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Sunday
Jan082017

Democrats, Top Ethics Official Urge GOP to Slow Down Confirmation Process

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats and the government ethics office are raising concerns about several nominees who haven't completed the standard ethics review process, as at least eight of Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees prepare for confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill this week.

"The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me," Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub said in a letter to top senators released by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. "This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE's staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews."

Shaub added that the delay has left some of the nominees with "potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues."

"I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process," he said.

According to a Senate Democratic aide, Gen. John Kelly, Trump's pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, treasury secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, and Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary nominee Ben Carson have not completed the OGE's review process.

A Trump transition official said Kelly's ethics paperwork is complete, and that OGE is transmitting it to the Senate on Monday, while a GOP Senate Judiciary Committee aide says the panel has received all preliminary documents and paperwork from Sen. Jeff Sessions ahead of his hearing.

Ten of President Obama’s Cabinet picks were confirmed within the week of his inauguration, while three of his Cabinet selections were pulled from consideration. The Senate held confirmation hearings for four of his nominees on a single day in January 2009, before Obama's inauguration.

Republicans have also argued that nominees from previous administrations sat for confirmation hearings before all of their forms had been submitted to the panels of jurisdiction, including Bush administration nominees Roderick Page, for education secretary, and Elaine Chao, nominated for labor secretary, in 2001.

According to a HELP committee aide, the committee received Paige's paperwork eight days after the hearing, and Chao's five days after the hearing. The aide also said DeVos's paperwork is still in progress, but that committee precedent requires it to be ready before a vote on her nomination, and not the hearing.

Democrats claim Republicans are ramming nominees through the confirmation process too quickly. Republicans have scheduled five confirmation hearings for Wednesday, the same day Trump is scheduled to give his first news conference since being elected president.

They are pointing to a 2009 letter from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, urging him to postpone confirmation hearings until OGE letters were completed and submitted to the committees of jurisdiction.

The Senate is also going to have a marathon floor session on the budget this week, adding to the packed schedule.

Kelly is scheduled to appear before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, while the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is planning a hearing for DeVos on Wednesday. Carson is scheduled to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, and Ross will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee on the same day.

The Trump transition team accused Democrats of politicizing the transition process.

"President-elect Trump is putting together the most qualified administration in history and the transition process is currently running smoothly. In the midst of a historic election where Americans voted to drain the swamp, it is disappointing some have chosen to politicize the process in order to distract from important issues facing our country," a transition official said in a statement. "This is a disservice to the country and is exactly why voters chose Donald J. Trump as their next president."

In an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, McConnell said the Senate confirmed seven of President Obama's Cabinet appointments on Inauguration Day in 2009, and said Democrats need to "grow up" and "get past" the election results.

"The real thing is the vote on the floor, and we want to have all of the records in, all of the papers completed before they are actually confirmed on the Senate floor," he said.

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