WASHINGTON — The Senate should not move ahead on President-elect Donald Trump’s picks for top jobs, including some of the wealthiest Americans, until they provide complete financial disclosure statements and meet ethical standards, the senior Democrats on panels responsible for confirming nominees said Thursday.
Several of Trump’s nominees are billionaires whose holdings could raise conflicts of interest. Sixteen Democrats issued the statement after preliminary contacts with several whom Trump has selected failed to satisfy Democrats’ expectations for information such as tax returns and other disclosures regarding financial holdings.
“The United States Senate has a rich, bipartisan tradition of vetting nominees to the president’s Cabinet,” the lawmakers wrote in the statement, which was released by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the incoming Democratic leader. “We hope to continue that tradition.”
Democrats have limited options to block nominees outright because they changed filibuster rules when they controlled the Senate in 2013. But they could force longer debates than usual at the start of an administration, when many nominees have traditionally been swiftly confirmed on voice votes.
“President-elect Trump refused to release his tax returns and will start his presidency consumed by questions about how he could be using his position to enrich himself and his family, but that doesn’t mean that his nominees should be held to the same low standards,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “So I would hope and expect that these nominees will, at the very least, follow the usual bipartisan process to make sure that the people we represent have every opportunity to scrutinize them for potential conflicts of interest, ethics issues, or anything else that would cause legitimate concerns about their confirmation.”
The issue has the potential to produce a major political battle in the opening days of Trump’s administration. Democrats can force 30 hours of debate on nominations if they choose, but Republicans can approve them by a simple majority vote — instead of the 60 votes that were required before Democrats gutted the filibuster rule.
Republicans controlling the Senate want to make quick work of Cabinet confirmations once Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
But the group of senior Democrats, including those responsible for reviewing Trump’s choices to head the departments of State, Defense and Justice, are insisting that each pick should clear an FBI background check, fill out a financial disclosure form and have “satisfied reasonable requests of additional information.”
The potential for conflict involves high-profile picks, such as Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, and Steven Mnunchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive who’s been selected for treasury secretary.
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Senate Democratic aides have said Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late last week that he would, if asked, provide lawmakers with his and his wife’s federal and state tax returns for the past three years.
The aides said the tax information would shed substantial light on any possible foreign “entanglements” that Tillerson may have from his decade as Exxon Mobil’s CEO. But the aides said the Trump transition team informed the committee this week that it won’t be getting the material ahead of Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, which is scheduled for next month.
They said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee’s Republican chairman, is siding with the Trump team and won’t force Tillerson to turn over the returns.
The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.
Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.