Rex Tillerson's disclosure that he stands to receive a $180 million cash payout from Exxon Mobil Corp. if he becomes the next U.S. secretary of state offers a preview of the thorny ethical questions that may be raised this week over a presidential Cabinet stacked with wealthy tycoons. And with confirmation hearings scheduled for Tillerson and eight other appointees of President-elect Donald Trump, the head of the federal office that helps ensure compliance with conflict-of-interest rules told lawmakers his agency is hard-pressed by too much work and too little time. Tillerson ironed out an agreement with the State Department under which Exxon would pay the cash into an independent trust for him, a move designed to separate his financial interests from the oil company that he led as chairman and chief executive officer until he stepped down Jan. 1. Some compensation specialists question whether Exxon departed from its official compensation policies to extend its former leader a special arrangement; the company says it hasn't. Regardless, Tillerson's ethics filing last week foreshadows the complexity that will attend a busy week of hearings.
Donald Trump's team has a message for Senate Democrats threatening to slow-walk their nominees: Give the president-elect's Cabinet picks the same treatment extended to President Obama's. Top transition officials, along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are citing a potential double standard as some Democratic lawmakers seek a delay in advance of a packed schedule of confirmation hearings. Eight years ago, the Senate confirmed seven Cabinet-level nominees the day of Obama's inauguration, including top picks like Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security secretary. Hillary Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state the following day. Trump allies are optimistic Trump will get a comparable number confirmed from the outset, but are warning Democrats they'll suffer politically if they throw the brakes on the process.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday warned of the dangers of authoritarian populism and offered a thinly veiled critique of Donald Trump's prolific use of Twitter, saying it allowed the president-elect to avoid accountability. In his most pointed public comments about Trump since the Nov. 8 presidential election, Kerry also suggested that the president-elect's Cabinet nominees were getting a free pass from Congress for failing to submit tax returns and other documentation before their Senate confirmation hearings. "Every country in the world better … start worrying about authoritarian populism and the absence of substance in our dialogue," Kerry told a Washington forum. "If policies are going to be made in 140 characters on Twitter, and every reasonable measurement of accountability is being bypassed, and people don't care about it, we have a problem," Kerry said. As an example of the absence of substance in the political debate, he said climate change was given short shrift during the campaign between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, meets with Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017. Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson meets with Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the committee that will conduct Tillerson's confirmation hearing, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson meets with Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the committee that will conduct Tillerson's confirmation hearing, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
WASHINGTON – Top Senate Democrats are trying to put the brakes on President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks, insisting on extensive financial information on some of the wealthiest Americans before moving forward on nominations. Frustrated by the slow response of billionaires and multimillionaires to their request, 16 Democrats delivered an ultimatum Thursday, saying no committee should vote on a nominee until the individual has cleared an FBI background check, provided a financial report and an ethics agreement with the Office of Government Ethics, and responded to "reasonable requests for additional information" such as tax returns. "The United States Senate has a rich, bipartisan tradition of vetting nominees to the president's Cabinet," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the incoming Democratic leader. "We hope to continue that tradition with our colleagues in the Republican majority because the American people are entitled to a fair and open consideration process for all executive nominations." Republicans controlling the Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, want to make quick work of Cabinet confirmations once Trump takes office on Jan. 20.