WASHINGTON — Today kicks off a blizzard of confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, headlined by two picks who could spark cross-party clashes — attorney general hopeful Jeff Sessions, and secretary of state candidate Rex Tillerson later in the week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said his goal is to have six to seven nominees confirmed by the Jan. 20 inauguration, noting that seven of President Obama’s nominees were confirmed by his first day in office, and his secretary of state pick, Hillary Clinton, was confirmed one day later.
Sessions, the Alabama U.S. senator who will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on which he once served as the top Republican, is expected to be grilled by Democrats opposing his nomination, armed with a long list of objections lodged by civil rights leaders who say Sessions’ record on civil rights, immigration and criminal justice are disqualifying.
“A nominee with a record of refusing to acknowledge the reality of voter suppression across America and in the home state of the Voting Rights Act, Alabama, can’t be trusted to protect voting rights in particular or civil rights in general,” said NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, who will testify at Sessions’ confirmation hearing.
Sessions also has a long list of supporters, including moderate Republican colleague U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who will introduce Sessions at today’s hearing, and committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa — making his chances of easy confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate strong.
“He has done his duty, enforced the law fairly, and let the chips fall where they may,” Grassley will tell lawmakers, according to an excerpt of his opening statement.
Former longtime Tuskegee, Ala., Mayor Johnny Ford, a black Democrat, said he not only thinks Sessions should be confirmed, but that he would be happy to serve in his Justice Department if asked.
“I support Sen. Sessions 100 percent,” Ford told the Herald. “While I do not agree with some of his positions and his past statements, that was 30 years ago. I believe he’s changed. We’ve all changed.”
As for Tillerson, his business ties to Russia have drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
“Mr. Tillerson’s got to convince me, and I think other members of the body, that he sees Russia as a disruptive force, that he sees Putin as undermining democracy all over the world, not just in our backyard,” Graham said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Democrats have decried the rapid-fire pace of the confirmation hearings, many being held at the same time this week and most taking place before nominees have completed the ethics review process.
“Jamming all these hearings into one or two days, making members run from committee to committee, makes no sense,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said yesterday. “To spend an extra day or two on each nominee; even if it takes several weeks to get through them all in order to carefully consider their nominations … that’s well worth it.”
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