Policy

Zinke, DeVos Kick Off Week of Senate Hearings

Senate is also voting on a bill relating to the GAO

Betsy DeVos, nominee for Education secretary, has her confirmation hearing Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Preparations for the incoming administration will likely dominate the Senate this week with hearings each day leading up to President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday. Two of his nominees are facing Senate committees Tuesday. 

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold its confirmation hearing at 2:15 p.m. for Montana Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke to be the next Interior secretary.

According to prepared remarks, Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, said his three immediate goals, if confirmed, would be restoring trust with local communities, prioritizing maintenance and repair backlogs, and ensuring rangers and managers have the “right tool, right resources, and flexibility” to make decisions.

[Trump Officially Taps Zinke for Interior Secretary]

More fireworks are expected at Betsy DeVos’ Education secretary confirmation hearing at 5 p.m., when she faces the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

DeVos is one of the eight nominees whom Democrats are most concerned about. Her hearing was previously postponed due to an incomplete ethics review.

The Michigan philanthropist is a staunch supporter of school choice, which will likely fuel questions from senators on the committee. Democrats are also expected to question DeVos on ethics issues, particularly potential financial conflicts of interest.

Senate Preview: DeVos and Price Face Skeptical Dems

[Senate Democrats Want More Time to Question Trump’s Education Nominee]

“The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools,” DeVos is expected to say in her prepared remarks provided by the Trump transition team. “But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

Although all eyes will be on the committee hearing rooms, the Senate will kick off the week with a 4:45 p.m. vote on the GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017.

Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse and Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester originally authored the legislation, which passed the House on Jan. 4. The bill would allow the Government Accountability Office to access federal records and audit programs, including giving the GAO standing in court to require agencies to provide records.

“Taxpayers deserve a win for common sense and I’m grateful that we’re close to putting this important oversight bill on the president’s desk,” Sasse said in a statement. “This is about helping taxpayers’ watchdogs expose Washington waste and abuse.”

Lawmakers are also likely to keep discussing repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law. The procedural gears for repeal legislation were put in motion when Congress passed the budget resolution last week.

Senate Democrats led rallies across the country Sunday to voice their opposition to the GOP-led repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. 

“The most successful health care program we have ever seen — they want to get rid of it,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told a rally in Warren, Michigan. During his speech, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters joined him on stage.

“You’re looking at the Senate firewall,” Schumer told the crowd.

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