Policy experts and public relations specialists created a war room complete with a replica of the lofty Senate chamber to prep President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees for the grilling they will undergo in upcoming confirmation hearings.
The real drama, however, begins this morning with Sen. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general nominee. Nine others follow this week. Ideological sparks are sure to fly between some candidates and inquisitors, especially Democrats who want to show constituents they won’t back down from Trump. But elections have consequences and incoming presidents are entitled to their Cabinet choices as long as they are qualified.
Therein lies the rub: Information needed to determine those qualifications is lacking.
The Office of Government Ethics says it has not received required financial disclosures and ethics agreements from several nominees on this week’s schedule. That post-Watergate reform is nearly always adhered to. It’s particularly important for many Trump nominees whose wealth and business dealings could pose conflicts of interest, and about whose dealings less is known because they have not held public office or other positions that required a public vetting.
Some Democrats complain the process is being rushed because too many hearings are set for the same days. That’s nonsense. Incoming Democratic administrations have also set fast paces. But those nominees filed their paperwork before their hearings. Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said in 2009, while considering President Barack Obama’s Cabinet picks, that an ethics review must be complete before a nominee should be considered. We don’t know what he told the president-elect at a Trump Tower meeting yesterday but he was right in 2009 and should insist on the same now. Saying Democrats should “grow up” and approve Trump’s nominees is childish.
Demanding ethics information before a hearing is not an attempt to derail any nominee. It’s a quest for facts to inform responsible questions and uncover potential disqualifications. It’s information Trump himself should want known, to avoid the embarrassment that befell two Bill Clinton nominees for attorney general, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, and George W. Bush’s nominee of former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik as director of homeland security. Each had to withdraw over issues involved in the hiring of child-care workers who were immigrants in the country illegally. The information also guides divestment decisions, as when current Secretary of State John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker agreed, if confirmed, to sell their stakes in 140 and 221 different assets, respectively. Pritzker also agreed to resign from 158 different positions. Trump nominees with similarly complex situations include Rex Tillerson (State), Wilbur Ross (Commerce), Betsy DeVos (Education) and Steve Mnuchin (Treasury).
Trump has pledged to have all his choices approved. But he and his congressional partners should want to do that in the right way. File the ethics disclosures before hearings so the Senate can do its job properly and verify that Trump’s Cabinet members can serve without conflicts and without violating the law. — The editorial board