The fight escalated Thursday over President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, as Senate Democrats offered to clear the way for votes on just two nominees but vowed more delay tactics for most of the rest.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said his Democrats would not stand in the way of votes Friday, as Mr. Trump takes the oath of office, on two key members of his national security team: retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis for defense secretary and retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly for homeland security secretary.
But for the rest of the nominees, Mr. Schumer said the president-elect had created a “swamp Cabinet” full of billionaires and bankers whose ethics and business records deserved extra scrutiny.
“Republicans have made a mockery of the Cabinet hearings process. Trying to jam through nominees in truncated hearings, nominees with serious conflicts of interest and ethical issues unresolved,” said the New York Democrat.
The confirmation process has become a flash point in the early struggle between Mr. Trump and Senate Democrats, as the delay tactics threaten to leave him with fewer confirmed Cabinet members on his first day than the last three presidents.
Mr. Trump defended the nominees during remarks at a pre-inauguration luncheon at his Trump International Hotel in Washington.
“We have by far the highest IQ of any Cabinet ever,” he told the crowd of transition team officials and incoming staff.
Earlier, incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer blasted Senate Democrats for slow-walking confirmations and expanding their “hit list” of nominees targeted for delay or defeat.
“There is really no excuse for the delay tactics and, frankly, the partisanship that is being exhibited by the Democrats,” Mr. Spicer said at his first formal press conference in Washington.
The moves to hold up the confirmation process, he said, were raising questions around the world about the continuity of government in the U.S.
Republican argue that Senate Democrats should give Mr. Trump’s Cabinet picks the same defense that the chamber’s GOP members gave President Obama’s selections.
If two nominees are confirmed when Mr. Trump is sworn in Friday, he will have fewer Cabinet members in place than the seven confirmed on both Mr. Obama’s first day in 2009 and President George W. Bush’s first day in 2001.
President Bill Clinton got three Cabinet secretaries confirmed on first day in 1993 and 13 more won Senate approval on his second day in office.
Mr. Schumer said that some “non-controversial nominees” also could receive a quick vote.
“But from there we intend to have a full and rigorous debate on the president-elect’s remaining nominees,” he said. “Senate Republicans did not want to have a full debate on the merits of these nominees in committee, but they should be prepared to do so on the floor of the United States Senate.”
Several nominees have hit bumps in the road to confirmation.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who was tapped to head the Office of Management and Budget, failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee between 2000 and 2004. Similar tax issues derailed nominees for top jobs in the past. Former Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to be Mr. Obama’s secretary of health and human services after revealing he didn’t pay $100,000 in taxes for a gift of a car and private driver.
Rep. Tom Price, the nominee for health and human services secretary, has been accused of insider trading for buying stock in medical companies while pushing legislation in Congress that could affect stock prices.
Billionaire investor Steven Mnuchin, the nominee for Treasury secretary, came under fire at his confirmation hearing Thursday for not disclosing that he ran an investment fund in the Cayman Islands that clients used as a tax haven.
Senate Democrats criticized Betsy DeVos for not paying a $5.3 million fine owned to Ohio by All Children Matter, a political action committee she co-founded. Ms. DeVos was not named in the judgment.
The also faulted former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, for refusing to recuse himself from matters relating to the energy company.
“The list goes on and on and everyday there’s another report of a major ethical lapse among the nominees for the Cabinet — the swamp cabinet,” said Mr. Schumer. “The president-elect isn’t draining the swamp with his cabinet picks, he’s filling it up — contrary to everything he promised during his campaign.”
Mr. Spicer accused Senate Democrats of nitpicking the nominees at confirmation hearings.
“If you look at the questions that are being asked in these confirmation hearing, it’s not about substance, it’s not about policy, it’s not about the issues in front of the department — it’s about partisan attacks and ethical questions,” he said.
“These people have their paperwork in. Their quality and caliber and integrity is unquestionable. And I think to see some of these attacks and the focus not be on issues like schools and teachers and homeland security is a problem,” he said. “There are so many issues facing this country that we need to get moving on. The idea that Democrats are using these stall tactics — it’s not in the country’s best interest.”