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Trump’s Cabinet picks delayed by Democrats, only two confirmed

Donald Trump got off to the slowest start for any president in modern political history, with just two of his Cabinet picks confirmed so far and Democrats poised to make the process even more painful over the next weeks.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly were approved in fairly easy votes Friday evening, but Democrats refused to grant a speedy vote to Rep. Mike Pompeo, picked to lead the CIA. Liberal senators are making him sweat for a couple of days, though all sides said he will be approved Monday.

Democrats said the delay was partly about process but also suggested it was payback for Republicans’ refusal to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court pick and for delaying other Obama Cabinet picks during the later years of his administration.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he is confident about pushing through whomever Mr. Trump eventually picks for the Supreme Court, but he said the hurdles now being erected by Democrats, led by Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, are unfair.

“Sen. Schumer would even complain about not having enough seats in the hearing room,” Mr. McConnell told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “These are all kind of manufactured reasons, Chris, to slow down the process, because they don’t want this administration to be treated like other administrations and being given the opportunity to get up and get started.”

One of Mr. Trump’s more controversial nominees, former Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson, got good news Sunday when two key Republicans said they would vote to confirm him, ending weeks of speculation and making it far more likely that he will succeed in the upcoming vote.

Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who had reservations about whether Mr. Tillerson would be strong enough on Moscow, said in a joint statement that they are satisfied he will be effective in pushing for U.S. interests when it comes to relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The views that Mr. Tillerson has expressed, both privately and publicly during the confirmation process, give us confidence that he will be a champion for a strong and engaged role for America in the world,” they said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who challenged Mr. Trump in the Republican primary race last year, also has signaled concerns about Mr. Tillerson, though he hasn’t said how he would vote.

But with Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain supporting the nominee, it would take Mr. Rubio and several other defections to derail Mr. Tillerson in a floor vote.

Mr. Mattis cleared the Senate on a 98-1 vote, with Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat, casting the only opposing vote.

Mr. Kelly cleared on an 88-11 vote. His Democratic opponents said he failed to assure them he would protect young illegal immigrant Dreamers from deportation — a policy started by Mr. Obama but which Mr. Trump has said is illegal.

Vice President Mike Pence swore in both men Friday night.

Republican leaders had hoped to have a new CIA director, but liberal Democrats refused to confirm Mr. Pompeo, saying they wanted more time to talk about his nomination. Republican leaders could have forced the Senate to stay in session over the weekend to push the issue but relented in exchange for a guaranteed vote Monday evening, where Mr. Pompeo is expected to win approval.

Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut forced the nomination to languish over the weekend, saying they were convinced the CIA could operate for a few days without a confirmed political chief at its head.

“No CIA Director in history has ever been confirmed on Inauguration Day,” they said in a statement. “The importance of the position of CIA director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated.”

But even as Democrats pointed to history to justify their blockade of Mr. Pompeo, that same history appeared to work against them in their resistance to Mr. Trump’s other picks.

Every previous post-Watergate president, save for George H.W. Bush, who was continuing a Republican government, got a giant portion of his nominees confirmed within a few days. Save for Reagan, those were generally approved either by voice vote or by 100-0 tallies.

In the case of President Clinton, almost every nominee was confirmed by Jan. 21. Presidents Obama and George W. Bush each had seven of their Cabinet-level picks confirmed, by voice vote, on the afternoon they were sworn in.

Democrats say Mr. Trump and his team are the problem. They say the nominees are so wealthy that their financial disclosure and ethics paperwork is proving difficult to process. They also have major policy disagreements with at least eight of the nominees.

“It’s a Cabinet unlike any other we have seen,” Mr. Schumer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday.

At a ceremony Friday where Mr. Trump officially signed the nominations, the new president needled Mr. Schumer, saying the nominees would all do a “good job” and that Democrats should move things along.

“This is for Rex. I’ll assume he was approved today?” Mr. Trump said, after signing the nomination of Mr. Tillerson. The State Department nominee has yet to be approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee and was never on Friday’s list of votes.

“It’s coming, though, right, Chuck?” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican.

Even apparently uncontroversial picks such as Elaine L. Chao, wife of Mr. McConnell and a former Cabinet secretary whom Mr. Trump tapped to lead the Transportation Department, are moving slowly through the process.

Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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