Trump Sends Controversial Nominees Back to Senate Despite Concerns Over Qualifications

(The Washington Post) -

President Donald Trump has re-upped a slew of controversial picks for administration and judicial posts whose nominations languished in the Senate last year amid questions about their qualifications and the political baggage they would bring to the job.

A list of 75 nominees sent to the Senate this week for reconsideration includes K.T. McFarland for U.S. ambassador to Singapore, despite scrutiny by congressional investigators as part of their probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Others include a nominee who would be the first politician to lead NASA, a pick to lead the Council on Environmental Quality who has cast doubt on climate change, a choice to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission who has drawn opposition from consumer groups, and two judicial nominees rated “unqualified” by the American Bar Association.

“They’ve renominated a lot of folks who aren’t going to be confirmed,” said Jim Manley, a lobbyist and longtime aide to former Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D). “Instead of finding more qualified candidates, they’re doubling down and trying to roll the Senate.”

Republicans argue that Trump’s nominees have faced unwarranted resistance from Senate Democrats, whom they accuse of trying to run out the clock on many of the president’s picks, and say that most remain worthy of consideration. Trump himself has repeatedly complained about Senate Democrats, calling them “good at obstruction.”

Under Senate rules, a single member can object to a nomination being carried over into the new year. About 150 Trump nominees drew no objections in December, but an unusually large number – nearly 90 – were sent back to the White House at the end of the year.

All but 14 of those have been renominated by Trump. Most of those nominees had previously announced their plans to withdraw or had been voted down by a Senate committee, including three picks for the federal judiciary and Scott Garrett, Trump’s choice to lead the Export-Import Bank. He had voted to eliminate the agency as a member of Congress.

Others who publicly exited include Sam Clovis, Trump’s nominee to the chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture.

Clovis, who has no experience in the hard sciences, withdrew his name from consideration in November amid revelations that he was among top officials on the Trump campaign who were aware of efforts by foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to broker a relationship between the campaign and Russian officials.

Controversial Trump nominees face a narrower path in the Senate this year. With the arrival of Democrat Doug Jones from Alabama, the GOP now holds just 51 seats.

A Republican consultant with close ties to the White House said one reason Trump has renominated even some of his more controversial picks is a sense of loyalty.

“Most of these are being held up by Democrats,” said the consultant, who requested anonymity to speak more candidly. “If some of them are being slow-walked, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be abandoned.”

Among the more high-profile re-nominations is that of McFarland, a former deputy national security adviser and close ally of Michael Flynn, Trump’s ousted national security adviser who is now cooperating with the special counsel in the Rusisia probe.

McFarland’s first nomination in May stalled amid concerns about her knowledge of contacts between Russian operatives and Trump campaign officials.

McFarland, a former Fox News commentator, testified in July that she was “not aware of any of the issues or events” related to Flynn’s contact with Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States. But emails obtained by The New York Times in December showed that McFarland was aware of a key exchange between Flynn and Kislyak.