Donald Trump is embarking on the most crucial week of his transition into the presidency — and, as usual, he’s at the epicenter of multiple controversies.
Several of the President-elect’s most prominent Cabinet picks will appear on Capitol Hill this week for confirmation hearings that could be brutal. Trump will also hold his first formal news conference since the summer on Wednesday to address potential conflicts of interest that could surround his presidency.
President Barack Obama will move closer to exiting the stage when he delivers a farewell address Tuesday night from Chicago. Though the inauguration is less than two weeks away, the swirl of events means Trump’s presidency effectively begins this week.
And as Washington moves closer to a historic transfer of power, Trump is in another pop culture feud — this time with Meryl Streep after the actress offered a thinly veiled critique of the President-elect during Sunday night’s Golden Globes.
The session with reporters in New York will be his first as President-elect and the first formal new conference he has held since July. As well as ethics, Trump’s refusal to accept the assessment of US spy agencies that Russia was to blame for a cyber hacking operation against Democratic servers during the election will also dominate the event.
On Capitol Hill, Trump’s nominees are steeling for a flurry of confirmation hearings that will give Democrats an opportunity to pose pointed questions about ethics, Russia policy and other contentious issues surrounding the new administration.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick to become attorney general, is facing accusations of suppressing civil rights as an Alabama official. He appears before a panel of his colleagues Tuesday. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson, who has been named to serve as secretary of state, will face his Senate grilling Wednesday. That hearing will likely focus on his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his positions on other key issues, such as global warming.
The President-elect appeared before reporters at Trump Tower Monday and several times dodged questions about the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia tried to interfere with the election. But he predicted smooth sailing for all of his Cabinet nominees.
“Confirmation is going great,” Trump said. “I think they’ll all pass. …They’re all at the highest level.”
The timing of Trump’s news conference, which will saturate media coverage, could serve to overshadow the multiple hearings scheduled for Wednesday and mute the political impact of any missteps by Trump nominees.
Still, Trump’s picks are taking no chances.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told CNN’s “New Day” Monday the transition had conducted “70 hours so far of mock hearings, 2,600 questions fielded by our nominees and our designates, and we’ve met with 87 US senators including 37 Democrats, and we’d like to meet with the remaining Democrats.”
The confirmation hearings will be shadowed by a growing controversy over claims by Democrats and the director of the federal Office of Government Ethics that the transition is rushing the confirmation process in a way that prevents a comprehensive screening of nominees.
But Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who serves on Trump’s transition team, on Monday complained that bureaucratic foot dragging — not the reluctance of Trump nominees to provide background information — was to blame.
“Lots of times in D.C., we’ll say maybe these guys need to realize they’re going to have to work more than 40 hours in a week in order to get the job done and to meet a time schedule,” Blackburn said on “New Day.”
Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer blamed Democrats for any delays.
“Everyone who has a hearing this week has their paperwork in. Full stop,” Spicer told reporters.
Trump vs. Streep
The President-elect opened the week of political theatrics in typical fashion — with a Twitter storm taking on Streep. Trump tweeted that the Hollywood star was a “Hillary flunky who lost big” and denied her accusation, featured prominently in the presidential campaign and supported by video evidence, that he ridiculed a disabled New York Times reporter.
“I never ‘mocked’ a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him … ‘groveling’ when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!” Trump wrote in consecutive tweets.
The exchange between Streep and Trump seemed to underscore the country’s deepening culture wars. Trump has shown no desire to rein in his social media tirades during the transition, and has characteristically hit back every time he perceives a slight is delivered against him. His habit could revolutionize the way the President communicates with the American people.
While Trump and the nomination hearings will take center stage, GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare, despite the apparent lack of a plan to replace it, are gathering pace, especially in the House of Representatives.
Democrats, however, emboldened by a visit from Obama to Capitol Hill last week, appear unlikely to offer the GOP any help on the issue. They’re betting that Trump will take the blame if the system set up by the Affordable Care Act spins into meltdown.
There were also reminders early on Monday of the restive world that Trump is inheriting, that in some cases appears to be reacting to his vow to ditch the conventions that have underpinned US foreign policy for decades.
China’s Global Times newspaper, which often reflects the views of the communist leadership warned that Beijing would be prepared to sever ties with Washington if Trump dumps the so-called One China policy governing ties with Taiwan.
“We would like to see whether US voters will support their president to ruin Sino-US relations and destabilize the entire Asia-Pacific region,” the paper wrote.
North Korea, meanwhile, gave notice that it could test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at any time — previewing what could be the first foreign policy crisis of the Trump presidency.