The following editorial appeared in The Seattle Times on Friday, Jan. 20:
The U.S. Senate should not rush to confirm President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees. The fast pace leaders have set for the approval process is troubling because it takes time to gather all the needed information before deciding if the nominees are qualified to run large, complex federal agencies.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee met Tuesday to consider the nomination of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos without all the information the senators need to ask the right questions and make an informed decision.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., rightly raised the issue of DeVos’ missing ethics report from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. Even if DeVos, who has no previous education administration experience, was eminently qualified to run the U.S. Department of Education, the lack of information about her financial life and potential conflicts of interest would make a prudent decision nearly impossible.
Of course, Murray and other senators asked good questions that gave the committee and the American public a better idea of how DeVos would do the job. But when they asked for additional time to question the nominee, committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he was trying to keep the process fair, allowing the same amount of time for questions that were allotted for President Obama’s nominees for education secretary.
But, as Murray pointed out, the process does not actually reflect the committee’s approach to previous confirmation hearings. When President Obama picked someone for his cabinet, senators insisted on waiting until the ethics paperwork had been vetted and a report produced by the Office of Government Ethics before a nominee sat before a committee for questioning.
Affluence should not prohibit people from serving their country, but it does complicate their vetting — DeVos’ family worth is estimated by Forbes magazine at $5.2 billion. Every nominee should expect his or her financial dealings to be closely scrutinized by government officials to make sure they can avoid conflicts of interest while serving the nation.
During the hearing, DeVos said she would cooperate entirely with the ethics vetting process. Alexander should have waited for the report from the Office of Government Ethics before scheduling the hearing and should invite DeVos to appear again so senators can discuss the office’s findings and for suitability to run the agency.