Trump Inches Closer to Sweep on Cabinet Confirmations

McCain, Graham clear a path for Tillerson; McConnell bullish on all nominees

Despite earlier skepticism, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced Sunday that after “careful consideration” they would support the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be the next secretary of state.

During Tillerson’s confirmation hearings with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month, McCain, Graham, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took turns grilling the former CEO of ExxonMobil about his ties to the Russian government. Although Rubio has not yet indicated whether he will support Tillerson’s nomination during the committee’s upcoming vote Monday, McCain and Graham issued a joint statement, tweeted their decisions, and appeared on Sunday morning talk shows to express their approval.

 “The views that Mr. Tillerson has expressed, both privately and publicly during the confirmation process, give us confidence that he will be a champion for a strong and engaged role for America in the world.”

“After careful consideration, and much discussion with Mr. Tillerson, we have decided to support his nomination to be secretary of state,” McCain and Graham confirmed in their joint statement. “Though we still have concerns about his past dealings with the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin, we believe that Mr. Tillerson can be an effective advocate for U.S. interests.”

The Senate Democrats, who have been opposing Tillerson’s nomination vehemently since President Donald Trump selected him, now will most likely not have the votes necessary to block Tillerson. With just 48 Democrats in the Senate, McCain’s, Graham’s, and Rubio’s refusals all were likely needed to block Trump’s nominee.

On ABC News’ “This Week,” McCain explained further how he came to his decision after engaging in “numerous” conversations with Tillerson.

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“He talked to me a lot about his views with Russia, a lot about the events that have taken place, about … what his duties were as a head of one of the world’s largest corporations,” McCain said of Tillerson. “Listen, this wasn’t an easy call, but I also believe that when there’s doubt, the incoming president gets the benefit of doubt, and that’s the way I’ve treated every president that I have had the obligation to vote for or against as a member of the United States Senate.”

In their statement, McCain and Graham said they have “confidence” that Tillerson will prove to be “a champion for a strong and engaged role for America in the world.”

“Now more than ever, with America’s friends growing more discouraged and our enemies growing more emboldened, we need a secretary of state who recognizes that our nation cannot succeed in the world by itself. We must strengthen our alliances and partnerships across the globe, and marshal them to defend our shared vision of world order,” the statement read. “The views that Mr. Tillerson has expressed, both privately and publicly during the confirmation process, give us confidence that he will be a champion for a strong and engaged role for America in the world.”

Tillerson, along with attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Department of Health and Human Services secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, and Environmental Protection Agency head nominee Scott Priutt have generated the most sustained, aggressive opposition from Democrats.

Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted the Senate ultimately would confirm all of Trump’s Cabinet nominees. The Senate already confirmed two nominees Friday: Gen. James Mattis as the new secretary of defense and Gen. John Kelly as secretary of homeland security.

“I believe we’ll be able to confirm the president’s entire Cabinet,” the McConnell, whose wife Elaine Chao is Trump’s nominee for nominee for the secretary of transportation position, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s great enthusiasm.”

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McConnell also took the opportunity to lambast Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for leading his fellow Democrats in stalling the confirmation process.

Schumer defended the Democrats’ tactics in a dueling Sunday show appearance.

“Now will we win some of these fights? Possibly. That’s why we have a debate,” Schumer said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

McConnell said Schumer and his caucus are refusing to offer Trump the same respect the GOP offered to President Obama on nominees in 2009.

“What’s been unfortunate is that all I asked of my colleague Sen. Schumer was to treat President Trump the same we treated President Obama,” McConnell said, noting that the Democrats delayed CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo’s confirmation vote until Monday for “some inexplicable reason.”

“I’m optimistic we’ll get every member of the Cabinet,” McConnell added. “I’m confident we will, yes.”

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