President-elect Donald Trump’s top surrogates on Sunday were hammered with a barrage of questions about the individuals who have already been tapped—or may be in the near future—to lead key posts in the Trump administration.
On Friday, Trump announced his intention to nominate Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. Civil rights groups raised eyebrows over the pick almost immediately, accusing Sessions of opposing equal rights for Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans and LGBT individuals. Sessions’ nomination to be a federal judge in 1986 was derailed over allegations that he made racially insensitive remarks to his colleagues. Sessions has denied that he made those statements.
Democrats have vowed to fight Sessions’ nomination, and on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer promised “tough vetting” of the Alabama senator.
“You want to make sure that they are qualified, that they will do the right thing,” Schumer said. “I think you have to be really careful, and particularly in a new administration with an untested president.”
Democrats have raised concerns that the Justice Department’s civil rights division—which, under Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, has investigated numerous police departments around the country over allegations of systemic racism—would essentially be gutted.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Trump’s soon-to-be chief of staff, attempted to assuage those concerns during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“This is an honorable, decent, good human being that we’re talking about,” Priebus said of Sessions. “I can assure you that if there’s wrongdoing out there, whether it’s on the streets or whether it’s in the police department, no matter where it is, Sen. Jeff Sessions is going to find it and bring justice to whoever justice needs to be brought to.”
Priebus was also confronted over Trump’s choice to be his national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Flynn has said in the past that “fear of Muslims is rational,” and described Islam as a “cancer.”
“Look, I think in some cases there are radical members of that religion that need to be dealt with, but certainly we make it clear that that’s not a blanket statement for everyone,” Priebus said. “And that’s how we’re going to lead.”
He also said the Trump administration will not employ a religious test for entering the country, even though Trump himself once proposed a ban on Muslims.
Democrats haven’t been the only ones sounding the alarm bells about potential cabinet secretaries in the next administration. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian, made clear that he would not support two individuals currently being floated for the position of secretary of state: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
Paul said a top reason for his support of Trump over Hillary Clinton was the president-elect’s acknowledgement that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that the U.S. should not force regime changes. Now, Paul is pleading for consistency.
“The problem with both Bolton and Giuliani is they’re unrepentant in their support for the Iraq war. They haven’t learned any of the lessons,” Paul said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
“Bolton might be better as a secretary of war. But he’s certainly not a diplomat or someone who acts in a diplomatic way or thinks that diplomacy might be an alternative to war.”
Trump’s transition team is expected to announce more cabinet nominations in the coming days and weeks. Trump is also rumored to be considering 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney—with whom Trump met on Saturday—and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker for secretary of state.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the Romney rumor is a “total head fake” and a public relations move by the Trump team—even though he would “love” for Romney, a “consummate diplomat,” to lead the State Department.
“I think this is Donald Trump still being the entertainer, still running a show where he wants to build suspense. He alone knows who the contestants are, and who will be the winner,” Schiff said on “State of the Union.” “And I think it’s more of a nod to give the appearance of bringing people together, but I’ll be very surprised if he picks Mitt Romney.”
Paul also indicated that he would aggressively question Rep. Mike Pompeo, who was tapped to be the next CIA director, over his support for torture and the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs—two items that Paul has made a name for himself in opposing.
After Louisiana’s Senate runoff election in December, the GOP will likely control 52 seats in the Senate—meaning that without the support of Paul and a few other Republicans, any Trump nominee could be doomed.