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Democrats Take Nomination Battles to the Public

Democrats are engineering a multi-faceted campaign to oppose more than half a dozen of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees
Image: Senate Minority Leader-elect Sen. Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader-elect Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., leaves a closed-door Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 16, 2016.Andrew Harnik / AP, file

Democrats are mounting a multi-faceted campaign to oppose more than half a dozen of President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees, hoping to influence public opinion even though their ability to actually block a nominee is minimal.

Those efforts come at the beginning of a big week for Trump's nominees -- nine of his cabinet picks requiring Senate confirmation will testify in front of Senate committees -- and are being guided by Senate Democrats, allied liberal groups and the Democratic National Committee.

It's an opportunity to question some nominees’ conflicts of interest and potential ethics questions as well as use the hearings as an opportunity to question Trump’s positions even if they lack the votes to stop any of them from being confirmed.

The DNC is launching a new app Monday that will help to activate the grassroots against Trump and his nominees. Throughout the hearings, the app will send real time alerts to mobilize users to contact their member of Congress. It will provide the phone numbers of users’ members of Congress and fresh scripts of what to say.

“Americans oppose the Trump agenda -- nearly 3 million more people voted against than for it -- and we're seeing tremendous enthusiasm from grassroots supporters across the country who want to hold Republicans accountable. The campaigns we're launching today are the first of many to come," said Tessa Simonds, digital director of the DNC.

They've also set up three "war rooms" to address the most controversial of the nominees, including Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson and secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos.

Democrats have also been calling on Republicans to postpone the hearings, citing delays in the completion of financial ethics reviews and the refusal of nominees to submit tax returns - even though it's required for only some positions.

Related: For New Presidents, Contentious Cabinet Votes Have Been Rare but Nasty

The head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, sent a letter to Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer this weekend saying it is “cause for alarm” for the Senate to conducts hearings before they are done reviewing financial and ethics information on the nominees.

“I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process,” Shaub wrote.

This letter reinforced Schumer’s and other Democrats’ calls to postpone some hearings.

Democrats are interested in wealthy Republican donor DeVos' financial stakes, Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder's finances, Tillerson's full tax returns and more information on Health and Human Services secretary nominee Rep. Top Price's trading of health industry stocks.

“Rather than ensuring that nominees are thoroughly vetted and will remove themselves from conflicts of interests, Senate Republicans are trying to ram them through as quickly as possible,” Schumer said in a statement.

But Democrats have no real power to hold up the confirmation process. Becoming a theme in this Congress where they are outnumbered in the House and the Senate and with a Republican president, they are doing what they can to delay. They are in the minority and can’t hold up hearings and they can do little on the Senate floor, too, because Democrats voted in 2013 to remove the filibuster from most presidential nominees, enabling a simple majority of 51 senators for confirmation.

Republicans are not entertaining Democrats’ demands, saying hearings will go on as scheduled.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that all of the nominees’ paperwork would be completed by the time there is a vote before the full Senate – the step after the committee approves a nominee.

Related: Donald Trump's Cabinet Picks So Far

“All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “I understand that. But we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that.”

McConnell points to the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominees. Obama had seven nominees confirmed by his first full day in office.

Here is a list of the confirmations hearings scheduled so far for this week:

January 10

Attorney General -- Sen. Jeff Session, R-Alabama: He is a colleague of the senators who will vote on his confirmation but his conservative positions on immigration, LGBTQ issues and voting rights could complicate his confirmation hearings.

Homeland Security Secretary -- retired Marine Corp General John Kelly: Kelly will be questioned about Trump's proposed Muslim ban and border wall with Mexico.

January 11

Secretary of State -- ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson: Tillerson's ties to Russia will be a hot topic and Democrats want his complete tax returns.

CIA Director -- Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas: Will be asked about Trump's views on the intelligence community.

Education Secretary -- Betsy DeVos, businesswoman: She has failed to pay fines for violating campaign finance law and Democrats want a complete accounting of the billionaire's financial activity. (Update: The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions has delayed this hearing and rescheduled it for Jan. 17).

Transportation Secretary -- Elaine Chao, former Secretary of Labor: Will be instrumental in Trump's $1 trillion infrastructure plan and as a past member of President George W. Bush's cabinet is unlikely to draw much real opposition.

January 12

Housing and Urban Development Secretary -- Ben Carson, surgeon: The former Republican presidential candidate was an early supporter of Trump after his own bid failed but he has no experience managing a large organization.

Defense Secretary -- retired Marine Corp General James Mattis: Well-liked and will likely be easily confirmed.

Commerce Secretary -- investor Wilbur Ross: The billionaire has no public service record and vast financial holdings.

This story originally said Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder's confirmation hearing was tentatively scheduled for Thursday. It has been postponed until next week.

Frank Thorp V and Andrew Rafferty contributed.