January 10, 2017 10:11:58 AM
NEW YORK -- Facing a week of high-profile tests for his administration-in-waiting, President-elect Donald Trump predicted Monday that all of his Cabinet picks would win Senate confirmation even as Democrats charged that Trump's team was ignoring standard vetting protocol.
"I think they'll all pass," Trump said of his would-be Cabinet, describing them as "all at the highest level" in between private meetings in his Manhattan sky rise.
Trump's confidence comes as lawmakers in both parties eagerly await the submission of background material from Cabinet picks, including billionaires whose extensive personal financial dealings have never faced public scrutiny. Senate Democrats urged GOP leaders to slow their aggressive hearing schedule, which includes Trump's picks for the nation's top diplomat, lead law enforcement officer and head of homeland security, among others.
"Bear in mind President-elect Trump's nominees pose particularly difficult ethics and conflict-of-interest challenges," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. "They come from enormous wealth, many have vast holdings and stocks, and very few have experience in government."
One wealthy Trump pick official who won't require Senate confirmation: son-in-law Jared Kushner, who transition officials confirmed Monday would serve as a senior adviser in the new administration. Kushner, a New York real estate executive, is expected to exert broad sway over both domestic and foreign policy, particularly Middle East issues and trade negotiations.
While not subject to Senate approval, White House staff must publicly disclose personal financial information.
Addressing the Cabinet selections, Trump's incoming press secretary Sean Spicer insisted Monday, "Everyone who has a hearing this week has their paperwork in."
It's unclear, however, whether each had submitted the extensive list of requirements that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell requested of President Barack Obama's nominees eight years ago. Those include an FBI background check, detailed questionnaires and financial disclosure statements that include tax returns, according to a 2009 letter from McConnell that Schumer read Monday on the Senate floor.
"Everybody'll be properly vetted as they have been in the past," McConnell told reporters Monday after meeting privately with the president-elect in Trump Tower.
On Friday, however, Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub said in a letter to congressional leaders that his office "has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings."
Among the committees that haven't yet received the forms was the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has scheduled a hearing this week for Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick to lead the Education Department. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said it had also not received the forms for Trump's pick for commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, though a spokeswoman said they're expected soon.
Committee aides said they had received ethics forms for Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general; Rex Tillerson, Trump's choice for secretary of state; former Marine Gen. John Kelly, his pick for homeland security secretary; James Mattis, his pick for defense secretary; Rep. Mike Pompeo, his choice for director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Elaine Chao, his pick for transportation secretary.
The committee handling Ben Carson's nomination for housing secretary declined to comment on the record.
McConnell said he's hopeful that up to six or seven of Trump's picks, "particularly the national security team," will be "in place on Day One."
The Senate cannot vote on any Cabinet pick until after Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.
Trump's selections, meanwhile, have been going through extensive preparation in the days leading up to the hearings.
Transition officials said the nominees have spent more than 70 hours participating in full-blown mock hearings, with volunteers playing the role of senators asking questions.
"They're listening, they're learning, they're preparing," Spicer said.
As his Cabinet prospects prepare to disclose their personal business dealings, Trump insisted Monday that there is a "very simple, very easy" way to disentangle himself from his global business empire before he takes office.
The details, he said, would have to wait until Wednesday, when he holds his first formal news conference in nearly six months.
Trump has pledged to step away from the Trump Organization during his time in office, but amid warnings from government watchdogs and officials in both parties, he has yet to say specifically how he would do that.
Trump continues to own or control some 500 companies that make up the Trump Organization and has said he intends for his two oldest sons and company executives to run the business while he's gone.