Confirmation Hearings Bring Out the Senate Angst

McConnell said to expect votes on Cabinet nominations Friday

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will return on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will return on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 17, 2017 at 6:42pm

By BRIDGET BOWMAN and JASON DICKCQ Roll Call

The Senate eased into inauguration week with a pair of confirmation hearings, with committees taking up the cases for, or against, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke to be Interior secretary and Betsy DeVos to be Education secretary.

Democrats are picking their spots by targeting just over a handful of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks, and DeVos is one of those. The minority party, though, is chagrined that Republicans have limited the questioning of DeVos to one round, and everyone gets only five minutes.

“This is not the way for comity,” Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the floor this afternoon, adding that if this is how things are going to play out, then the Senate could be in for a long round of confirmation fights.

“This will affect how the rest of the nominees will go forward,” Schumer warned.

Meanwhile, The Senate will be out until Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday evening.

The Kentucky Republican said the Senate is adjourned until 4 p.m. on Friday, following the inauguration. Committees will continue to hold confirmation hearings on Cabinet nominees Wednesday and Thursday, and McConnell said roll call votes on Cabinet nominations could occur Friday.

McConnell has previously stated that he would especially like to confirm nominees relating to national security on the first day of the new administration. Asked last week if Democrats would allow national security-related nominees to be swiftly confirmed, Schumer said, “We’ll see.”

And as the Senate looks towards the next administration, Vice President-elect Mike Pence continued a Capitol Hill charm offensive.

[Inside Man: Pence Emerging as ‘the Key’ to Trump’s Agenda]

According to a Pence spokesman, the future vice president met with Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida, and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. 

Casey tweeted that he raised concerns about the plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cutting entitlement programs, taxes, and Trump’s own financial conflicts of interest. 

Heitkamp said in a statement that the pair had a “solid meeting about the need for bipartisanship as the new administration soon start.”

Working with the administration could benefit those red-state Democrats like Heitkamp. 

Initial 2018 Senate Ratings Map Filled With GOP Opportunities ]

Heitkamp is one of four Democratic senators in a tossup race in 2018, according to the Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzalez race ratings. The other three toss-up seats are all held by Democratic incumbents: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. 

Those four Democrats were among the group of senators who re-introduced the Miners Protection Act Tuesday to address a permanent solution to insolvent pensions and health care for retired coal miners. Democrats, led by Manchin, threatened a government shutdown last year over the issue since miners were set to lose their health coverage at the end of the year.

[Senate Averts Shutdown With Little Time to Spare]

Miners’ health coverage was extended until the end of April, or the length of the government funding resolution. 

McConnell introduced his own bill relating to a long-term solution to miners’ health care. McConnell said his legislation also “calls on Congress to work with the incoming Trump administration to repeal regulations that are harming the coal industry and to support economic development efforts in coal country.”  

Meanwhile, the Senate dispensed with legislation to give the Government Accountability Office access to more records and information on a 99-0 vote, clearing it for the president’s signature.