New action item: No ethics review, no hearings

Though we are making progress with last week’s action item– pushing Collins toward full-throated oppposition of Obamacare repeal–and will certainly come back to it, a more immediate issue has come up where we can have a big impact in the next few days: confirmation hearings.

Though it is standard for the Senate to hold hearings for an incoming President’s cabinet nominees in early January so they can be confirmed immediately after the President is sworn in, it is NOT standard for nominees to have hearings without completing a full review by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to ensure that the nominee has addressed all potential conflicts of interest.

For his cabinet, Trump has nominated multimillionaires and billionaires with huge potential for conflicts of interest in their business dealings, and yet the Republicans seem intent to ram as many as possible through (in many cases simultaneous) hearings this week, though almost none have completed the required ethics review.

Mitch McConnell’s strategy appears to be to hold as many confirmation hearings in a single day as possible–the same day Trump has promised to give his much-anticipated press conference–so that the news media and the American public have trouble keeping up with them  all.  Holding hearings prior to completion of the ethics review serves a similar purpose: if questionable items come up, Senators won’t be able to ask about them in the hearing, so that they’re much less likely to get reported in the media or noticed by the American public.

Of course, McConnell had a very different opinion about how the process should go for Obama’s first cabinet, but what matters is that hearings prior to ethics review is completely unprecedented.

So what’s it all got to do with Sen. Collins?  As a member of the Senate HELP and Intelligence committees, she gets to participate in hearings for DeVos (Education), Puzder (Labor), Price (Health), Coats (Director of National Intelligence) and Pompeo (CIA).  The only ones of those currently scheduled seem to be DeVos and Pompeo, both scheduled for 10am on Wednesday 1/11 (how Sen. Collins intends to be in two places at once, I don’t know).  According to this article, DeVos, a billionaire who has made huge and questionable donations in the field of education, is much further behind in submitting documents than Pompeo, who is a current U. S. Representative, so DeVos is a riper target.

So our action item for the week is to ask Collins to oppose holding hearings on any cabinet nominee without a completed ethics review, starting with Wednesday’s scheduled hearing for Betsy DeVos.

There appears to be national momentum growing behind this cause, and we saw last week how effective constituent calls about maintaining congressional ethics standards can be.

So let’s do this!  State offices open at 8:30 am, and D.C. around 9…

UPDATE 11pm 1/9/17: Success!  Presumably due to receiving constituent complaints about this issue today, the hearings for DeVos have been delayed until 1/17!  Puzder’s hearing hasn’t been scheduled yet, so let’s shift focus onto him for day two!

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