GOP pushing Price, Sessions, DeVos a step toward Senate OK
Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP photo
By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans are muscling more of President Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees to the cusp of Senate confirmation over Democratic objections, with committees poised to advance his picks to head agencies in the thick of partisan battles over health care, legal protections, education and the economy.
The Senate Finance Committee was expected Tuesday to advance Trump's picks of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to be health secretary and Steve Mnuchin, a wealthy former financier, to lead Treasury.
Other panels were considering Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be attorney general and wealthy conservative activist Betsy DeVos to head the Education Department. All had strong Republican support, though final confirmation votes by the full Senate weren't yet scheduled.
The Finance Committee's top Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, said he'd oppose Price and Mnuchin. Democrats have accused Price of insider trading in health industry stocks, which he's denied, and criticized Mnuchin for not initially revealing nearly $100 million in assets.
"I cannot support nominees who treat disclosures like shell games and ethics laws like mere suggestions," Wyden said.
Republicans were trying to help Trump staff his Cabinet in the second week of an administration that has ignited fights on multiple fronts. Trump by executive action has clamped temporary bans against refugees from all countries and visitors from seven Muslim-majority nations, and he's seen relations with Mexico sour after insisting it will pay for a border wall. And he's backing the GOP's problematic efforts to dismantle President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
Trump complained Monday night about the confirmation process, tweeting: "The Democrats are delaying my cabinet picks for purely political reasons. They have nothing going but to obstruct."
Trump has nominated some of the wealthiest Americans to serve a president, leading to exhaustive ethics reviews. A Senate schedule interrupted by breaks has also delayed the process.
Democrats have targeted Price, a seven-term congressional veteran, for his staunch backing of his party's drive to scuttle Obama's health care law and to reshape Medicare and Medicaid, which help older and low-income people afford medical care.
They've also assailed Price for buying stocks of health care firms, accusing him of using insider information and conflicts of interest for backing legislation that could help his investments. Price says his trades were largely managed by brokers and that he's followed congressional ethics rules.
The Finance panel was also expected to approve Mnuchin to become treasury secretary. Democrats have accused Mnuchin of failing to protect homeowners from foreclosures and criticized him for not initially disclosing all his assets.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., was on track to win Senate Judiciary Committee approval to become attorney general. That vote was coming with Democrats and demonstrators around the country in an uproar over Trump's executive order blocking refugees. Even some Republicans were warning it could hinder anti-terrorism efforts.
Democrats have questioned Sessions' devotion to enforcing civil rights laws.
DeVos, a wealthy GOP donor, has long supported charter schools and allowing school choice. That's prompted opposition from Democrats and teachers' unions, which view her stance as a threat to federal dollars that support public education.
Critics have mocked her for suggesting that guns could be justified in schools to protect students from grizzly bears. Health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called her an "excellent" choice.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was expected to affirm the nominations of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to become energy secretary and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., to head the Interior Department.
The full Senate was on track to easily confirm Elaine Chao to become transportation secretary in a mid-day vote.
Chao was labor secretary under President George W. Bush, and is wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. She would be a lead actor in pursuing Trump's promise to invest $1 trillion to improve highways, rail service and other infrastructure projects.
On Monday evening, the Senate cleared the way for a final vote on Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee to be secretary of state. Democrats wanted Tillerson to answer questions about Trump's ban against entry for people from seven majority Muslim countries, but lost a bid to delay his nomination.
Democrats were opposing Tillerson's selection even before Trump issued his immigration orders over the weekend, citing his close ties with Russia as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Democrats want him to retain sanctions imposed by Obama because of Russia's seizure of Ukrainian territory and U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Moscow meddled in November's U.S. elections to help Trump.
AP reporters Maria Danilova, Mary Clare Jalonick and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.
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