All U.S. presidents have the right to appoint members of their cabinets, and they should be able to do so without partisan harassment and preconceived notions. But congressional oversight is also part of the process, and regardless of which party holds sway, the nominees of one president should be treated the same as those of his predecessors.
In theory, most Americans would agree. But theory has been turned on its head during this election cycle, and some of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters are saying outright that his nominees shouldn’t be subjected to the same scrutiny as those of Barack Obama or George Bush.
One of the officials operating on a revolving set of standards is U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. When recently asked by a reporter whether Trump should be required to disclose income from foreign sources — the same information demanded in 2013 for Obama Secretary of Defense pick Chuck Hagel — Inhofe said no. Asked whether the difference in opinion is “because it’s Trump,” Inhofe said, “That’s just right.” Those who err on the side of justice for all might keep hoping Inhofe will at least pretend to curb his hyper-partisan ways, but his long history inside the Beltway suggests that’s not going to happen.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the presidential nomination last year, in 2013 led the charge for “full and complete answers” from Hagel to the question of whether he had “received compensation, directly or indirectly, from foreign sources.” Inhofe was a signatory of the letter, and Cruz was absolutely right to make this demand. Congress rightly ran all Obama nominees through the wringer. One might suggest racism is at the root of the stark change in attitude, had not the same been done for Bush’s picks.
Why are so many eager to avoid taking too close a look at Trump’s nominees? If these folks have no potential conflicts or skeletons in their closet and they appear qualified, Trump and his supporters will be justified in calling foul if they’re not approved. But claiming Trump nominees should be given a pass suggests Inhofe and others like him are either afraid of the president-elect, or they hope to benefit personally from those in his lineup. Whatever the case, the attitude doesn’t bode well for the country.
Inhofe’s press secretary tried later to walk back what her boss said, but it’s still out there, so it’s a good thing a few others on the selection panel are willing to do their jobs. And in a subsequent interview with NPR, Inhofe did acknowledge Russia is an adversary rather than a friend, but in his mind, Trump’s business connection with Russia — and those of others among his nominees — could mean a more productive and safer relationship between the two countries. He may be right, but that’s presupposing neither Trump nor any of his nominees are more intent on personal gain than improving America’s economy and security. There’s no way we can get a handle on the nominees’ thinking without investigation, and that’s why everyone charged with grilling the Cabinet appointments must do so with zeal.
On NPR, Inhofe expressed a wistfulness for the days of the Cold War, when “we had two super powers... with mutually assured destruction.” He believes the U.S. is in more danger of full-scale war than we have been in many years. If he’s right, Congress can’t afford to put party over country, and neither can the rest of us. We need experienced, nuanced people running the show, and that’s why the vetting process is so important.