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Politics & Government

Senate Confirms 2 Trump Cabinet Members

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Shortly after President Trump was sworn in yesterday, the Senate began the work of confirming his Cabinet. Two nominees were confirmed - James Mattis for defense secretary, John Kelly for Homeland Security. Here to walk us through what's next in the confirmation project is - process, forgive me - NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Susan, thanks so much for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: President Obama had seven Cabinet nominees approved on his first day in office, five more by the end of his first week. Why just two for President Trump?

DAVIS: Well, we're falling into what is a familiar party-line fight over nominations in the Senate. This is fights that has been going on for years and sort of amplified over time. And Republicans say Democrats are just stalling for political reasons. They don't have the votes to hold up these nominees, but they want to drag out the process to undermine Trump's Cabinet. But Illinois Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin, he defended this slow walking. He - here he is on the Senate floor on Friday.

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DICK DURBIN: And some of them bring to this nomination some extraordinarily challenging financial data. Because of their companies, because of their lifestyles, because of the wealth, it takes longer to go through this - these documents than it does for people of modest means.

DAVIS: Now, remember, Scott, this is the wealthiest Cabinet in history. It includes several billionaires, like education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos and commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross. And Durbin's also referring specifically to things like in the confirmation process for Steven Mnuchin, who's the nominee for treasury secretary, that process disclosed last week that he did not reveal almost a $100 million in assets to the Senate Finance Committee. So they say they just simply need more time.

SIMON: Which nominees did the Trump administration want confirmed Friday that didn't make it yet?

DAVIS: They wanted to get their national security team in place and they wanted to include in that Mike Pompeo, he's a Kansas Republican, for CIA director. It's been held up by Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden. He wants a more protracted debate on government surveillance. And he said they should have that in the light of day, not as senators were heading out to go to inaugural balls last night. But this has really angered a lot of Republicans, including Senator John McCain of Arizona. He says Democrats are just playing politics with the president's national security team.

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JOHN MCCAIN: What's the point here? Is the point is we're just going to show the Republicans by slow walking their nominees? Is that what the point of this is? If it is, then in my view you're contradicting the will of the American people and the verdict of the American people.

DAVIS: Now, Democrats were able to delay that nomination. But he will just get a vote on Monday instead. And I should say, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also would like to move quickly on the nomination of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao because she is, of course, his wife.

SIMON: Any nominees facing a perceptibly rough path to confirmation?

DAVIS: Possibly, but remember, they would need to lose Republican support because all of these nominees just need 50 votes - 51 votes to pass the Senate. Two to keep an eye on this week, South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney for the Office of Management and Budget. He was revealed in the vetting process, he owed $15,000 in back taxes for a nanny. In the past, that kind of thing has derailed nominees, but so far Trump is standing by him.

And on Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's going to vote on the nomination for former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state. Keep an eye on John McCain and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, two interesting Republican votes to watch. But on the whole, you know, the Trump nominees are in good place. And if all of these first round picks make it through, he would be the first president in decades to get his slate approved without losing any of his nominees.

SIMON: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks so much for being with us.

DAVIS: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.