Try To Keep Count Of How Many Times You Hear 'Confirmation' This Week

Jan 8, 2017
Originally published on January 8, 2017 6:26 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're thinking about the week ahead here in Washington, D.C. It's going to be a busy one. Senators will hear from nearly 10 nominees to Cabinet and other top executive positions over three days. There are so many Cabinet-level nominees that in some cases, Senate confirmation hearings will begin without completed background checks and ethics clearances, a move that top Democrats are criticizing.

So that's why for our regular feature Words You'll Hear, where we try to give you a preview of an important upcoming story, this week's word is confirmation. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving is here to tell us more. Hi, Ron. Thanks for joining us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: So set up the next week for us, if you would.

ELVING: The hearings are going to begin on Tuesday with Jeff Sessions - he is the nominee to be the new attorney general - and then also that same day John Kelly, who is to be the secretary of homeland security. Those are going to be pretty high-profile because of the very strong interest in Jeff Sessions and his background. He is a senator from Alabama, for a long time the only senator to support Donald Trump for president.

And, of course, the homeland security function would include the wall and all kinds of talk about what Donald Trump's going to do with respect to securing the borders. On Wednesday, we will definitely have more on the Sessions nomination, plus Rex Tillerson, secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo, CIA director, and Betsy DeVos to be the secretary of education.

Now, both Tillerson and Pompeo are going to run smack into the controversy about Russian hacking in the U.S. election campaign and particularly about the intelligence report that we're all looking at, the consensus of American intelligence agencies saying that the hacking was done directly from Vladimir Putin down and was done to help Donald Trump.

MARTIN: Apart from the substance of the kinds of things that the Senators are expected to discuss or question the nominees about, let's just talk about the scheduling. They are pretty tightly scheduled. And they're also happening the same week President-elect Trump is expected to hold his first press conference since before the election. Now, is that customary?

ELVING: It's not customary. There are going to be as many as five different nominees under consideration on Wednesday alone at exactly the same time of day as Donald Trump is giving his first news conference, if he actually does do it, in nearly six months. So that's going to be a very heavy news day no matter what else happens that day.

It's going to be very hard for the news people to get around to all of these hearings. And it's going to be even harder for all of our news consumers to try to get their minds around all that evidence about all those different nominees on that given day when there's such a big distraction as Donald Trump's first news conference.

MARTIN: Now, have the Republicans - who control both houses, obviously, and the Senate is the convening body here - has anybody asked them why they're scheduling things in this way? And has there been any response to that from Senate Democrats?

ELVING: Well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that there isn't much time left, the inauguration is less than two weeks away, that it's time to get down to it. And they're just in a hurry. And they are going to try to get as much done in as little time as possible. Now, the Democrats say there was only one other time in our history that we had this many hearings all in one day, and that was back in 2001. And at that point, all of those people had gotten their sign-off from the Office of Governmental Ethics, which many of these people have not.

MARTIN: To that end, Senate Democrats are circulating a letter from the Office of Government Ethics expressing concern that these reviews are not finished for several nominees. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

ELVING: Well, this is a Cabinet that has a lot of billionaires and multimillionaires. And so the Office of Government Ethics, which has been around since the '70s and the aftermath of the Watergate scandals, they have announced that they have not gotten all the tax returns that they need, they have not gotten all the disclosure forms that they are required to get from many of these nominees.

And Walter Shaub Jr., who is the head of the Office of Government Ethics, has sent a letter saying that the confirmation hearings being scheduled for these people are of, quote, "great concern" to him because there has never been a hearing for a Cabinet nominee without getting the sign-off from the OGE.

MARTIN: That's Ron Elving. He's an editor and correspondent for NPR's politics team. Ron, thanks so much for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.