- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2016

Senate Democrats sounded alarms Thursday that President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees are “slow walking” ethics and financial disclosures, setting the stage for confirmation fights next month and prompting Republican to charge Democratic counterparts with imposing unprecedented levels of scrutiny.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and the ranking members of 16 Senate committees issued a joint statement demanding that before nominees advance in committee they clear FBI background checks, provide complete finance disclosures and signed ethics agreements and satisfy “reasonable requests for additional information.”

“The United States Senate has a rich, bipartisan tradition of vetting nominees to the President’s Cabinet. We hope to continue that tradition with our colleagues in the Republican Majority because the American people are entitled to a fair and open consideration process for all executive nominations,” said the statement.

The senators’ said their claim that the nominees were “slow walking” disclosures was based on a report this week in The New York Times. The report prominently featured comments by Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, who expressed concerns about several of the nominees’ complex financial holdings and the need to turn over relevant financial and background information.

Republicans countered that Mr. Trump’s nominees are complying with the same requirements previously applied to President Obama’s nominees.

Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said he was “deeply disappointed my colleagues continue to imply otherwise.”

Democrats face an uphill battle to block the nominees, however, because Mr. Trump’s picks can win confirmation with a simple majority vote in the Republican-run chamber.

Still, the Democrats’ early maneuvers appeared designed to counter Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s promise for swift action on nominations.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said Mr. Trump’s nominees deserve the same treatment Mr. Obama’s nominees received when he first took office and Democrats ran the Senate.

“When President Obama was elected, Republicans and Democrats worked together and expeditiously to carefully consider his nominees. The Senate held hearings on multiple nominees before he was even sworn in,” Mr. Stewart said.

“The Senate confirmed seven of his nominees on Day One — and nearly all were confirmed within two weeks. Sen. Schumer and others approved wholeheartedly of this approach at the time, so surely they won’t object to treating the incoming president’s nominees with the same courtesy and seriousness with which the Senate acted on President Obama’s nominees,” he said. “Our committees and chairmen are fully capable of reviewing the incoming Cabinet nominations with the same rules and procedures as the same committees did with President Obama’s nominations.”

Democrats have raised objections to the billionaires tapped for Mr. Trump’s Cabinet, including Steven Mnuchin for treasury secretary, Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary and Betsy DeVos for education secretary.

Liberal groups moved against Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, accusing him of being a racist. But the Senate Judiciary Committee appeared poised to quickly advance the nomination, with Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, scheduling a hearing before the Jan. 20 inauguration.

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ranking member Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin criticized Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson for not complying with a request to submit his tax returns from the last three years.

“I think it is an important part of vetting this candidate because he has never made public disclosures of this type, as he has worked at ExxonMobil for his entire career and has never been in public service,” said Mr. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat.

The request was rebuffed by Mr. Corker.

“As is long-standing precedent for nominees considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the committee has not asked Mr. Tillerson to provide copies of his tax returns,” said the Tennessee Republican. “By all accounts, Mr. Tillerson is currently ahead of schedule in providing information to the committee. He already has submitted a completed nominee questionnaire and will soon submit an extensive financial disclosure.”

Tax returns are not typically required of all Cabinet nominees, though Senate Democrats have proposed making such disclosures a requirement in response to Mr. Trump’s picks.

Nominees for treasury secretary, however, are typically requested to supply three years of tax returns.

Mr. Mnuchin, the hedge fund manager who helped craft Mr. Trump’s tax reform agenda and has been tapped for treasury, filed three years of tax returns and a completed questionnaire this week, according to the Senate Committee on Finance.

“Prior to his confirmation hearing, he will go through the same ethics and FBI checks as previous secretary of state nominees. That has always been the plan, it is already in progress, and I am deeply disappointed my colleagues continue to imply otherwise,” Mr. Corker said. “Our committee will carry out exactly the same procedures for Mr. Tillerson’s nomination that have been carried out since well before I joined the committee 10 years ago.”

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