For example, President Barack Obama’s nomination of Senator Tom Daschle to be secretary of health and human services was sunk by unpaid taxes on a limo service as well as consulting income. Particularly troubling was the source of the car and driver – a political supporter, which may have been one reason his nomination failed. Observers also raised questions about Daschle’s close ties to the health care industry that the department hoped to reform. Kathleen Sebelius joined Obama’s Cabinet instead.
Nevertheless, unpaid taxes didn’t stop Timothy Geithner from becoming secretary of treasury in 2009. His confirmation suggests the timing and scale of an ethical lapse could make or break Trump’s nominees.
Opportunities in the coming weeks
Focusing on nominees whose qualifications do not correspond to the job description is one potential strategy for opponents. For example, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and author, seems a poor fit for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But convincing Republicans to override their leader on this basis seems unlikely.
More often, conflicts of interest, past statements or lapses in judgment preclude confirmation. Nominees’ ethical records could be where they are most vulnerable. For example, Sen. Jeff Sessions, nominee to be attorney general, has come under attack from former colleagues and observers in the press for omissions in a questionnaire he submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Ethics has been salient in Trump’s call to “drain the swamp,” and the recent flap over Republican efforts to downgrade the Office of Congressional Ethics. Ethical lapses, therefore, could jeopardize Trump’s nominees in the coming weeks and months. Although the president-elect has faced criticism for past and potentially future conflicts of interest, the voters elected him despite these concerns.
It remains to be seen if the Senate will hold Cabinet nominees, who can’t claim a popular mandate, to a higher standard.
Sarah Snyder does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.