BLOOMBERG - Trump Cabinet Picks Gather Steam

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(Bloomberg) The Republican-led Senate is hastening a drive to install President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, with committees approving four more of his nominees on Tuesday and Senate Democrats holding out the prospect that some could get a vote in the full Senate later in the day.

The Senate Banking Committee affirmed Ben Carson, a retired surgeon and 2016 Republican presidential contender, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development on a voice vote. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s elevation to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also on a voice vote.

Two other nominees cleared the Senate Commerce panel. Billionaire Wilbur Ross, a private equity investor and Trump’s pick to lead the Commerce Department, will now go before the full Senate. Former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who served eight years in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet and is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was approved to lead the Transportation Department.

The votes come despite delays for some of Trump’s picks requested by Democrats who want more time to examine their potential conflicts of interest, qualifications and policy positions.

Delayed Votes

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday delayed for a week a vote on Republican Senator Jeff Sessions’ nomination to serve as attorney general after Democrats -- some of whom have criticized racially tinged comments he made years ago -- asked for more time. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee delayed votes on former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s nomination for Energy secretary and Republican Representative Ryan Zinke’s nomination for Interior secretary.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the energy panel, said Democrats never agreed to hold votes Tuesday on Perry and Zinke, citing unanswered questions about Trump’s plans for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. She added that the votes will likely take place next week.

Republicans control 52 votes in the Senate, and Democrats can do little to block Trump’s nominees if GOP lawmakers hold together. Each of Trump’s executive-branch picks will require only 51 votes. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, on Monday dismissed as “hot air” Democratic complaints about some of the selections and predicted all will be installed in their top jobs soon.

Democratic Objections

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday it’s possible that Democrats won’t object to speedy votes this week on non-controversial nominees, although he declined to say how many. The Senate is in session Tuesday, but out the rest of the week so Republicans can leave town to attend an annual retreat in Philadelphia.

The full Senate has approved three new Cabinet secretaries: James Mattis to head the Pentagon, John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and Mike Pompeo to run the Central Intelligence Agency. Former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson won the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s approval on a narrow 11-10 vote yesterday, setting his nomination up for full Senate action.

All four of the nominees approved by committees Tuesday are seen as likely to win easy confirmation, although Carson still faces persistent questions about his qualifications to lead
a vast and complex housing agency.

“Dr. Carson is not the nominee I would have chosen to lead HUD, due to both his lack of experience and his often troubling public statements over the last three years,” Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. “But despite my reservations, and my disagreements with some of his positions, I will give Dr. Carson the benefit of the doubt based on commitments he has made to me in person and to this Committee in his testimony and written responses.”

As the confirmation process has unfolded, the list of the most controversial ones has winnowed down rapidly. Those that face the most Democratic resistance could see confirmation votes pushed into next month, including Treasury secretary pick Steven Mnuchin, Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price, Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt, Education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos and Labor secretary pick Andrew Puzder.

Price, in a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Finance Committee, was defending himself against tough questions about some of his stock investments in health-care companies. Democrats and some outside watchdog groups are calling for an ethics investigation into his trades in health-care stocks while handling legislation that could affect the shares.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the panel’s top Democrat, asked Price if he had used “bad judgment” by participating in a private placement at “below-market rates.”

Price denied that he had and said that “everything I did was above-board" and that his actions were “legal and transparent.”

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