- Mon, 01/09/2017 10:03 PM
To prepare their chosen nine cabinet picks, the Trump transition team is running them through mock murder-board sessions under pseudo camera-packed hearing room environment this weekend on the sixth floor of the team’s downtown DC headquarters to prepare them for the Senate grilling that may decide their fates. Anticipating the most consequential weeks for Trump’s transition, the team is preparing many of its politically inexperienced candidates in the same pseudo high-pressure environment to face all including hostile Democrats on a series of topics like the president-elect’s admiration of Vladimir Putin to the candidate's wealth and potential conflicts-of-interest. In this televised hearing, the candidates might face tricky and awkward questions meant to trip them up.
Few officials anonymously described preparations for the upcoming confirmation hearings as they did not wish to violate the transition team’s strict non-disclosure agreements. Completely dedicated to do everything to get these people through the process, despite the Democrats’ obstruction, they are holding numerous grueling sessions and asking candidates to keep the answers short. When asked about it, the incoming White House press secretary, Sean Spicer stated of enough practice to be confident of success.
Truly, the high-level transition staffers worked the weekend as late as 6:30 or 7:00 despite the wintry DC evening. Rick Dearborn, Trump's deputy chief of staff masterminded the entire prep. Many of Trump’s choices have spoken often on corporate boards but have never testified before Congress. Novice nominees can easily get trapped by their in-the-weeds questions about appropriations and obscure federal programs.
Thus the transition team groomed them on pet causes of key senators. For instance, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa may ask about home-state issues like ethanol. Since the team has a number of billionaires like Betsy DeVos for education, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury and Wilbur Ross for commerce; the team is even preparing them on quotidian transactions like the price of milk or a gallon of gas to get them fully prepared.
Trump’s pick of attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions will first face the Senate and would be heard by the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and was practicing the entire Sunday. The Judiciary Committee had sunk his nomination to be a federal judge 30 years ago amid allegations of racism. He is not taking any chances despite two decades in the Senate. For the past few weeks, some well-known African-Americans have been gathered to vouch for this Alabama Republican, including President Barrack Obama’s former Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Chuck Cooper, a former assistant attorney general in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department who is now a prominent Supreme Court litigator is also helping in the practice sessions.
Nominees like Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil who has zero political experience are receiving some well meaning advice and briefings from various team members like Erin Walsh, who used to work for Goldman Sachs. Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for CIA director met a small, tight-knit prep team, including Geof Kahn, a former CIA analyst and policy director for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His meeting is scheduled for Wednesday. DeVos, Tillerson, Sessions and Elaine Chao for transportation will also have a hearing the same day. Ross, Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development and retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for defense will face hearings the next day. Last week, all candidates held over 50 meetings with senators and their staffs and roughly 40 murder boards in preparation.
Transition officials feel the meetings and committee questionnaires from which they have extracted information and questions should be adequate preparation. The team had recruited dozens of public relations veterans and policy experts with experience for preparing the candidates though lobbyists have been barred from sitting at mock sessions. Most nominees may have one formal mock confirmation hearing though higher-profile nominees, like Tillerson and Mnuchin, will have multiple sessions.