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Editorial: Presidents deserve to have the Cabinet they want, but only after necessary screening

The problem swirling around the confirmation process for Cabinet nominees of President-elect Donald Trump is, in many ways, the same one that plagues all of the federal government: it’s dysfunction on drugs.

Here’s an idea: Follow the rules. Get the necessary information, hold the hearings, then vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to fudge the rules and is demanding of Democrats what Republicans steadfastly refused to do for President Obama: swiftly approve presidential nominees. And there is little sign on the Democratic side that senators acknowledge what used to be a matter of common agreement: that except in unusual circumstances, a president should have the Cabinet that he wants.

The issue is the pace of Senate confirmation hearings, which began this week without having first completed the required background checks. McConnell on Sunday pitched Democratic complaints about the process as sour grapes over losing the White House and failing to retake the Senate.

Some Democrats may indeed feel that way, but McConnell is nonetheless evading a serious issue: Trump has nominated so many extraordinarily wealthy and politically connected people that background checks by the Office of Government Ethics and the FBI are taking longer than they otherwise might.

In that regard, the lack of information is a predictable consequence of Trump’s nominations, and the Republicans who control the Senate should acknowledge the harmful effect that has on their ability to meet their constitutional obligation to advise and consent.

That is not to say that the hearing process should drag on interminably. But senators need to know what issues may require exploration, and without full background checks, they may overlook matters that are relevant and important. In that regard, McConnell is failing to take the Senate’s obligation seriously.

In the end, Democrats have few options to change the process or, beyond rousing public opinion, to block any nominees they deem to be unqualified. That’s because in 2013, they eliminated the filibuster for Cabinet and judicial nominees, except for the Supreme Court. They did so, knowing that one day they might regret that vote, but having taken it, they now need to live with it.
And, in fact, presidents generally deserve to have the Cabinet they want. Elections have consequences and barring some disqualifying revelation, the makeup of the Cabinet is among them.

McConnell, it would seem, is maneuvering to lessen the possibility that any such revelation arises. It’s a mistake that can do no good for the Senate, the president or the country, but which could do harm to them all.

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