As President-elect Donald Trump continues to fill out his proposed Cabinet with political allies and former generals, Democrats on Capitol Hill sounded alarms Wednesday about several of his choices.
With questions swirling around the vague plans Republicans have offered for replacing the Affordable Care Act, much of the concern from Democrats has been aimed at Health and Human Services nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-GA).
“The new nominee for secretary of HHS wants to repeal Obamacare,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “Certainly it needs some changes but there are some good things in there.”
He warned that Republicans are leaving Americans “high and dry” if they do not put forth a replacement plan that preserves popular provisions like covering pre-existing conditions and keeping young adults on their parents’ insurance until they are 26.
Schumer also questioned Price’s stance on health care for seniors, saying he wants to “end Medicare as we know it” by privatizing elements of the popular program.
Schumer said some of Trump’s other choices are more promising, but he is reserving judgment until the Senate is able to hold hearings on them.
In particular, he said Trump’s newly announced pick of retired Gen. James Mattis for secretary of defense appears to be a wise choice. He described Mattis, who Trump often refers to by his nickname “Mad Dog,” as “a pretty qualified, strong general.”
“He comes very highly respected,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) said of Mattis, but he underscored the significance of deciding whether to waive rules that would prevent a recently retired general from taking charge of the Pentagon.
“This goes all the way back to George Washington,” he said of the principle of the military being led by a civilian.
“We need to have a very full discussion about that,” Peters said.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) agreed that Congress and the American people need to understand what changing the rules for Mattis would mean.
“It is critically important that we have good civilian oversight of our military,” she said.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) praised the pick of Mattis as "a bold move, a smart move" that will help restore global respect he believes the U.S. lost under President Obama.
“We’ve lost so much prestige in the world," he claimed. "They don’t fear us anymore. They don’t respect us. They'll fear the Trump regime with Gen. Mattis over there as secretary of defense, I assure you.”
Mattis is one of several former military leaders selected or under consideration by Trump for his Cabinet. The New York Times reported Wednesday that he intents to nominate retired Gen. John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security.
Nominees like Dr. Ben Carson, Trump’s choice for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will face tough questions about their qualifications and plans at confirmation hearings next month, but Democrats have not made any decisions on whether to oppose them yet.
“We’re all approaching this whole process with an open mind… We have to let the process play out,” Peters said.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL) said some of Trump’s selections so far are “concerning,” but he hopes the president-elect ultimately demonstrates a desire to represent all Americans in his Cabinet.
“I believe that President-elect trump has a real opportunity right now to try to unite this country, to bring folks together and not just do favors for folks who helped him out along the way,” he said.
He called his House colleague Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Trump’s designated CIA director, “a good man.”
“I think he means well for our country,” Murphy said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) expressed concern about retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s planned national security advisor, and his tendency to spread false stories and conspiracy theories online. The position is not subject to Senate confirmation, but the former Democratic vice presidential nominee made clear he is deeply troubled by Flynn embracing ridiculous lies about his running mate Hillary Clinton.
“Why is he either so gullible or so consumed with malice that he is spreading stories a fourth grader would know are inaccurate?” he said.