Washington Brief: Cabinet Confirmation Hearings Scheduled to Begin This Week

Washington Brief

  • Senate Republicans plan to begin holding confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks on Tuesday, despite calls from Democrats for a delay until the nominees have completed FBI background checks. (The New York Times) The Office of Government Ethics raised concerns that it has not received financial disclosures from some nominees who are scheduled for confirmation hearings. (Roll Call)
  • Against Chinese objections, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will meet with the president of Taiwan in Houston. The visit comes weeks after Trump accepted a phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, which irked China. (The Washington Post)
  • Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group, plans to spend $10 million on advertisements urging moderate Democratic senators to back Trump’s eventual Supreme Court pick. (Politico)
  • As Trump and his allies descend on Washington, new centers of power are already emerging. Jared Kushner is already being dubbed the “president in-law” (New York Magazine), and the Mercer family, big financial backers, has advised Trump on his cabinet selections. (The Wall Street Journal)

Chart Review

Events Calendar (All Times Local)

Energy Secretary Moniz speaks at National Press Club 11 a.m.
House convenes 12 p.m.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Castro speaks at Center for American Progress 12 p.m.
Health & Human Services Secretary Burwell speaks at National Press Club 12:30 p.m.
Senate convenes 2 p.m.
Senate votes on Paul amendment to budget resolution 5:30 p.m.
House votes on suspension bills 6:30 p.m.
Senate Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearing for AG nominee Sessions 9:30 a.m.
Newt Gingrich and Jim DeMint Talk ‘Trumpism’ 11 a.m.
Senate Homeland Security Committee holds confirmation hearing for Homeland Security secretary nominee Kelly 3:30 p.m.
President Obama delivers farewell address 8 p.m.
Senate HELP Committee holds confirmation hearing for Education secretary nominee DeVos 10 a.m.
Senate Intelligence Committee holds hearing for CIA nominee Pompeo 10 a.m.
Donald Trump press conference in New York City 11 a.m.
Senate Judiciary Committee holds confirmation hearing for AG nominee Sessions TBD
House Small Business Committee Chairman Steve Chabot at AEI 9 a.m.
Senate Housing Committee holds confirmation hearing for HUD nominee Carson 10 a.m.
No events scheduled



Against China’s objections, Ted Cruz and Texas governor meet with Taiwanese president
Amy B. Wang, The Washington Post 

Against the objections of Chinese officials, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Texas on Sunday during her much-scrutinized overseas trip. Tsai had departed Taiwan on Saturday and made a planned stopover in Houston en route to Central America.

The Young Trump: Jared Kushner is more like his father-in-law than anyone imagines
Andrew Rice, New York Magazine

Until very recently, and to all outward appearances, Jared Kushner was just another socially striving young businessman with inoffensively Bloombergian political values. But over the past year, something seems to have changed — in his beliefs, in his manner, in his relationship to his peers among New York City’s elite.

Republican leaders cast doubt on Trump improving relations with Russia
David Nakamura, The Washington Post 

Republican leaders in Congress on Sunday defended President-elect Donald Trump’s desire to pursue better relations with Russia, but they cast strong doubt on whether his administration would succeed given the failed efforts of previous presidents. Trump has alarmed lawmakers over his public skepticism of a U.S. intelligence report last week that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” to sway the presidential election in Trump’s favor.

Jeff Sessions, a Lifelong Outsider, Finds the Inside Track
Sharon LaFraniere and Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times

During nearly two decades in the Senate, Jeff Sessions had never endorsed anyone in a presidential primary. But last January, the Alabama Republican, afraid that his party was floundering, sent a five-point questionnaire to all its presidential contenders to determine who might deserve his support.

As a general, Mattis urged action against Iran. As a defense secretary, he may be a voice of caution.
Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous, The Washington Post

The Iranian-supplied rockets were raining down on Gen. James N. Mattis’s troops throughout the spring and summer of 2011 with greater and greater intensity. Six American soldiers were killed by a volley in eastern Baghdad in early June.

Meet the Mercers: A Quiet Tycoon and His Daughter Become Power Brokers in Trump’s Washington
Gregory Zuckerman et al., The Wall Street Journal

In February 2014, a group of conservative political donors gathered at New York’s Pierre Hotel to strategize about the coming presidential contest. Robert Mercer, a computer programmer and hedge-fund manager who distrusted the political establishment and loathed Bill and Hillary Clinton, issued a warning: Data he had seen indicated mainstream Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio would have difficulty winning the White House in 2016, according to one of the attendees.

California braces for flooding, avalanches as Sierra gets slammed with rain, snow
Sage Sauerbrey, The Washington Post

A powerful storm blasted the Sierra Nevada with waves of torrential rain and heavy snowfall on Sunday, leaving a vast swath of California bracing for potentially disastrous floods, avalanches and mudslides. The latest weather comes just days after the mountains around Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park received several feet of snow over the span of a week. At Mammoth Mountain, a ski resort bordering Yosemite, the 11,000-foot peak got 84 inches of snow in just two days.

Obamacare repeal’s doomsday scenario
Paul Demko and Adam Cancryn, Politico

Hospital and health plan leaders talk in almost apocalyptic terms about what might lie ahead if Republicans abolish Obamacare without a blueprint for its replacement. Their doomsday scenario: Millions of people could lose their health care coverage, hospitals could hemorrhage cash and shocks to the $3 trillion-a-year health system could send ripples through the entire economy.


Trump confidants serving as presidential advisers could face tangle of potential conflicts
John Wagner and Ylan Q. Mui, The Washington Post 

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn will have the ear of President-elect Donald Trump as an adviser focused on cutting government regulations. But Icahn also stands to benefit if his advice is taken: It could make the energy companies and others in which he has a stake more profitable.

Trump’s Cabinet picks undergo grueling prep for hearings
Nancy Cook and Andrew Restuccia, Politico 

They call them “murder boards” for a reason. Seated beneath bright lights that mimic the conditions of a camera-packed hearing room, President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks are being put through hours-long mock confirmation hearings this weekend to prepare for the Senate grillings that may decide their fates.

Detroit’s Auto Show Kicks Off Amid Tension With Trump
Mike Colias and John D. Stoll, The Wall Street Journal 

General Motors Co. Chief Executive Mary Barra’s role as one of 20 business advisers to Donald Trump on economic issues and jobs growth was dealt a jolt shortly after the New Year, with the president-elect criticizing the auto maker’s production plans in a tweet. Within hours, Ms. Barra called Mr. Trump and engaged in a “very positive and cordial” lengthy conversation, according to two people familiar with the call.

Newt, Trump’s inconvenient truth-teller
Katie Glueck, Politico 

He has dismissed a Trump business decision as “weird.” He openly fretted that the Trump team might “lose their nerve.” And he likened Donald Trump to an aggressive bear from the movie “The Revenant”: if provoked, “he will walk over, bite your face off, and sit on you.”

‘What’s the Big Deal?’ Ask Trump Voters on Russia Hacking Report
Cambell Robertson and Mitch Smith, The New York Times 

“Sour grapes,” explained Bob Marino, 79, weighing in on the recent spycraft bombshell from the corner table of a local McDonald’s. “Sour grapes,” agreed Roger Noel, 65, sitting next to him.

Trump opposition sets up blue-state headquarters
Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico 

With the national Democratic Party in disarray, the outline of the Donald Trump resistance is taking shape far from Capitol Hill, with New York and California emerging as the East and West Coast headquarters of opposition to the incoming administration. Officials and advocacy groups in the two Democratic strongholds are plotting how to use the power of state law-enforcement agencies, municipal regulations and regional bully pulpits, and they’re assembling a wide-ranging apparatus of political opposition that they hope will slow the Trump agenda.

Donald Trump Says He’s Not Surprised by Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Speech
Patrick Healy, The New York Times

President-elect Donald J. Trump dismissed Meryl Streep as “a Hillary lover” early Monday morning after the actress, in a speech at the Golden Globes award ceremony, denounced him as a bully who disrespected and humiliated others. Mr. Trump, in a brief telephone interview, said he had not seen Ms. Streep’s remarks or other parts of the Globes ceremony, which were broadcast on NBC, but he added that he was “not surprised” that he had come under attack from “liberal movie people.”


Ready or Not, Republicans Say Cabinet Hearings Will Begin Tuesday
Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times

Advisers to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition team, facing complaints from Democrats that they are trying to jam nominees through confirmation hearings, said on Sunday they were confident all the appointees would be approved by the Senate, perhaps even with Democratic support. Being the minority party, the Democrats would face long odds in trying to derail any of the nominations.

Ethics Office Hasn’t Gotten Financial Disclosures From All Trump Nominees
Niels Lesniewski, Roll Call

Some of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees have yet to even provide preliminary financial disclosures to a federal ethics watchdog. That’s according to a letter released Saturday from Office of Government Ethics Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Conservative groups plan to pressure Dems on Trump court pick
Burgess Everett, Politico

Conservative groups are planning to spend millions on an unprecedented campaign to pressure Senate Democrats to confirm Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, according to sources familiar with the effort. Fresh off spending more than $7 million to keep the seat vacant under President Barack Obama, the deep-pocketed Judicial Crisis Network will plow at least $10 million into advertisements urging a number of moderate Senate Democrats to support Trump’s choice. The group is concentrating on Democrats up for reelection in states that Trump won last year.

Senate Confirmation Hearings to Begin Without All Background Checks
Jennifer Steinhauer and Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times

As Senate Republicans embark on a flurry of confirmation hearings this week, several of Donald J. Trump’s appointees have yet to complete the background checks and ethics clearances customarily required before the Senate begins to consider cabinet-level nominees. Republicans, who are expected to hold up to five hearings on Wednesday alone, say they simply want to ensure that the new president has a team in place as soon as possible.


Pelosi Calls Russian Hacking Report ‘Stunning’
Benjamin Siegel, ABC News

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today called the U.S. intelligence report into alleged Russian hacking during the election season “stunning.” The California Democrat gave remarks to the press after a briefing for leaders of both parties in the House and Senate and of the House and Senate intelligence committees.


Kentucky legislature caps first week by passing 7 bills
Adam Beam and Bruce Schreiner, The Associated Press

Republican lawmakers in Kentucky used their new majority in the state Legislature on Saturday to pass bills targeting labor unions and abortion over the shouts of hundreds of protesters that packed the cavernous Capitol. With chants of “we will remember in November” seeping through the closed doors of the state Senate, lawmakers voted to ban labor unions from collecting mandatory dues from employees they represent in collective bargaining.

Less Ambitious Agenda Expected for Chris Christie’s Final Year in Office
Kate King, The Wall Street Journal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, his national profile diminished and in-state popularity at an all-time low, will deliver his final state-of-the-state address Tuesday to a legislature already looking ahead to a new administration. Mr. Christie, prevented by term limits from running for re-election and scheduled to depart office next January, promised in a November speech that he would “leave this job in exactly the same way I came into it: loudly.”


Trump’s pick for intel chief spent years as lobbyist
Stephen Braun and Julie Bykowicz, The Associated Press

Former Sen. Dan Coats, in line to be national intelligence director, has swung back and forth between government service and lobbying, the type of Washington revolving-door career that President-elect Donald Trump has mocked. The Indiana Republican, 73, has made four spins through the capital’s avenues of power and has become wealthy in the process.

U.S. solar lobbying group names ‘bridge builder’ as new leader
Nichola Groom, Reuters

The U.S. solar industry’s top lobbying group named energy policymaker Abigail Ross Hopper as its new chief executive, pledging pragmatism as the sector prepares to work with an incoming president who has expressed doubts about its importance. Hopper joins the Washington-based Solar Energy Industries Association after serving as director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for two years.

Opinions, Editorials and Perspectives

Senate Majority Leader McConnell: ObamaCare failed Americans. Now it’s time for relief
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Fox News

By nearly any measure, ObamaCare has failed: It didn’t lower costs, it didn’t increase choice, middle-class families continue to lose health plans they were promised they could keep, and Americans continue to call for ObamaCare’s repeal. They spoke loudly again this November, and about 8 out of 10 favor changing ObamaCare significantly or replacing it altogether.

Mitt Romney: Trump has made a smart choice for education secretary
Mitt Romney, The Washington Post 

The nomination of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education has reignited the age-old battle over education policy. The heat is already intense not just because it involves the future of our children but also because a lot of money is at stake.

How We Fool Ourselves on Russia
William J. Burns, The New York Times 

In the quarter-century since the end of the Cold War, profound grievances, misperceptions and disappointments have often defined the relationship between the United States and Russia. I lived through this turbulence during my years as a diplomat in Moscow, navigating the curious mix of hope and humiliation that I remember so vividly in the Russia of Boris N. Yeltsin, and the pugnacity and raw ambition of Vladimir V. Putin’s Kremlin.

Trump and Ryan are right to tackle corporate taxes. But their approach would do harm.
Lawrence Summers, The Washington Post  

Corporate tax reform has rightly been identified by the president-elect and congressional majority as an immediate priority. There is no question that the status quo — with the United States having the highest statutory corporate-tax rate among major countries and companies holding huge cash hoards abroad while awaiting a break on repatriation — can be improved.

Research Reports and Polling

Hassan and Shaheen and a Brief History of Ex-Gubernatorial US Senate Delegations
Eric Ostermeier, University of Minnesota

Maggie Hassan was sworn into office on Tuesday with the convening of the 115th Congress and in doing so joins fellow Granite State Democrat Jeanne Shaheen to form the second U.S. Senate delegation comprised of ex-governors now in office. Shaheen governed the state for three terms from 1997 to 2003 while Hassan challenged Senator Kelly Ayotte after just two terms in Concord.