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Confirmation Hearings Highlight Potential Pitfalls for Trump

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Congressional Majority In Question As Election Nears
The Senate side of the US Capitol is shown October 11, 2016 in Washington D.C. House and Senate Republicans are in a close race with Democrats to keep control of both houses of Congress.Mark Wilson / Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

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Confirmation hearings highlight potential pitfalls for Trump

As the first confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks begin today, it’s more likely than not that his nominees sail through the Senate. In fact, the last time the Senate rejected a cabinet pick for an incoming president was back in 1989. Still, some of these hearings could feature some potential pitfalls on difficult subjects for Trump.

  • Race: The first confirmation hearing starts at 9:30 am ET, and it’s for Attorney General pick Jeff Sessions, the GOP senator from Alabama. In the 1980s, Sessions was blocked from becoming a federal judge after a former deputy accused him of making racially insensitive comments. And Democrats critics say that past is problematic for someone set to oversee the enforcement of civil-rights protections in the country. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) will testify against Sessions, while Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) -- the Senate’s sole African-American Republican -- is backing him.
  • Wall Street: Liberals are already attacking Treasury pick Steven Mnuchin for his ties to Wall Street and for allegedly making millions after his bank foreclosed on homeowners. This is a particularly vulnerable issue for Trump -- given how he cast himself as a populist crusader during the presidential season.
  • Russia: Secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson’s ties to Vladimir Putin will be front and center during his confirmation hearing, which begins tomorrow, especially due to how Trump has responded to the Russia hacking story.
  • Competence and qualification for the job: Some of Trump’s cabinet picks -- such as Defense pick James Mattis or Homeland Security choice John Kelly -- have sterling credentials. But others, like Housing and Urban Development pick Ben Carson, have no prior experience for the department/agency they’ve been tasked to lead.

How will Democrats play their hand?

Here’s the reality for Senate Democrats: They can’t try to kill all of these nominees, especially since Republicans control the chamber. So they are going to have to pick and choose which fights to have, which nominees to make bleed, and which ones to highlight particular contradictions with Trump.And as for Sessions, it’s likely that the liberal base will want more fireworks than Dem senators are willing to set off -- given that he’s a fellow Senate colleague. According to Sessions' prepared remarks, per NBC's Peter Alexander, the senator will say he understands "the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African-American brothers and sisters."

This week’s confirmation hearings

Here is the upcoming schedule for Senate confirmation hearings:

  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions -- Jan. 10-11
  • Homeland Security: John Kelly -- Jan. 10-11
  • State: Rex Tillerson -- Jan 11 (may go into Jan 12)
  • Transportation : Elaine Chao -- Jan. 11
  • CIA: Mike Pompeo -- Jan. 12
  • Labor: Andrew Puzder -- Jan. 12
  • Defense: James Mattis -- Jan. 12
  • HUD: Ben Carson -- Jan. 12

Republicans hit a roadblock in repealing Obamacare?

As Republicans are finding out, being in the opposition is easy, while governing is much harder. The Washington Post: “Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to ease growing concerns among GOP lawmakers about rushing to repeal the federal health-care law before plans for a replacement take firmer shape, addressing complications to the effort to deliver on one of the party’s signature campaign promises. In the Senate, where Republicans are using a budget package to move swiftly ahead with repeal, leaders are looking at ways to adjust their plans to address the skittishness that GOP senators have voiced in recent days... One proposal, released Monday, would buy the GOP more time to come up with a plan by giving lawmakers until March 3 to write the final repeal bill, rather than the Jan. 27 deadline in the legislation. The amendment was introduced by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Several of them have been outspoken about their reluctance to pursue repealing the law without having put forth plans for a replacement measure.”

Obama delivers farewell address from Chicago

At 9:00 pm ET from Chicago, President Barack Obama will deliver his farewell address. “Now an elder statesman, Barack Obama is returning to Chicago where he launched his unlikely political career to tell Americans not to lose faith in their future, no matter what they think about their next president,” the AP writes. “Obama's final speech as president, before thousands who will gather at McCormick Place, is his last chance to try to define what his presidency meant for America. It's a fitting bookend to what he started eight years ago. It was in Chicago in 2008 that the nation's first black president declared victory, and where over the years he tried to cultivate his brand of optimism in American politics.”

Then vs. Now: A statistical look at Obama’s presidency

The “then” figure is the best-available number for when Obama first took office in 2009. And the “now” is the most recent figure.