For the past few weeks, I have been fortunate enough to attend the highly publicized confirmation hearings as an extern for Senate President pro tempore Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Essentially, these confirmation hearings mean cameras, heavy speechwriting and the ever-gloomy realization that although President Donald Trump has held office since Jan. 20, the American people are without a government led by a full administration. To date, only two Cabinet members — Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, along with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo — have been confirmed.
These hearings are behind schedule partly due to Trump’s deviation from the standard practices of pre-clearing cabinet picks for potential ethical conflicts and security issues before publicly announcing their nomination. Instead, the relatively small Office of Government Ethics is currently overwhelmed investigating Trump’s nominees, many of whom are wealthy businesspeople with complex financial dealings.
This fact, coupled with the Democrats’ effort to recover from a scarring election, has resulted in a particularly slow transition.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has dismissed protests about Trump’s nominees as “little procedural complaints” stemming from the Democrats’ frustration at losing the election.
In a spree of political upheaval, Republicans have accused Democrats of slowing down the democratic process and dishonoring the long-standing political tradition of confirming the president’s Cabinet picks in a reasonable and timely manner. Previously, the Democrat-led Senate under former President Barack Obama confirmed seven of his nominees immediately upon his inauguration.
The most notable example of this delay is Trump’s nomination for the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), whose confirmation has taken double the 55 days it took to confirm as Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell.
Of course, Trump’s cabinet picks have not come without controversy. There are concerns over Price’s investments in health care companies, though he insists his investment portfolio was operated by an independent broker.
The pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, has also provoked concerns over his ties with Vladimir Putin under Exxon’s investments in Russia, while Trump’s pick for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is a wealthy political donor with no prior experience as an educator.
Assuming universal Republican support, Democrats are logistically incapable of blocking Trump’s nominees on the Senate floor, as the GOP currently holds a simple majority with 52 Senate seats.
But Democrats can seriously delay them by slow-walking the actual confirmation votes, ultimately throwing the nation into disarray. Holding Cabinet picks to a high standard and ensuring thorough scrutiny of their proposed policies before they become Trump’s closest advisors is not only praiseworthy, but democratically necessary.
Democrats and Republicans alike need to complete the work that their constituents elected them to do by thoroughly questioning Trump’s nominees. But this responsibility goes beyond partisan ideals: It is about ensuring a smooth and responsible transition of power, not hindering it.
Martha Petrocheilos is a student at the Law Center. MILLENNIAL’S CORNER appears every other Tuesday.
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