Our Constitution gives the Senate the power to decide whether to confirm presidential appointees. Carrying out this responsibility requires that senators know about the nominee’s records and whether he or she has ethical conflicts. That information should be available before confirmation hearings so that senators can ask the nominee about issue positions and ethical concerns.
In 2009, then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, saying that hearings should not be scheduled until a slew of information had been received and checks completed.
But now the Senate GOP, after a presidential campaign in which issues about ethics were raised by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, has cast aside its procedures for Trump’s nominees.
Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, said that the schedule “has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.”
Shaub is by no means alone in his concerns.
Ethics experts from both political parties expressed dismay at the possibility that confirmation hearings would proceed before the OGE reviews are completed.
“This is unprecedented,” said Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who has served as counsel to several Republican presidential candidates and Cabinet nominees in the past. “This suggests that there has been a real breakdown between the transition and the Office of Government Ethics.” [source]
According to records obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, the OGE has had trouble reaching Trump transition officials. That has slowed down its work.
No nominee should have confirmation hearings completed, or better yet, not begun, until ethics checks are done.
Flouting ethics practices for Trump nominees sends some horrible signals.
It implies the Senate does not care about ethical issues for Trump and his team.
It also suggests that the Senate will not fulfill its constitutional role as part of the checks and balances system.
And it appears that all the campaign talk about corruption and draining the swamp was pure demagoguery.
When the House tried to undermine its internal ethics office last week, citizens spoke up against it and stopped it by calling their House members.
Perhaps now citizens will call the Senate switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to reach their Senators’ offices and tell them the Senate should not ignore its ethics practices for the presidential nominees senators must judge.