This week, Congress began hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. Some prospective Trump appointees have drawn criticism due to either the individual’s potential business-related conflicts of interest or personal history.
Walter Shaub Jr., the Director for the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), has said the appointments are being rushed through without enough time for thorough vetting, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has argued that Trump’s appointees should be confirmed without delay in line with the same courtesy that Barack Obama’s appointees received in 2009.
In any case, this week’s appointment hearings are likely to inflame partisan tensions ahead of Inauguration Day.
Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson
Trump’s pick for secretary of state, long-time ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has drawn scrutiny for potentially problematic conflicts of interest between Exxon’s global enterprise and the secretary of state’s role in international relations. To ameliorate some concerns, Tillerson and the State Department worked out an agreement to circumvent ongoing financial interests between Tillerson and Exxon using an independent trust. Tillerson has also reportedly agreed to recuse himself from decisions involving Exxon for a year. It is doubtful, however, that these concessions will soften the questioning he will receive from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Attorney General: Sen. Jeff Sessions III
Another appointee who has generated considerable media attention is Sen. Jeff Sessions III (R-AL); Trump’s nominee to replace Eric Holder as Attorney General. In 1986, Sessions failed the Senate confirmation process for a federal judgeship amidst accusations that he unjustly prosecuted black civil rights activists. Over the years, Sessions has also drawn the ire of groups like the NAACP for challenging their patriotism and alleging they have communist ties.
Housing and Urban Development: Dr. Ben Carson
One of Trump’s more peculiar cabinet appointments is his former primary adversary, Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Carson was tapped to be the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, but does not have experience in government and was berated by Trump as temperamentally unstable during the 2016 primary campaign. Following the campaign, Dr. Carson indicated he had little interest in joining Trump’s administration. The Hill reported that a business ally and friend of Carson said “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
Secretary of the Treasury: Steven Mnuchin
Steven Mnuchin, former Goldman Sachs partner and CEO of OneWest, could face an uphill appointment to the Secretary of the Treasury as well. According to a 2013 memo from lawyers within the California Attorney General’s office, published by the Intercept, OneWest faced allegations of unscrupulous mortgage practices. In light of the memo, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services said Mnuchin’s tenure with OneWest should “disqualify him from serving as our nation’s Treasury Secretary.”
While the accusations have yet to result in punitive legal action against Mnuchin or OneWest, opponents of Trump’s prospective Treasury Secretary are sure to cite them in this week’s hearings.
Senate Democrats including incoming Minority Leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), seized on Trump’s cabinet picks and vowed to slow down the appointment process, but they won’t be able to stall forever.