Tensions flare in Senate over Trump Cabinet picks

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By Barnini Chakraborty  –FoxNews.com

Congressional tensions over President Trump’s Cabinet picks – and his executive order on immigration – flared Tuesday as Democrats boycotted committee meetings on two major nominees and clashed with Republicans over the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to lead the Justice Department.

In early-morning action, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nominations of Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for Interior secretary and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for Energy secretary. The full Senate will still have to vote on the nominees.

But drama was unfolding elsewhere on Capitol Hill.

Democrats refused to participate in a Senate Finance Committee meeting Tuesday on the nominations of GOP Georgia Rep. Tom Price to be Health secretary and financier Steve Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department, apparently resulting in the postponement of the vote.

Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he planned to reschedule the votes but did not say when. He said Democrats “ought to stop posturing and acting like idiots.”

Meanwhile, senators were clashing during a protracted meeting considering the nomination of Jeff Sessions for attorney general.

Sessions, a conservative senator from Alabama, was an early backer of Trump. During his confirmation hearing he was dogged by allegations of racism – something he strongly denies.

But his nomination was further complicated by the fallout from Trump’s controversial executive order suspending the U.S. refugee program and restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.  

On Monday night, Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration, when she defiantly refused to defend Trump’s controversial immigration order. Trump said Yates had betrayed the administration by not carrying out the order and replaced her with Dana Boente, a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Boente announced he would rescind Yates’ policy – effective immediately.

Monday’s firing and escalating tension over Trump’s executive order made Tuesday’s vote on Sessions particularly contentious. 

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, took Sessions to task and tried to tie him to the controversial order and the Trump administration, as she announced her opposition.

“Not one order, idea or pronouncement is meant to bring this country together, they only serve to drive us further apart,” Feinstein said. “It is in this context we are being asked to consider this nomination.”

Feinstein also praised Yates and said standing up to Trump “took a steel spine.”

“That is what an attorney general must be willing to do,” she said before adding she has “no confidence” Sessions would be able to stand up to the president.

Sessions has denied he was involved in helping draft Trump’s immigration order.

“Neither I, nor any of my current staff, had such a role,” he said.

Two “Code Pink” protesters wearing pink shirts and in their 70s were dragged out of the hearing room after voicing their opposition to Sessions. 

A separate Senate committee is also expected to take up the nomination of Betsy DeVos to head up Education.

All the candidates had strong Republican support going into the committee votes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

 

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