Ahead of hearings, Cory Booker calls for more disclosure from Trump Cabinet picks

Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) criticized Senate Republicans for working to push through President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees without full vetting on ethics issues, calling the process “astounding.”

“We have a tradition in this country -- we literally have a law, Ethics in Government Act -- that puts specific requirements on transparency that are not being supported by [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell right now,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “This is not a Republican or Democrat thing. This is about national security and knowing the conflicts of people that are going to have to deal with other countries and negotiate with them.”

Booker’s comments come in response to the Office of Government Ethics expressing concern about the confirmation timeline, saying in a letter to Democratic senators that several of Mr. Trump’s nominees still have not been fully vetted. He said it’s a bit of a double standard for McConnell to be less concerned about the ethics requirements in 2017 than he was in 2009, when the president nominating Cabinet secretaries was a Democrat.

“People forget that when you say something, it doesn’t disappear,” Booker said. “Just in 2009, Mitch McConnell was a person saying, ‘Hey, we should get all the ethics information in before we do the hearings.’”

The difference between Mr. Obama’s nominees in 2009 and Mr. Trump’s this year, Booker added, is that Mr. Trump’s have “vast holdings” and potential conflicts of interest that make those ethics laws especially relevant.

“These people that Donald Trump has put up as his appointments to his cabinet are not like President Obama’s people,” he said. “These are people who are billionaires and have vast holdings, vast wealth.  And the American people have a right to know if they’re going to be entering into those offices with conflicts of interest.

Booker called the process “frustrating,” but said he and other Senate Democrats will keep pushing for more disclosure from the nominees.

“We’re going to continue to push,” he said. … “This has got to be one of those cases that we don’t put a billionaire in a place who has financial interests in other countries who could really undermine what’s best for this country.

Booker, who met with secretary of state nominee and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson last week, said he is concerned about Tillerson’s ties to and attitude toward Russia.

“It goes to, number one, the transparency of his business relationships in Russia. And we want to make sure we get to the bottom of that,” he said. “But, again, this is an adversary that we want to know that he’s going to be able to represent the United States of America and our interests and not be compromised by his relationship.”

Still, he added that he was encouraged by the nominee’s comments on climate change and said he hoped to hear more from him on that publicly.

“Climate change is real, and the science of climate change is real,” he said. “It-- it was nice to hear him address that, and I think he should address that in a public forum.”

And as Republicans strategize about how to dismantle and replace the Affordable Care Act, Booker strongly called for them to figure out an alternative before repealing the health care law and leaving Americans without insurance.

“This is akin to shoving someone off a cliff and as they’re falling down saying, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to figure this out before you get to the bottom,’” Booker said. “And so my plan is very simple. And I think my fellow Democrats agree with me. ...  If they have a plan, put up your plan. Show the American people.”

  • Emily Schultheis

    Emily Schultheis is a reporter/editor for CBS News Digital.