On Wednesday, three of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks are scheduled to face the grueling confirmation hearings Senate Democrats will undoubtedly use to grill the president-elect’s proposed appointments.
Secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson, the Texan Exxon Mobil CEO, will face the Foreign Relations Committee at 9:15 am; attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions will wrap up his two-day session, which began Tuesday, with the Judiciary Committee starting at 9:30 am; and secretary of transportation pick Elaine Chao’s hearing before the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will begin at 10:15 am.
Senate hearings for secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos and proposed CIA director Rep. Mike Pompeo, which were also originally scheduled for Wednesday, have since been postponed (Pompeo’s session will begin Thursday and DeVos’s the following Tuesday).
The sheer number of hearings scheduled for Wednesday — although now somewhat lightened — was the subject of much debate in Washington, as the hearings also coincide with the president-elect’s much-anticipated press conference on possible conflicts of interests. Congressional Democrats are arguing that the overlapping hearings and press conference will distract the American public from an important step in the Cabinet nomination process.
Nonetheless, Senate Democrats in the respective committees will use the hearings to question the proposed Cabinet members on everything from voting rights to international election interference, with more scrutiny expected for Sessions — who was once deemed unconfirmable for federal judicial appointment for supposedly making racist remarks — and Tillerson, who as a career Exxon executive has long had, among other things, a personal financial stake in removing sanctions on Russia.
Here’s what you need to know to tune in.
When, where, and how to watch
Rex Tillerson, proposed secretary of state
When: January 11 at 9:15 am
Where: Dirksen Senate Office 106, Washington, DC
Jeff Sessions, proposed attorney general
When: January 10 and January 11 at 9:30 am
Where: Russell Senate Office Building 325, Washington, DC
Elaine Chao, proposed secretary of transportation
When: January 11 at 10:15 am
Where: Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253, Washington, DC
How to Watch: Chao’s hearing will be live-streamed on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s webpage.
What to expect
Confirmation hearing fireworks began with Sessions on Tuesday, with a start that proved to address many of the concerns Trump’s campaign raised over the past year — racist dog whistles, anti-immigration proposals, possible voting restrictions, and even Hillary Clinton’s email servers. (Sessions said he would recuse himself from any possible investigations.)
Wednesday should be no different. Sessions, who has been a close adviser of Trump’s from the start of his presidential ambitions, is a staunch conservative with a particularly harsh stance against immigration, both legal and unauthorized, and on criminal justice issues — a particularly triggering Cabinet pick for Democrats, and one they seem adamant to fight against. Not to mention the Senate Judiciary Committee once voted against confirming Sessions in 1986, under Ronald Reagan, for being too racist.
But he isn’t the only Cabinet member who will be under increased scrutiny Wednesday. Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, has never held a position in government and has proven to have conflicts of interest. Democrats have lobbied the idea of trying to block Tillerson, especially in light of his close relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a top executive of Exxon Mobil — a company that could have billions of dollars at stake over US sanctions on Russia. He’ll likely be facing some tough questions under oath.
Chao, on the other hand, has proved to be one of Trump’s less controversial picks. She is a familiar face in Washington and has been in the hot seat before, previously having been confirmed as labor secretary under George W. Bush. She is also Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife.
But that’s not to say that she won’t face her fair share of questioning, especially as the would-be person to push through Trump’s much-touted infrastructure plan, which, as my colleague Brad Plumer explained, has so far shaped up to be a lot of tax breaks to private investors and not a lot of actual plans to “fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” as Trump has promised.
These hearings are meant to closely examine the records of the Cabinet nominees, but as Vox’s Yochi Dreazen explained, the hearings may prove to shed more light on the positions of the president-elect himself.
“They will be the first time that senior Trump appointees will have to answer, under oath, pointed questions about the shifting and often contradictory positions of the president they hope to serve,” Dreazen writes.