they are suggesting that on Day 1 Trump is likely to get at least three key national security nominees approved.
Democrats have signaled the three -- 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 -- are positioned to be confirmed immediately after the president takes the oath of office.
That allows Democrats to argue they approved part of Trump's core national security team while more controversial picks, such as Rex Tillerson for secretary of state and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, for attorney general will have to wait and face additional scrutiny.
    GOP leadership aides say any confirmations that happen on Inauguration Day will need to be done by voice vote, a reflection of the non-controversial nature of the choices. If any Democrat objects to a nominee, it could push back a vote by several days. Talks between the top leaders are in flux and will likely last throughout the week and it may not be known until Friday which positions get votes.
    Transportation Department nominee Elaine Chao, who is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's wife and a former Cabinet secretary in President George W. Bush's administration, may be one of the most non-controversial picks and a leading contender to confirmed on Inauguration Day.
    Nominees who appear less controversial for now -- Wilbur Ross for the Commerce Department, Ryan Zinke for Interior Department and Nikki Haley for the United Nations -- all have hearings this week and potentially could be confirmed on Inauguration Day, if nothing becomes an issue during their hearings.
    Sessions is not expected to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee until about a week after Inauguration Day. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said Tillerson would get a committee vote Monday.
    Republicans have a 52-48 edge over Democrats, which means they can lose as many as three GOP senators and still get the Cabinet picks approved with the help of incoming Vice President Mike Pence.
    "In 2009 when President (Barack) Obama was sworn into office, there were seven Cabinet members confirmed on his first day in office -- seven. That's a demonstration of the good faith and the civility that ordinarily extends in the peaceful transition of power from one president to another," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican said on the floor.
    "We believed that it was our responsibility to carry on this tradition of peaceful transition of power and that the President, having won the election, was entitled to surround himself with his team," he added.
    McConnell, R-Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, have held intense talks for weeks negotiating the overall confirmation process.
    Democrats pushed to obtain background information from the nominees including ethics agreements to ensure the nominees won't have conflicts of interests once in office before hearings are scheduled. They also urged GOP committee chairs not to schedule hearings on the same day so they are not bunched together in order to allow senators and the public to listen to the testimony. Democrats also wanted confirmation votes after senators have had time to digest the information and ask and receive answers to follow up questions.
    Republicans argue they have cooperated on these requests, including making changes to the hearings schedule, in hopes of accommodating Democrats' concerns.
    "It is still my hope that regardless of the hearing schedule, some of which have been moved slightly, we will be in a position to confirm a significant number of the president's nominees on day one. In particular, the national security team, we hope to get most of it if not all of it in place on Day One," McConnell told reporters last week.
    But Democrats are not fully satisfied and are frustrated, in particular, that Trump's choice to lead the Education Department, wealthy philanthropist Betsy DeVos, had her hearings scheduled for Tuesday before all her ethics paperwork was completed.
    "We Democrats still have serious concerns about a whole lot of the President-elect's nominees. While the nominee for the secretary of education's hearing was moved because of the good work of Patty Murray, her paperwork is not close to complete. It's scheduled for next week. Where's all the paperwork?" Schumer said last week about DeVos, and referencing efforts by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, to get the hearing pushed back a week.
    But even as DeVos' hearing was started against the wishes of Democrats, Schumer would not commit to confirmation votes on Inauguration Day.
    "We'll have to wait and see," Schumer told CNN's Manu Raju in an interview.
    The seven Obama nominees confirmed on Inauguration Day included the head of the Department of Homeland Security, although most of the jobs filled that day were non-security positons. Obama's pick for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was confirmed the next day and his choice to lead the Pentagon carried over from the previous administration.
    Democrats disagree with the policy positions of most of Trump's Cabinet picks but only two seem to face the possibility of not being confirmed. Tillerson has drawn fire from Republicans like Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for his seemingly close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Rubio is on the Foreign Relations Committee and could be the make-or-break vote on whether to send the nomination to the floor with the committee's recommendation.
    Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, is under scrutiny following a CNN investigation that showed he traded stocks in a medical device maker around the time he introduced legislation that could benefit that company. While Price has denied wrongdoing, Schumer argued he might have broken the law.
    The issue has the potential to damage Price, especially if it creates concerns for Republicans. Price has a confirmation hearing before the Senate health committee this week but a second hearing before the Finance Committee, which will formally vote to send his nomination to the floor, is not a scheduled yet.
    Other nominees who have been criticized by Democrats but who seem to have safe GOP support are Treasury Department nominee Steve Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency pick Scott Pruitt. They both have hearings scheduled this week. Even if their respective committees clear them right away, Democrats are likely to object to voting on confirmation Friday.
    Labor pick Andrew Puzder, who Democrats fiercely oppose for his policy position as a leader of the Hardees fast food chain, won't have a confirmation hearing until early February.
    After Trump leaves the Capitol for his inauguration parade Friday, senators will gather on the floor to clear the nominees they've agreed to vote on right away. After that, the Senate will adjourn until Monday, according to aides.