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Watchdog Group Releases New Report Highlighting Hypocrisy of Republican Senators Who Once Urged the Speedy Confirmation of Cabinet Members for National Security

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NBC News


WASHINGTON – Today, Accountable Senate War Room released a new report detailing the rank hypocrisy from Senate Republicans who slow-walked President-elect Biden’s national security nominees, now leaving him at risk of entering office without a single confirmed Cabinet secretary. The report focuses on comments from the current chairs of the Intelligence, Armed Services, and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees, who in 2017 advocated for a president’s right to his national security picks as quickly as possible, but failed to act on advancing President-elect Biden’s nominees until the last possible second.  

President-elect Biden will take office on January 20, a mere two days from today. Yet, under the leadership of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and enabled by committee chairs in the Senate, not a single confirmation hearing has taken place — including for crucial national security positions. This Trumped-up obstructionism is a dramatic breach of precedent, as Presidents Trump, Obama, and George W. Bush had their picks for national security positions confirmed and ready to hit the ground running on day one of their administrations. 
 
“To see the same Republican senators who clamored for the quick confirmation of Trump’s nominees slow walk President-elect Biden’s picks is the height of hypocrisy,” said Mairead Lynn, spokesperson for Accountable Senate War Room. “By abdicating their responsibility to ensure a smooth transition of power and a swift confirmation process for Biden’s national security picks, Senate Republicans have put our safety and the security of our nation at risk. It’s time for these Republican senators to end their partisanship and hypocrisy and step aside and let President-elect Biden’s experienced, crisis-tested team get to work.”

Below are some highlights from Accountable Senate War Room’s report:

Trump, Obama, and Bush received confirmation from the Senate on a number of defense positions during their first day in office:

  • The Senate Confirmed Two Crucial Trump Nominees, For Defense And For Homeland Security, Hours After Trump Was Sworn Into Office. “Just hours after President Trump was sworn into office, the Senate on Friday confirmed two nominees for critical national security positions, approving James N. Mattis as defense secretary and John F. Kelly as homeland security secretary.” [New York Times, 1/20/17]
  • On Obama’s First Day In Office, His Nominees For Homeland Security, Energy, Agriculture, Education, And Interior Were All Confirmed. “The Democratic-led U.S. Senate began confirming new President Barack Obama’s Cabinet on Tuesday, but it put off until Wednesday a vote on the designee for secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a single unanimous vote, the Senate confirmed Steven Chu as energy secretary, Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary, Arne Duncan as education secretary, Ken Salazar as interior secretary and Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security. It also approved Peter Orszag as head of the White House budget office.” [Reuters, 1/20/09]
    • President Obama’s First Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, Was A Holdover From The Bush Administration. “President-elect Barack Obama has decided to keep Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in his post, a show of bipartisan continuity in a time of war that will be the first time a Pentagon chief has been carried over from a president of a different party, Democrats close to the transition said Tuesday.” [New York Times, 11/26/08]
  • President George W. Bush’s Secretary Of State, Treasury Secretary, And Defense Secretary Were Confirmed Within Four Hours Of Bush’s Swearing In. “Following a brief flurry of activity on Saturday and the end of a 17-day Democratic takeover, the Senate goes to work this week in the unfamiliar posture of having a Republican majority in both chambers and in the White House.  […] But the narrow majority did not matter on Saturday, when the Senate swiftly confirmed by voice vote seven of President Bush’s Cabinet nominees. As planned, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld were confirmed within four hours of Bush’s swearing in.” [Congressional Quarterly, 1/21/00]

During the Trump era, Republican senators called for the president to have his Cabinet on “Day One,” saying it was in the national interest to keep Americans safe amidst international uncertainty:

  • Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) Justified His Vote For Rex Tillerson To Be Secretary Of State, Despite Concerns, As Grounded In Opposition To Unnecessary Delays That Were Against The “National Interest” In An Uncertain World. “U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement today announcing his support for Rex Tillerson as America’s next secretary of state: I believe the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet. […] I have no doubts about Mr. Tillerson’s qualifications and patriotism. […] However, his answers on a number of other important questions were troubling.  […] But in making my decision on his nomination, I must balance these concerns with his extensive experience and success in international commerce, and my belief that the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet. Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy. Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.” [Senator Marco Rubio – Press Release, 1/23/17]
  • Senator Rubio Said Mike Pompeo Was Nominated To Be Secretary Of State At A “Critical Juncture” For The Department And Hoped He Would Be “Confirmed Quickly.” “Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): ’I know Mike Pompeo well. He is an excellent choice. His experience as CIA Director, an Army officer, and a congressman, and his proven leadership on national security matters give him unique qualifications to lead the State Department at this critical juncture. I will enthusiastically support his nomination and am hopeful he can be confirmed quickly.’” [White House – Briefing Statement, 3/14/18]
  • Senator Johnson Said He Hoped UN Ambassador Nominee Nikki Haley Would Be “Swiftly Confirmed By The Senate” As The Country Needed Leadership “Now More Than Ever.” “Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said this Tuesday after voting in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to confirm Nikki Haley as the next United States ambassador to the United Nations: ‘Now more than ever our country needs a steady leader who will aggressively champion American interests and values at the United Nations.  I am confident that Governor Nikki Haley’s executive experience has fully prepared her to do just that, and I hope she will be swiftly confirmed by the Senate as the next United States ambassador to the United Nations.’” [Senator Ron Johnson – Press Release, 1/24/17]
  • Senator Portman Said He Voted To Confirm Rex Tillerson As Secretary Of State As President Trump “Needs A Secretary Of State At His Side” As He Began “Confronting The Many Threats To Our Security.” “U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced today that he intends to vote for the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State during a vote at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  He issued the following statement:  ‘After much deliberation, I plan to vote for Rex Tillerson to be our next Secretary of State. I have long argued that every president — no matter the party — should be given considerable leeway when it comes to putting together his or her team.  President Trump needs a Secretary of State at his side as he begins the task of restoring American leadership and confronting the many threats to our security around the world.” [Senator Rob Portman – Press Release, 1/23/17]
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Former President George W. Bush had his defense team confirmed within four hours of his swearing-in — and during his term, Republican senators defended the president’s claim to a Cabinet of his choosing:

  • Asked About A Controversial Bush Nominee, Then Senator-Orrin Hatch (R-UT) Referenced A 50-50 Split In The Senate, And Said The President Deserves To Have The People That He’s Nominated As Long As They’re Quality People.” “HUME: Senator, we’re almost out of time, but let ask you — give you a chance to make a quick response to something that your colleague, Democratic Senator Kerry of Massachusetts, has said this, day which is that in his view the nomination of John Ashcroft is divisive and comes from a man who promised to be a uniter and not a divider. What’s your reaction to that?  HATCH: Well, I don’t see anything divisive about it. Every senator there knows John Ashcroft is a man of integrity.  […] And to be honest with you, I think it’s time for us to get together as Democrats and Republicans. We’re 50-50. One of the most divisive things they could do is to Bork John Ashcroft, and I might add Linda Chavez or Gale Norton. They’re good people. And I’ll tell you, the president deserves to have the people that he’s nominated as long as they’re quality people, and all three of them are.” [Fox News – “Fox News Sunday,” 1/7/01]
  • Referencing News That George Tenet Would Continue In His Role As CIA Director, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) Objected, Saying Bush Should Choose Someone New To Have “His Own Person There.” “The current [CIA] director, George Tenet, would like to keep his job, according to CIA officials and lawmakers. ‘He enjoys the job, and I think he would be willing to continue serving, if asked for some period of time,’ said one intelligence official familiar with Tenet’s views.  […] On Thursday, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Bush should choose a new director of Central Intelligence so that he would have ‘his own person there.’” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 12/29/00]
  • Senator McConnell Joined Then-Senator Frist (R-TN) To Say They Looked Forward To Pushing The Nomination Of Defense Secretary Robert Gates During A Lame-Duck Session, With McConnell Expressing Optimism He Would Be Confirmed Before The End Of The Year. “Robert Gates, picked by President Bush to take over at the Pentagon, received initial endorsements from Republican and Democratic Senate leaders Friday after meeting with them on Capitol Hill. […] Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell said they looked forward to pushing through the confirmation in the lame-duck session. ‘We’re optimistic that Bob Gates will be confirmed before the first of the year,’ said McConnell, R-Ky., who will become minority leader next year.” [Associated Press, 11/18/06]

Watchdog group Accountable.US recently launched the Accountable Senate War Room to fight back against those lawmakers who seek to overturn the will of the people by standing in the way of the smooth transition of power and the swift approval of nominees to ensure that the government can function and deliver results for the American people.

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