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September 22, 2017

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On Trump Cabinet picks, will Heller adopt standards that GOP demanded in 2009?



Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky attend a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol building on July 11, 2012, in Washington.

In February 2009, Senate Republicans sent a list of demands to Harry Reid regarding the confirmation process for President Barack Obama’s Cabinet picks.

Among them: Appointees would be required to clear an FBI background check and an Office of Government Ethics review, and would provide financial disclosure statements prior to confirmation hearings.

The author of the demands? Mitch McConnell, then the Senate minority leader.

Today, however, with McConnell leading a GOP-controlled chamber, he’s pressing forward with confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees despite concerns that some of them haven’t been properly vetted. On Sunday, a day after the head of the Office of Government Ethics said his staff hadn’t had time to finish their reviews on some nominees, McConnell waved off those concerns and said Democrats needed to “grow up.”

Democrats have seized on the letter to suggest McConnell is being hypocritical and is jamming Trump’s nominees through the process. McConnell’s staff has said the Senate had already approved many of Obama’s selections in 2009 when the letter was sent to Reid.

Whatever the case, McConnell’s argument from 2009 contains reasonable points — then and now. He described the demands as “common sense standards and long standing practices” and said senators needed the comprehensive set of information to “ensure that the Senate has had the opportunity to fairly review a nominee’s record and to make a fair decision prior to a vote.” Here’s the list of demands from McConnell’s letter:

• The FBI background check is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a hearing being noticed.

• The Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a committee hearing.

• Financial disclosure statements (and tax returns for applicable committees) are complete and submitted to the committee for review prior to a hearing being noticed.

• All committee questionnaires are complete and have been returned to the committee. A reasonable opportunity for follow-up questions has been afforded committee members, and nominees have answered, with sufficient time for review prior to a committee vote.

• The nominee is willing to have committee staff interviews, where that has been the practice.

• The nominee has had a hearing.

• The nominee agrees to courtesy visits with members when requested.

• The nominee has committed to cooperate with the Ranking Member on requests for information and transparency.

It’s unclear where Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., will fall on whether the Senate should move forward with McConnell’s aggressive plan or slow down and follow his outline from ‘09. Heller’s office did not immediately return emailed questions Monday afternoon.

But given that Nevada overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates in November, including Catherine Cortez-Masto over Republican candidate Joe Heck for the Senate seat vacated by Reid, voters here may be expecting Republicans to play by the same rules they demanded from Democrats during Obama’s first term.

Editor’s note: Due to an editor’s error, this item was not identified as analysis when it was originally posted.

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