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Five Takeaways From the Week's Confirmation Hearings So Far

Six confirmation hearings have been held so far this week, some more contentious than others. Here are some of the main takeaways.
Image: Senate Confirmation Hearing Held For Rep. Tom Price To Become Health And Human Services Secretary
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 18: U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) testifies during his confirmation hearing January 17, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Price, a leading critic of the Affordable Care Act, is expected to face questions about his healthcare stock purchases before introducing legislation that would benefit the companies. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)Alex Wong / Getty Images

It's already been another big week for President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet nominees as six more nominees appeared before Senate committees.

Some have been more controversial than others. Commerce secretary nominee Wilbur Ross seemed to sail through his hearing as did Interior secretary nominee Rep. Ryan Zinke.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who is nominated to United Nations Ambassador, broke with Trump on a number of foreign policy issues. And the three most contentious hearings were for Health and Human Services Secretary, Education Secretary and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Two more hearings will take place on Thursday, for Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin and Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry.

After two weeks of hearings on the Trump nominees, the senate's Democratic Leader made his attempt to size up the group as a whole late Wednesday, calling it "a swamp cabinet full of bankers and billionaires." But, so far, none appear to be in immediate danger of being rejected by the GOP-controlled senate.

In case you couldn't catch them all, here are some of the main takeaways from the last two days of hearings:

Tom Price Under Fire for His Stocks

Democrats pounded Rep. Tom Price, nomine to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, who is expected to be a critical player in the overhaul of the current health care system put in place under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, eager to see Price and his views on health care defeated, pounded him over his financial activity pertaining to the health industry when he was legislating health related legislation.

Price was forced to defend himself for several financial transactions. He told inquiring Democrats that it was his broker who bought stock of a health care company unbeknownst to him one week before he introduced legislation that would benefit the company of the stock.

But Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., noted that Price never sold the stock.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., picked up the line of questioning, noting that Price’s broker doesn’t operate a blind trust and buys stocks at the discretion of his client.

“That’s not true,” Price insisted.

But in another round of questions, Price told Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., that it was his decision to buy the stock of Innate Immunotherapeutics, a health care company where his colleague, Rep. Chris Collins, sits on the board, after he "studied it for a period of time."

“If you're telling me he gave you information about a company, you were offered shares in the company at prices not available to the public... you bought those shares, is that not a stock tip?” Murray said.

Price Under Fire on Health Care

Price was pushed repeatedly by Democrats on his ideas to replace the ACA, also known as Obamacare. They also grilled him about his commitment to ensure that people receive health care.

But Price refused to say that universal coverage was central to his plan but that “access” to health care was the goal. Price echoed House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans who say that lowering cost for health care is the priority. But he splits with incoming president Donald Trump who said he wants “insurance for everyone.”

When pressed by Sen. Sanders on coverage, Price responded, saying, “We are a compassionate society.”

At that point, Sanders interrupted and said, “No, we are not a compassionate society.”

Betsy DeVos Struggled

Disdain for the Department of Education is common among Republicans. And while Trump hasn't spoken much about education during the campaign, the person he chose to lead the federal education system is no proponent of public schools and she was unable to answer basic questions about education policy.

In her confirmation hearing Tuesday, Betsy DeVos, the billionaire Republican donor tapped to be Education secretary, said that guns should not be banned in schools. She said that it should be up to the states but that children might need to be protected from grizzly bears, but the charter school proponent said that she’d support the defunding of public education.

She was unable to answer a question from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., on which side of the argument she supported: schools should be measured by students’ growth year-to-year or students’ proficiency of their current grade level. It’s a long-standing debate that is central to the education community.

In addition, DeVos admitted that her family has given $200 million worth of campaign contributions to Republican political candidates.

Pruitt is no friend of the EPA

Pruitt, who doesn't like the agency he's tapped to run, the Environmental Protection Agency, is going to be a tough sell for many Democrats.

Protesters interrupted the confirmation for of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has been a vocal critic of the EPA and is a skeptic that humans contribute to climate change.

The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, said that his record is “troubling, and in some cases, deeply troubling.”

Carper added: “ever since you’ve been attorney general you’ve been trying to get rid of the EPA that’s why we have the protests.”

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., noted the high rates of asthma for children in Oklahoma, which has greatly expanded fracking. Pruitt said that he can’t bring a lawsuit unless there’s “injury to the state.”

“Injury? Clearly asthma is caused by industry,” Booker said, referring to the fossil fuel industry.

When asked about climate change, Pruitt said that humans are responsible “in some manner.”

“In some manner?” Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, asked in disbelief.

Nikki Haley Succinctly Splits From Trump on Three Issues

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, appointed to be ambassador to the United Nations, had a relatively easy confirmation hearing but did expose some differences between her positions and those of the president-elect.

In response to questions by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, Haley gave direct, succinct answers, creating distance with Trump in three areas.

On Russia, where Trump has defended Russia, she said: “I don't think that we can trust them. I think that we have to make sure that we try and see what we can get from them before we give to them.” And she added regarding sanctions, which Trump has said he'd consider lifting: "I think that Russia has to have positive actions before we lift any sanctions on Russia."

Cardin raised the issue of the Philippines, where he said President Duterte of Philippines "has sanctioned extra-judicial killings." He asked if those actions "violate basic human rights?" Haley responded, "It does, yes." Trump has in the past voiced approval of how Duterte is handling the issue of drugs in that country.
And Haley when asked if there was "any justification" for a registry on a group of Americans, such as the Muslim registry Trump talked about during his campaign, Haley flatly said, "no, there is not."