This Could Be The Busiest And Most Consequential Week Before Trump Takes Office
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The week before Donald Trump takes the oath of office will set the stage for his entry into the Oval Office. Not only will at least nine of his Cabinet nominees begin their Senate confirmation hearings, but the president-elect himself will face reporters at a long-awaited press conference, where he may address how he plans to separate his business interests from his presidency.
On top of that, President Obama steps into the spotlight one last time, on Tuesday evening in Chicago, for a farewell address in which he's likely to frame his legacy.
In addition to the busy schedule, Trump has demonstrated in recent days his ability to upend what's happening in Washington or move the financial markets with a tweet — whether he's going off on intelligence agencies, deflecting claims against Russia, or taking aim at companies that could move the financial markets.
Here's a guide to what to watch for in this final week before Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. All times are Eastern.
Tuesday confirmation hearings: Sessions and Kelly
Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions is first up in the confirmation hearings for Trump's Cabinet picks, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Typically, there's a lot of deference shown toward sitting senators, and the Alabama senator is well-liked on Capitol Hill. But there will still be questions at his Judiciary Committee hearing about allegations that he once used racist language when he was a U.S. Attorney. Those allegations sank his hopes of a federal judgeship 30 years ago when he failed to win a Senate confirmation vote. Sessions has denied those allegations.
He'll also likely be asked about how he would handle civil rights cases, which have renewed scrutiny given the increased tensions between the police and many African-American communities in recent years. And he could also be pressed on whether he would prosecute Trump's former opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, over her time at the State Department and her use of a private email server. "Lock Her Up!" became a frequent chant on the campaign trail, but Trump has since abandoned that line and even admitted it was simply a campaign tactic.
Ret. Gen. John Kelly will also begin his confirmation hearing to lead the Department of Homeland Security at 3:30 p.m. Kelly is one of Trump's less controversial nominees, but he'll still face questions about Trump's vaunted border wall proposal and other plans to curtail illegal immigration.
On top of those confirmation hearings, the Senate Intelligence Committee has called a hearing for 1 p.m. on Tuesday where the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA and the director of national intelligence will testify on Russian cyber-attacks.
That evening at 9, Obama will give his farewell address from McCormick Place in Chicago, where he held his 2012 re-election victory party. With a Trump administration threatening to repeal or roll back some of the president's signature accomplishments, such as Obamacare and climate change regulations, it's a chance for him to defend his two terms. And while Obama has shown deference to Trump, whom he criticized as unequivocally unqualified and dangerous during the campaign, during the transition, he could still leave some words of rebuke or warning for his successor.
Wednesday confirmation hearings: Tillerson, Pompeo, DeVos and Chao
Four more confirmation hearings are slated for mid-week, but it's Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson who is the most controversial of the slate. Beginning at 9:15 a.m., the former Exxon Mobil CEO will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he'll be peppered with questions about his relationship with Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. And plenty of tough questions are likely to come from the GOP side. Former Trump antagonists such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the 2016 primary candidate, along with fellow Republicans like Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have raised plenty of questions about Tillerson's qualifications.
His business involvement in Russia has only been magnified in the wake of U.S. intelligence findings that Russia conspired to influence the election with hacks into emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. Trump has been reluctant to accept those findings.
Russia's role into those cyber-attacks will also come up at the confirmation hearing of Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump's choice to lead the CIA. He'll also face questions about Trump's pointed criticisms of the intelligence community and reports that the president-elect wants to scale back some agencies.
Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos won't sail through a hearing either. Democrats don't like her push for voucher programs and charter schools, and there's plenty of questions about her financial disclosures and potential conflicts of interest, too.
The least controversial nominee of the day — and perhaps of Trump's entire proposed Cabinet — is likely to be Elaine Chao, Trump's pick for transportation secretary. Not only has she been confirmed before, serving as labor secretary in the George W. Bush administration, but she's also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Sessions hearing before the Judiciary Committee will also continue on Wednesday with outside witnesses, including the head of the NAACP and a former attorney general, scheduled to testify.
Trump finally gives a press conference?
All of those consequential confirmation hearings could be overshadowed by Trump's press conference at 11 a.m. in New York City. The president-elect eschewed traditional rules throughout his unlikely campaign, and that continued into the transition by not holding the typical post-election press conferences. Trump had finally slated a press conference on December 15 to detail how he would deal with his business interests, but canceled just days before.
If the press conference on Wednesday stands, it will have been 167 days since his last press conference in late July — during which he encouraged Russia to try and find Clinton's missing State Department emails. Trump had often mocked Clinton for going months without holding a press conference, and now he's done the same thing.
Instead, Trump has taken to Twitter to try and influence the news agenda for the day and get his message directly out to the public, all while blasting the media. On Wednesday, he's sure to face questions about his businesses and conflicts of interests, his recent comments about Russia, his criticism of U.S intelligence, his Cabinet picks and more.
Thursday confirmation hearings: Mattis, Carson and Ross
Trump's pick for Defense Secretary, James "Mad Dog" Mattis, will be the main event near the end of the week at his confirmation hearing at 9:30 a.m. before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The retired Marine Corps general still has to get a waiver to even let him lead the department — current law bars former officers from serving as secretary until they've been retired seven years, and Mattis only left the military in 2013. Many Democrats like the waiver, saying it protects the ideal of a military under civilian control. It's only been approved once before, for Gen. George Marshall.
Mattis, however, is well-liked by both parties, and his opposition to torture is seen as a mainstream influence on Trump. Ultimately, he's likely to get the waiver and to be confirmed.
Ben Carson, Trump's pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will also have his confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. before the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. While the famed retired neurosurgeon is likable, the big complaint over Carson is that he has essentially no experience in issues with the department he's being tapped to lead. A top aide to Carson, who also ran for the GOP presidential nomination before withdrawing and endorsing Trump, had even said Carson wasn't interested in a Cabinet position because he didn't think he was qualified to lead a federal department.
Billionaire investor and turnaround specialist Wilbur Ross will have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation at 10 a.m. as well. Like Trump, he's taken positions against free trade and wants to re-negotiate current deals.