Perry, Mnuchin Round Out Senate Hearings Before Inauguration

Democrats will try to keep the focus on health care

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of Energy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of Energy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 19, 2017 at 7:00am

Donald Trump’s nominees to run the Energy and Treasury departments are the last to face Senate committees before the incoming president is sworn in on Friday. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is acknowledging the Senate may only confirm a few nominees right away. 

The Senate is on track to confirm just three of Trump’s Cabinet nominees on Jan. 20, McConnell told USA Today on Wednesday. He blamed Democrats for slowing down the process, though Democrats say they need more time to properly vet Trump’s nominees.

And McConnell went a step further in an interview with Gray TV, which owns Kentucky television stations including WKYT in Lexington.

“There are a bunch of other nominees that aren’t controversial. Two of them happen to be women, three of them happen to be minorities that are not controversial and the Democrats say they are going to sit on them now,” he said.

“Why?” the majority leader asked. “There is no rational basis, because nobody seems to be opposed to them.”

McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, who is Asian-American, is one of those relatively noncontroversial nominees. She garnered praise from both sides of the aisle last week at her confirmation hearing to become the next Transportation secretary. 

But McConnell’s remarks signaled she might not be among the nominees swiftly confirmed on Friday. He has stressed his desire to confirm national security-related nominees, such as those who will head the Defense and Homeland Security departments and the CIA.

But as McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer continue negotiations over confirmations, the hearings for members of Trump’s team continue. 

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the Energy nominee, will sit before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday, while Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin will face the Senate Finance Committee.

Perry will kick things off with a bipartisan boost from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. Manchin, who was once rumored as a potential pick for Energy, announced Wednesday he would be introducing the Texas Republican at the confirmation hearing.

Perry will likely face questions from the committee’s Democrats on climate change and maintaining the nuclear arsenal, which fall under the Energy Department’s purview. Perry will also likely be asked to respond to his assertion during a 2011 presidential debate that he would eliminate the department (though he initially could not remember the agency’s name).

But the former governor plans to address the issue in his opening remarks.

“My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry is expected to say, according to his prepared remarks released by the transition team. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”

Mnuchin is also likely to face questions, particularly from Democrats. They listed him as one of the eight nominees whom they are particularly concerned about, due to his wealth and potential for conflicts of interest, as well as his role in a bank notorious for quick foreclosures during the Great Recession.

The former Goldman Sachs partner served as Trump’s campaign finance chairman. Last week, 25 Senate Democrats signed a letter urging Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch of Utah to allow for outside witnesses during the confirmation process.

“Mr. Mnuchin led the bank OneWest for six years in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, during which time the bank foreclosed on thousands of families and threw them out of their homes,” the senators wrote.  “Before deciding whether Mr. Mnuchin should serve as the country’s top economic official, the committee should hear from some of these families and other Americans who have had first-hand experience with Mr. Mnuchin or the businesses he has led.“ 

But the Treasury nominee is ready to defend himself.

“Since I was first nominated to serve as Treasury secretary, I have been maligned as taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to earn a buck,” Mnuchin will say, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Democrats also want to keep attention on Republican plans to repeal the 2010 health care law. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Patty Murray of Washington will hold a forum in Washington with Americans who will be negatively affected if the law is dismantled. The forum will feature people from Michigan, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Maine and Ohio.