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Editorial: Ethics review, Senate oversight helps build trust in administration

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Posted on January 19, 2017 |
By Angelo S. Lynn



As a Republican-dominated Congress tries to push through President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks, American citizens should be vigilant in their appeal to slow the process down, pending ethic reviews and conflicts of interest checks as have been done for the past several decades. There is no reason, other than to try to avoid detection, that thorough background checks should not be completed on each candidate before Senate hearings are held. Democrats in the Senate have pledged to do their best to ensure that time-honored process is maintained, but citizens need to apply political pressure as well by raising their voices for adequate review. (Precedents work both ways, and if Republicans get away with it this time, Democrats will try to do it four years from now, and that how a valuable political process gets corrupted.)

Of the many cabinet choices, Democrats are targeting eight for heightened scrutiny and possible rejection — all of whom deserve such scrutiny and questioning, though most will likely make it through. Those eight include: Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick to serve as secretary of state, who angered Democrats when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he isn’t willing to provide complete tax returns, even though he served as CEO of Exxon-Mobil, received a $150-plus million retirement package from that company, and would have had numerous opportunities for conflicts of interest with this cabinet post.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), his pick for attorney general is one of the more controversial picks because of his past comments and political positions; Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget; Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who married into the Amway fortune and has donated millions of dollars to Republican causes (including the campaigns of several Republicans sitting on the review committee), for education secretary but who has little to no prior experience with higher education or public education and has a controversial past with charter schools; Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), picked to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and oversee changes to Obamacare, who has supported privatizing Medicare; Andrew Puzder, a restaurant executive set to serve as labor secretary, will face scrutiny for  past attacks on increasing the minimum wage, among other anti-labor provisions; Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner, set to serve as treasury secretary; and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, though he has been an ardent opponent of EPA regulations.

But not all of Trump’s cabinet choices face tough sledding.

Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), who is nominated to serve as the next interior secretary, told the Senate Natural Resources Committee that Trump’s ambitious infrastructure spending plans should “prioritize the estimated $12.5 billion in backlog of maintenance and repair” at hundreds of national parks across the country. It’s a message many Democrats will embrace, and in fact tried to get passed over the past eight years under President Obama, but which were blocked by Republicans because it was “big government spending” that would raise the national debt.

We are, in fact, pleased to see Trump embrace Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign themes to spend more in the nation’s infrastructure — a message that Hillary Clinton also adopted late in her campaign. And making needed repairs within the nation’s national parks is a good place to start. If it takes having a Republican in office to do what Democrats have been saying all along, that’s at least a sign of some progress.

Zinke also testified during the hearings that, unlike Trump, he doesn’t believe climate change is a hoax. Zinke also told committee members that Trump “is committed to a jobs and infrastructure bill, and I am committed and need your help in making sure that bill includes our national treasures.”

Also expected to get easy approval are: retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, Trump’s pick for defense secretary; South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, as ambassador to the United Nations; and John Kelly, a former Marine general who would lead the Department of Homeland Security.

In each case, the reason for exhaustive examination of background checks, conflicts of interest and an ethics review is to pave the way for congress and the public to have faith and confidence in the Trump administration once it takes power. That won’t happen if the public believes reasonable scrutiny was discarded because of power-plays by Republicans, and especially in light of appointments whose views are counter to the departments they are supposed to run.

If anything, several of Trump’s choices have increased the need for congressional oversight, not lowered it — and all Americans gain, the Trump administration included, when that process is done thoroughly. Hopefully, congressional Republicans will see the wisdom in the process and let it operate as intended.

Angelo S. Lynn

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