Now is the time for the U.S. Senate to do its job, and to do it well.
Confirmation hearings begin this week for many of President-elect Donald Trump’s most important Cabinet picks — and the Republicans who lead that chamber have a tremendous responsibility to ensure that each Cabinet nominee is thoroughly challenged, even if most of them are sure to be confirmed.
So far, they appear to be shirking that responsibility. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signed off on confirmation hearings for eight different Cabinet picks from Tuesday through Thursday, with six alone on Wednesday. Wednesday’s schedule includes hearings for some of the most critical posts in Washington, from secretary of state to CIA director to attorney general.
Democrats have howled, citing the controversial nature of some of the appointees. After all, Trump’s picks should be scrutinized. Some have no experience in the areas they are being asked to lead. Others, like Rex Tillerson at State and former Gov. Rick Perry at Energy, have potentially thorny conflicts of interest to be resolved. And for a campaign built on promises of aid for beleaguered American workers and freedom from crony capitalism, the new Cabinet looks a lot like an ode to oligarchy.
None of these concerns are insurmountable. But they do demand answers, transparency and dialogue. The Republicans should be eager to lead these discussions. Instead they are busy playing politics to keep Democrats from asking the same questions they themselves ought to be asking.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, put the politics plainly. “They’ve (Democrats have) made pretty clear they intend to slow down and resist, and that doesn’t provide a lot of incentive or demonstrate good faith to negotiate changes. So I think we’re going to just be plowing ahead,” he said.
It’s true that previous administrations have had multiple hearings on a single day. But never with such prominent jobs hanging in the balance, nor with so many important questions hanging over nominees’ heads.
“Plowing ahead” risks making a farce of the confirmation hearings.
Trump’s picks will almost certainly be approved by the Senate. Most presidential appointments are. Trump won the election, and it is his voice that should matter most in shaping the administration that will carry out his agenda.
But in their wisdom, the authors of our Constitution insisted that the shaping of an administration be a shared endeavor. The leaders of our great institutions — from the State Department to the CIA to the Pentagon and many others — serve only when the Senate gives its OK.
It took Bill Clinton three tries to find an attorney general nominee whom the Democratic-controlled Senate would approve in 1993. President Barack Obama had three Cabinet nominations fail.
Trump will have the Senate’s consent for most, if not all, of his picks. But the GOP is short-circuiting the advice it is obligated to give. Ramming through the hearings means Republican leaders have chosen politics over the good of the country.
That’s an awful way to start a new year.