Schumer Remarks on President-elect Trump’s Cabinet Nominations

January 19, 2017

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today spoke about the controversy surrounding several of Trump’s Cabinet Nominations and about how the Senate Republicans are doing a disservice to the American people by rushing them through . Below are his remarks:

Good morning everyone. Sorry we're a bit late. Now, early on during the transition, Senate Republicans said they hoped they could confirm as many as seven cabinet nominees on Inauguration Day. They said that’s what President Obama got, so we should get the same treatment, they said. But over the last several weeks, 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.

And without giving Senators – and more importantly the American people – a fair chance to question and hear from these nominees. If there was ever a group of cabinet nominees that cry out for rigorous scrutiny, it’s this one. The President-elect’s cabinet is a Swamp Cabinet full of billionaires and bankers that have conflicts of interest and ethical lapses as far as the eye can see. Congressman Mulvaney failed to pay taxes on a household worker - the exact same issue that caused past nominees to withdraw. Congressman Price is facing serious scrutiny for trading stock with one hand and pushing legislation to boost the stock with the other. Betsy DeVos has refused to pay an old election fine. And by the way, the fact that her hearing was so appalling to so many Americans - 15 million people. We just sent out a video of a couple of the questionings. 15 million people have seen it. And if you go look on the social media, Trump supporters are saying why the heck did he nominate her?

Rex Tillerson has refused to recuse himself from matters relating to ExxonMobil for the length of his term. Amazing! Head of the biggest oil company and after one year he can do things to help it again - he’s worked there for decades. And just this morning, we’ve learned that Steve Mnuchin tried to hide his holdings in the Cayman Islands from the Senate Finance Committee. 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. 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.

These issues and others deserve to be thoroughly and rigorously reviewed by the Senate. Senate Democrats asked for multiple rounds of questions, multiple days of hearings, outside witnesses, and to have ample time to review a nominee’s completed paperwork before a hearing is held. Particularly in light of the fact that so many of these folks have such complicated paperwork that you can’t just review it in a day. I would remind my Republican friends that the only real billionaire in President Obama’s cabinet, Penny Pritzker, took six months to clear her ethical conflicts and file papers. So we have made some progress on a few fronts.

But the more we learned about these nominees, the more important a thorough and fair process became. And the more it became clear Republicans were simply trying to jam through these nominees, out of sight of the American people. They’re not really proud of this cabinet. And so they want the hearings to be as quick, as short, and as bunched up as they can be. Even though back in 2009, Republicans asked Democrats not to have any hearings before the Office of Government Ethics had signed off on a given nominee, Senate Republicans did exactly that with Betsy DeVos. Senator Alexander stymied members from asking critical questions of both, Mrs. DeVos and Mr. Price. Some members of the public were kept out of hearings. One report was, there were only seven seats for the public in the hearing, I believe, of Mr. Pruitt.

From top to bottom, it’s clear that Republicans were attempting to orchestrate a cover up of the President-elect’s swamp cabinet. Senate Democrats and the American people won’t stand for it.

So the inauguration is tomorrow, and here is what we are prepared to do. Senators on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the president elects key national security nominees. We expect to be able to vote on General Kelly and General Mattis tomorrow, and look forward to beginning the debate on Congressman Pompeo in hopes that he can also receive a quick vote. It’s possible that some other non-controversial nominees could be considered relatively quickly. But from there we intend to have a full and rigorous debate on the President-elect’s remaining nominees.

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. I understand Republicans are saying they wouldn’t have chosen any of Obama’s nominees, but allowed them to be confirmed. Let me be clear, Democrats will allow the confirmations of and votes for nominees who would not have been chosen by our party. But, what we will not support are nominees who are so extreme in their view points or their non-compliance with ethics laws and practice that they have demonstrated themselves to be unfit. We will not be dilatory for the sake of it, and we’re hopeful that nominees will fully answer the remaining questions that their hearings have raised, and that some will even come back for another round of questioning.

That type of cooperation could speed things up on the floor. We’d much prefer to have full questions with these nominees in hearings, because they’re there, but if we can’t, the floor will be the place we have to bring to light the key issues that I’ve mentioned. If Republicans continue to stonewall and cover up the serious issues that many of these nominees are trying to avoid, they should be prepared to have those debates on the floor of the full Senate. And I would just make one final point. If Republicans continue down this path, they’re going to dramatically lower the ethical standards in government that we’ve always had. Standards that we’re upheld by all previous administrations, Obama, and Bush, and Clinton, and H.W. Bush, and Reagan. A dramatic lowering of standards in a country we all love where we try to hold ourselves up to higher standards.

If the cabinet nominees are confirmed with Republican support, when Republicans opposed previous nominees for lesser ethical lapses, our ethical standards will wither, and that will be one of Donald Trump’s first legacies as President. It will make clear that conflicts of interest and ethical lapses are totally acceptable, from the President to his cabinet and on down. The political price the new administration pays for that will come down the road, for sure. The conflicts of interest and conflicts between the cabinet members and the President-elect on key issues will cause large future problems for this administration, even if all these nominees are confirmed.

One of the reasons the President-elect enters office with the lowest approval ratings in history is his failure to drain the swamp, and his decision to fill it up with these cabinet picks. So, there are good reasons our Republican colleagues should oppose some of the nominees. And, we will be certainly trying to persuade them over the next few weeks, as the controversial nominees come to the floor. The President can take action. Senate Republicans can take action. They can oppose these picks if they have the courage to do so, and change the course we’re on. I don’t know if any of these cabinet picks will be defeated – if a few Republicans do the right thing, they could, and that’s still a real possibility – but it is crystal clear that the President-elect is starting off by governing from the hard right, and without any concern for conflict of interest or ethics.