Cabinet confirmation hurdles spark debate

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," January 9, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: They're going great. Confirmation is going great. I think they will all pass. I think every nomination will be -- they are all at the highest level.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY: Papers are still coming in, and so I'm optimistic that we will be able to get up to seven nominees on day one.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Jamming these hearings into one or two days, making members run from committee to committee, makes no sense.

SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY: I want somebody who's not a kneejerk, gut reaction, let's drop bombs on everybody.

SEN. CORY BOOKER, D-N.J.: The American people have a right to know if they are going to be entering into these offices with conflicts of interest.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: It is a cornucopia of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill this week, as you take a look at the calendar. You have quite a few. Jeff Sessions, attorney general, General Kelly, homeland security, Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, Betsy DeVos, education, Mike Pompeo, CIA, Elaine Chao. This is just Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday you've got General Mattis, Wilbur Ross, and Ben Carson.

What about this and what lies ahead? Let's bring in our panel: William McGurn, mainstream columnist for The Wall Street Journal; Lisa Boothe, columnist with the Washington Examiner, and political analyst Eboni Williams. Great to see you all. Bill, what do you make of all this and what's lining up for us this week?

WILLIAM MCGURN, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Business as usual. Democrats are in the minority. Senator Schumer would like to make a show of it. I think what they are hoping for is that in the paperwork they might find some kind of financial problem or conflict that would force someone to withdraw, or during the hearing someone would misstate something. But I think Senator McConnell pointed out they confirm seven in President Obama's first day. No reason they can't do that here.

BAIER: But good strategy to throw them all together like this?

MCGURN: It's the way things are done. You're trying to get the team through pretty quickly. I think Senator McConnell says they will have the paperwork before the vote. So they will have the information. This is normal posturing.

BAIER: Eboni?

EBONI WILLIAMS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I agree with Charles Krauthammer earlier in the program who said full throttle opposition by the Democrats will be a mistake. I think they should be more targeted in their approach. I think their target, if I'm going to guess, it's going to be Senator Jeff Sessions. I think they are certainly going to make a loud argument that there are legitimate questions still looming around his fitness, particularly around civil rights issues. And look, if confirmed as attorney general, he will be running a civil rights department in this country. I think it's important that those questions are asked and people get some type of answer.

BAIER: The sub-context, there Eboni, is that he's a racist and you can't have him.

WILLIAMS: I think that's one argument. I want to be more precise personally and say when he was offered up for a confirmation for a federal bench seat 30 years ago, sure. But it happened. The determination was that there were racial insensitivity issues that were concerning that he was not confirmed. Here we are 30 years. I think Americans do want answers to those questions.

BAIER: And they are going to have some supporters speaking out. There's a campaign to obviously back up Senator Sessions with many of his friends.

I want to mention this. Senator Schumer sent this letter to Mitch McConnell, and it's a letter that Harry Reid received from Mitch McConnell, then Senate minority leader, in 2009. It essentially says, and he crossed out Harry Reid and put Mitch McConnell, Schumer did today, and sent it back to him. And it says "Before we go forward, let's have these things -- FBI background checks, ethics review, financial disclosure statements, Senate interviews." And Schumer making the point that all that stuff is not in yet.

LISA BOOTHE, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: As Bill pointed out, this is politics as usual, right. It is not rare to hold this many confirmation hearings in one day. And also, as Bill pointed out and as Senator Mitch McConnell has been saying is the fact that Republicans did join Democrats in nominating seven on the day that President Obama was inaugurated, five that week, as well, and 13 were done on voice vote without any recorded opposition.

And to Eboni's point, the reason why the Republicans are making it difficult for them is because by spreading them so thin with everything that is happening this week, whether it's President Obama's farewell speech tomorrow night, whether it's the fact that president-elect Trump is going to address the press on Wednesday by jamming through all these Republican nominees, it is smart tactically because he's making it very difficult for the Democratic Party to try to focus on as many as at least as they have alluded to, maybe making it so that they have to pinpoint a couple people they're going to focus on specifically. Tactically it's very smart.

BAIER: There are arcane rules in the Senate and one of them is that anybody can step up and say this is not working for me essentially. A lot of these committees have conflicts, in other words Senators on another committee that's holding a confirmation hearing at the same time. And they could say let's slow this thing down.

MCGURN: They could. The question is, do the Democrats who are already in the minority in the Senate, and they have a lot of seats coming up in two years, do they want to go down that road? I'm not sure a lot of them do. The other thing is, I agree with Eboni. I think Senator Sessions is the target. He's the guy away from the herd.

BAIER: More than Rex Tillerson?

MCGURN: They are going to ask questions, legitimate questions. But I think we also have to say it's not just questions. It's answers. There are some pretty good answers for Jeff Sessions. And I think the hope is sometimes that you just create the question mark around someone and you keep demonstrating that they redraw. My gosh, the Republicans confirmed Tim Geithner, and he owed back taxes.

BAIER: That said, there is always usually one who stumbles. Nobody thought in 2009 that Tom Daschle, former Senate majority leader, was not going to make it through. But for taxes about how he got from point A to point B, he didn't make it.

WILLIAMS: No. And it does happen, Bret. I can't imagine what the problems that he had for his judicial confirmation issue that Senator Sessions will not be thoroughly prepared to answer these. I'm not looking for a bloodbath. I'm looking for, like I said, an opportunity. If we want to go under the premise that there's going to be some that have a presumption of a race problem for Senator Sessions, I certainly think this will be an opportunity to clarify that. I know what the argument is against Jeff Sessions. I'm clear about. I'm looking forward to hearing the argument for him.

BAIER: Is there any other person who stands out as far as vulnerability that you think Democrats have in their crosshairs?

BOOTHE: Potentially Tillerson because the reality is this is all just noise from the Democratic Party because that's all they really can do at this point. Because of the rules changes Republicans just need a simple majority to move forward with their nominations.

BAIER: A Democrat move in 2013 by Harry Reid.

BOOTHE: Potentially if they are able to pick up some Republicans on Tillerson, that's where I guess Republicans have created the most noise at least in regards to his stance on Russia and questioning that stance. But I do think ultimately this is really just noise from the Democratic Party because that is all they are left with at this current moment.

WILLIAMS: They have 52 votes, the GOP does, going into these confirmation, the GOP I don't expect anyone not to be confirmed, I want to be clear, but again I do think these conversations can actually prove valuable.

BAIER: Here is Senator Bob Corker on the process. He actually spoke very eloquently.


BAIER: And apparently he is not available currently.


BAIER: He raised some concerns about a couple of these and needs to ask hard questions. The Republicans are saying, listen, we are going to ask the tough questions.

MCGURN: That's why you have hearings. You have hearings to ask questions. I think Mr. Tillerson is the most interesting because not being a politician, we don't really know what his views of Russia are. People assume he's pro-Putin because he did deals in Russia. I lived in Hong Kong for many years with people dealing with the Chinese. They were not necessarily pro-China because they felt shaken down. So it's a legitimate thing to find out what his view of Russia is, what is his view of our relations. And he doesn't have the track record, the political record that other people do.

BAIER: Apparently Senator Corker wants to weigh in. Here he is.



SEN. BOB CORKER, R-TENN.: I know much of the repeal piece is about making a political point. Much of the repeal piece is about drawing a line for people like me who care about our country's deficit. To do so by throwing $116 billion in a mud puddle to make a point is something that I hope we can overcome.


BAIER: So Senator Corker not talking about cabinet nominations.

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