Trump’s secretary of state pick headed for Senate approval

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state is headed toward Senate confirmation after several Democrats crossed party lines to back the former Exxon Mobil CEO.

The vote on Tillerson, scheduled for Wednesday, comes as tension continues to build among congressional Republicans and Democrats over Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared the order a litmus test for Trump’s remaining Cabinet choices. Any that refuse to publicly reject the “horrible” new policy should be opposed, the New York Democrat said.

But the Democrats just don’t have the numbers to block Tillerson from becoming the nation’s chief diplomat. Republicans hold a four-seat advantage in the Senate and during a procedural vote Monday on the nomination, three Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia — cast their ballots for Tillerson. They’re unlikely to change their minds.

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also supported Tillerson. The nomination needs only a simple majority to be confirmed.

The opening days of the Trump administration have seen little of the honeymoon period new presidents usually experience. The chief battleground has been Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking refugees worldwide and anyone from seven Muslim-majority nations.

With liberal groups pressing them to fight Trump, Democrats used delaying tactics on Trump nominees on Tuesday. It’s one of their limited weapons as the congressional minority to hamper the GOP.

Several other votes are planned Wednesday to get Trump nominees approved by committees, clearing them for confirmation in the full Senate.

Republicans said they would try anew to push two Trump nominees through the Senate Finance Committee, a day after Democrats said both men had lied to Congress about their financial background and blocked those votes.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is Trump’s pick for health secretary, a post that would place him at the lead of Republican efforts to erase former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Democrats cited a newspaper report that officials of an Australian biomed company said Price received a special offer to buy their stock at reduced prices, despite Price’s congressional testimony that the offer was available to all investors.

Democrats said a bank run by wealthy financier Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s designee for treasury secretary, used a process for handling home foreclosures that critics have associated with fraud.

Both men and congressional Republicans said they’d done nothing wrong.

A vote also is planned in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s state attorney general whom Trump chose to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

In his current position, Pruitt has frequently sued the agency he hopes to lead, including a multistate lawsuit opposing the Obama administration’s plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Like Trump, Pruitt has previously cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats in his Senate confirmation hearing in January, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.

“I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.

Trump’s pick to head the White House Budget Office, tea party Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., faces a vote by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs panel, though veteran Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona — a critic of Mulvaney’s previous stands on Pentagon spending — has yet to commit his support.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.

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Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rplardner

 

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