Here are the top ten such questions, all of which occurred during the hearings for attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo, and secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson.
1. “Given that you did not disclose a number of those awards,” Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal asked Sessions, “are there any other awards from groups that have similar kinds of ideological negative views of immigrants or of African-Americans or Muslims or others, including awards that you may have received from the Ku Klux Klan?”
2. “During our meeting you expressed support for a carbon tax as one preferred measure to address issues of climate change,” New Mexico senator Tom Udall said to Tillerson. “Will you continue to work with the Congress on this complex issue, and to make this a priority in the State Department if you are confirmed?” Tillerson quickly responded, “When it gets to tax policy, that’s going to be the responsibility of other agencies to conduct.”
3. California senator Kamala Harris questioned Pompeo about his personal stance on gay rights. “Your voting record and stated position on gay marriage and the importance of having a traditional family structure for raising children is pretty clear,” Harris said. “Can you commit to me that your personal views on this issue will remain your personal views and will not impact internal policies that you put in place at the CIA?”
4. “In the past, you have questioned the scientific consensus on climate change,” Harris said to Pompeo, citing research statistics from NASA. “Do you have any reason to doubt NASA’s findings?” Pompeo quickly responded, “As the director of CIA, I would prefer today to not get into the details of climate debate and science.”
5. “The next attorney general must bring hope and healing to this country,” New Jersey senator Cory Booker said in his testimony against Sessions. “This demands a more courageous empathy than his record demonstrates.” Rather than ask the nominee questions, Booker chose to give an impassioned speech about the attorney general’s role in healing the country. The attorney general’s job is not to heal the country or “bring hope”; it’s to uphold the rule of law.
6. “Please give us those assurances that you will guarantee that the state department will be the leader as it has been in advancing a climate agenda for our country,” Massachusetts senator Ed Markey said to Tillerson. Tillerson is nominated to head the state department, not the Environmental Protection Agency.
7. “I’m asking you whether those allegations about ExxonMobil’s knowledge of climate science and decision to fund and promote a view contrary to its awareness of science whether those allegations are true or false,” Virginia senator Tim Kaine said to Tillerson while asking about ExxonMobil’s climate-change positions rather than what Tillerson would do as secretary of state. When Tillerson refused to answer, Kaine asked, “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question or are you refusing to answer my question?” “A little of both,” Tillerson retorted.
8. New Hampshire senator Jeanne Shaheen asked Tillerson, “In your view, is it helpful to suggest that as Americans we should be afraid of Muslims?”
Shaheen also asked two out-of-context questions relating to women’s issues:
9. “Will you pledge to continue to prioritize quality family planning and reproductive health services for women worldwide and ensure that resources and access to these programs are not conflated with support for abortion?”
10. “Can I ask whether you agree that we should continue that initiative, to empower women, and what steps you would take to ensure that the state department and USAID continue to fund necessary programs to address global women’s issues?” Shaheen followed up with Tillerson.
When most, if not all, of Trump’s cabinet nominees are confirmed by the Senate, Democratic senators will be quick to blame Republicans. Maybe they should have asked more relevant questions.