Here’s a phrase you probably aren’t accustomed to reading: The U.S. Senate is in a great hurry. What has senators moving with unusual haste? Confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees. The first hearing, for Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions, is set for today. Five more are on tap for Wednesday.
Senators presumably are interested in any potential problems, yet the Office of Government Ethics, which is charged with conducting background investigations and negotiating arrangements to avoid conflicts of interest, warns that many of the nominees haven’t completed their ethics reviews. The agency’s director says it would be unprecedented to begin confirmation hearings before background checks are completed.
Despite that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing for quick action on Trump’s picks, in sharp contrast to the slow walk that many of President Barack Obama’s nominees got from Republicans on Capitol Hill. McConnell dismissed criticism as sour grapes from Democrats unhappy with losing the White House and failing to win control of the Senate.
A new president is entitled to pick his advisers and to fill political positions in the executive branch, and Trump is no exception. But the new administration isn’t entitled to a pass on ethics rules, and public confidence requires thorough vetting of top government officials. The Senate is shirking its constitutional obligation by voting first and hoping there aren’t any nasty surprises later. Thumbs down.