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How Democrats are preparing to challenge Trump nominees

What should Americans expect from this week of Trump Cabinet confirmation hearings? Judy Woodruff speaks with Susan Page of USA Today and NPR’s Tamara Keith about the forthcoming “information overload,” Democrats’ lack of leverage in opposing nominees, Meryl Streep’s political message at the Golden Globes, plus the stakes and expectations for President Obama’s farewell address.

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    For more on the upcoming Cabinet confirmation hearings, the latest on the president-elect's transition to the White House, and more, it's time for Politics Monday with Tamara Keith of NPR and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

    All right, welcome to both of you.

    So, Tam, we just heard from Kellyanne Conway. What do you expect from these confirmation hearings?


    They certainly will be interesting, but they will all be happening at the same time, so we will have to have split-screens to pay attention to everything.

    And add on that screen Donald Trump having a press conference on Wednesday on the same day that there are five confirmation hearings. It's going to be information overload. Democrats will try to put up a fight, to draw out contrasts with Donald Trump potentially between his Cabinet picks and the president-elect. And they will try to make it as painful as possible, but there isn't much the Democrats can actually do.


    Susan, do you expect this ethic — the lack of ethics review to be done for some of these nominees to continue to be an issue?

  • SUSAN PAGE, USA Today:

    Well, I think the Democrats will try to make it an issue, but it's not stopping the hearings.

    Now, Mitch McConnell on Sunday on "Face the Nation" did say that they wouldn't hold votes on the floor until the ethics paperwork was done. So there is at least that. There is not a law that says they have to wait, but it's certainly been the practice in the past not to confirm somebody.

    But the fact that the review won't have been done before the hearings for some of these candidates is a serious one for Democrats, because there are questions they won't be able to ask. There are things they don't know that they may find out through these ethics reviews. So, that's one reason Democrats are concerned about this issue.


    Tam, are Democrats targeting in particular some of the nominees over others or how are they looking at this?


    Well, that's the challenge that they're facing is that they have targeted eight nominees.

    Well, eight is a very big number, and so they aren't — it's sort of a scattershot approach. There isn't like one nominee that they are just going to take down, in part because they don't have the votes to truly block anyone unless they get Republican help.

    And at the moment, it doesn't look like they have it. Now, something could change. A hearing could go poorly. But at the moment, by the numbers, Democrats aren't in a strong position. They don't have much leverage.


    Susan, what is your reporting telling you about who is going to get the most attention from Democrats, or are they just spreading it out equally among all of them?


    Well, I think there are some cases where there will be proxy fights.

    And I think Rex Tillerson is a good example of that. Senate Democrats and even some Republicans don't have a chance to quiz Donald Trump about his policy toward Russia, but they can ask Rex Tillerson about it. And Rex Tillerson himself, as head of ExxonMobil, had a lot of dealings with Russia in general, with Vladimir Putin in particular.

    So, I think that will be a big source of debate there. In some cases, I think they are going to target the person. I think that may be the case with Jeff Sessions, who has the first hearing tomorrow.

    Now, you would think they would go easy on a senator, because it's an old boys club. But in this case, I think some of the Democratic senators have real concerns about things he has said in the past, especially dealing with race relations, with voting rights and on immigration. So in that case, it may be taking a little more personal turn.


    Tam, Susan just mentioned what Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said over the weekend.

    I'm trying to understand. Is this really different from what happened eight years ago, when President Obama's nominees were coming through, because he made it sound as if, oh, this is just the same thing we — same way we have always done it here.


    Well, they have typically tried to defer to presidents, and they have typically tried to have a big group ready to go when the president takes the oath of office.

    However, Donald Trump's nominees, some of them, at least four of them, have not finished — who have hearings scheduled have not finished the ethics process, and that is out of the ordinary, as we heard in an earlier segment.

    The only precedent that Republicans are pointing to goes back to when George W. Bush was first coming into office. And they have one example. So it is the best practice to have the ethics review done, and it is also a practice that has largely happened in the past.


    Susan, I want to turn to something that happened last night, the Golden Globes Awards. We reported it earlier.

    Meryl Streep, getting an award, uses her time to take on Donald Trump, and she pinned it on what she described as his mocking a reporter, news reporter, with disabilities, and we saw Mr. Trump come back and tweet about her today, calling her overrated and saying he didn't mock him.

    Is this something that it's smart for him to engage in? How do you see this?


    Well, it's untraditional for a president to take on Meryl Streep when she criticizes him at the Golden Globes, or Arnold Schwarzenegger when he doesn't get ratings as big as he did for that reality show that he took over.

    And I think, you know, most political pundits would say, but this is a big mistake, it's not presidential. On the other hand, it's pretty authentic. It's what got — it's the kind of attitude and the kind of swagger that got Donald Trump where he is today.

    So I guess we will have to see if voters are comfortable with this approach, because, believe me, I think we're going to be seeing tweets like this for the next four years.


    Well, we shall see.

    Finally, I want to ask both of you, we know, tomorrow night, President Obama, Tam, gives his farewell address. We're going to be covering it live here 9:00 Eastern. You have given some thought to the farewell of this president.



    Well, and I have given some thought to the farewells of lots of presidents. This is a long tradition going back to George Washington, who delivered the first farewell address.

    And there tends to be a mix of looking backward and looking forward. George Washington offered warnings for people to come. So did Dwight Eisenhower.

    President Obama, I imagine, and based on what his administration has said, is likely to fall into the category of people who — presidents who talk about American values and America's role in the world. And so I think that we can — you know, as he did on the campaign trail, talked about — on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton, talked about what he sees as American values, that might be the message that he tries to send with his farewell.


    Susan, what are you looking for tomorrow night?


    You know, the stakes got much higher when Hillary Clinton lost the election, because we now have President Obama trying to make his case that he's done a lot, and it's good, the country's in better shape than when he took over, and that is a legacy worth preserving, because Donald Trump is going to come in and try to dismantle big parts of that legacy.

    So I think the stakes get higher for him. And also his party is a little bit in the wilderness, trying to figure out where they go. And what will the role of Barack Obama be for the Democratic Party going forward? That might be one thing to listen for tomorrow night.


    And I know a lot of people are asking that question, especially since he's going to continue to live in Washington, D.C. He is not going to be able to hide. Or I guess he will try to hide, but we will see.

    Susan Page, Tamara Keith, thank you both.


    You're welcome.


    Thank you.

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