The comment comes after members of Trump’s future Cabinet separated themselves from the president-elect on a series of issues, including Russia, torture and Muslim immigration.
Partly as a result the nominees have gotten mostly gentle treatment from Senate Democrats who say they have found the Cabinet choices more palatable than the future president himself.
“As I meet members of the Cabinet I’m puzzled because many of them sound reasonable,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “Far more reasonable than their president.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, picked for attorney general, said he is against any outright ban on immigration by Muslims, in contrast to Trump’s onetime call to suspend admittance of Muslims. Secretary of State candidate Rex Tillerson affirmed US commitments to NATO and took a relatively hard line on Russia, both in contrast to Trump — though Tillerson irked GOP Sen. Marco Rubio by refusing to label Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.”
And CIA pick Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, affirmed his opposition to torture and said he would refuse any Trump order to torture, adding he could not imagine Trump would give such a directive. Trump, while campaigning, suggested bringing back waterboarding and more.
Tillerson’s nomination is in question in light of concerns from Rubio and others, but it looks like smooth sailing for Pompeo; retired Gen. James Mattis for Defense; and retired Gen. John Kelly for Homeland Security, among others.
“Pompeo’s very popular, Mattis, Kelly — these are popular selections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.
Sessions was denied confirmation once before by the Senate, but that was three decades ago for a federal judgeship. This time around the Alabaman is a sitting senator and was treated gently, for the most part, by his colleagues, even when Democrats brought up the racial issues that brought him down him last time around. There was potential for drama as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., broke with Senate tradition to testify against his colleague, but it came on the second day of the hearing after Sessions had finished testifying, so he was not even in the room.
“The purpose of confirmation hearings is to examine the record and views of potential nominees and I think that’s what these hearings are doing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “I think it’s likely that all of the Cabinet nominees are going to be confirmed, I think the hearings have gone quite well this week.”
The outings also lack drama due to Democrats’ decision while in the Senate majority to lower the vote threshold for Cabinet nominees and others from 60 votes to 50, allowing Republicans to ensure approval as long as they can hold their 52-seat majority together.
There could be fireworks yet to come because several of the most potentially explosive hearings are still pending, including for former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin for Treasury secretary. Democrats have set up a website to solicit stories from the thousands of people whose homes were foreclosed on by OneWest Bank while Mnuchin headed a group of investors who owned the bank. They hope to use Mnuchin’s nomination hearing to attack Trump’s populist appeal with working-class voters and cast themselves as defenders of the middle class.
Also pending are hearings for Rep. Tom Price for Health and Human Services; Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a vocal denier of climate change science, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and fast-food executive Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department.