Two weeks before Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the U.S. Senate is already considering his nominees for top government positions.
The 115th Senate took office on Tuesday. One of its first actions will be to confirm or deny Trump’s nominations.
The president-elect is hopeful about the people he has chosen to lead his administration.
"I think it's going to be one of the great[est] cabinets ever, ever, ever…”
When choosing his top aides, Trump looked at large businesses, the military, and also conservative, pro-business public servants.
No nominee has received more attention than Rex Tillerson, the chief executive officer of energy company ExxonMobil. Trump chose him to serve as his secretary of state. The president-elect has described Tillerson as a fierce supporter of America's interests around the world.
The Exxon-Mobil chief says he has a long relationship with the Russian leader.
"My relationship with Vladimir Putin, which dates back almost 15 years now … he understands that I'm a businessman. And I've invested a lot of money, our company has invested a lot of money in Russia."
Yet there are politicians who are concerned about the nomination, according to Delaware Senator Chris Coons. He is a member of the Democratic Party and serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"There are both Republicans and Democrats asking questions about Mr. Tillerson's potential conflicts of interest, about his long and close relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia, and about his ability to balance the demands of being a diplomat and fighting for America's interests with his long experience leading an oil and gas company…We're going to ask a lot of questions, and we'll see what sorts of answers Mr. Tillerson has."
Tillerson and ExxonMobil have agreed to a retirement deal valued at $180 million. The agreement came about as a way for him to follow conflict of interest requirements set by federal ethics officials.
As part of the deal, Tillerson will have to sell more than 600,000 shares he currently owns in ExxonMobil stock. He will also be banned from working in the oil and gas industry for the next 10 years.
Most Senate Republicans are supporting Trump's cabinet nominees.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says that he is impressed with the nominations so far, and he feels hopeful they will be confirmed.
The Republican Party controls 52 seats in the Senate. The Democrats control 46 seats, with independents holding two other seats. If Senate Republicans are organized, they can be sure that Trump's cabinet appointments will be confirmed.
John Hudak is the deputy director for the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institution. He told the VOA that the congressional hearings will be Trump’s first test of congressional relations.
"These senators realize they are going to have to work with this president over the coming years. And one of the easiest ways to sully the relationship between you and the president of your party is to really run his nominees through the ringer.”
Democrats plan to use the confirmation hearings to raise questions about the nominees, hoping to influence public opinion and a few Republicans. The U.S. Constitution says that senators need to provide information and approval of nominees. This is a duty Senate Democrats say they take seriously.
While the Democrats are unsure about some of Trump’s nominees, they will be unable to block their confirmation without having at least two or three Republicans join their side.
I’m Phil Dierking.
Words in This Story
ethics – n. rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad.
hearing – n. a meeting or session at which evidence and arguments about a crime, complaint, etc., are presented to a person or group who will have to decide on what action should be taken.
impress – v. to cause someone to feel admiration or interest.
run through the ringer – v. To subject to a severe trial or ordeal
sully – v. to damage or ruin the good quality of something.