Trump nominees should grill senators at confirmation hearings

There is only one plausible explanation for President Barack Obama's 11th-hour provocations of Israel and Russia: He is laying the groundwork with Senate Democrats to poison the confirmation well for Trump cabinet nominees. President-elect Donald Trump should take the opportunity thus afforded to drive more nails into the Senate Democratic coffin.

Democratic politicians are still smarting over the beating they took on Election Day. Their first opportunity to repair the damage will come this week, when the Senate begins confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump's cabinet nominees. Senate Democrats and President Obama surely appreciate these hearings for what they are: a genuine shot at redemption.


Among the first Trump nominees to face a Senate committee will be Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. Because the secretary of state position is in the presidential succession, the secretary typically is confirmed by the Senate on the same day as the new president's inauguration, and hearings are therefore held while the lame duck president is still in office. Other hearings scheduled this week focus on Mr. Trump's picks for attorney general, CIA director and secretaries of defense, homeland security, commerce, education, transportation, and housing and urban development.

Does President Obama really care about a two-state solution in Israel? Has he genuinely had it with Vladimir Putin? Don't bet on it. More likely, and transparently, the president is working hard in the days left to him in office to provoke crises and provide ammunition to Senate Democrats preparing to rake Mr. Tillerson and other Trump nominees over the coals. In 2014, President Obama was willing to trade Ukrainian lives and territory for Russian support on the Iran deal. The same president might see a U.N. Security Council resolution hurting Israel as a small price to pay for hurting Donald Trump in the Senate. And therein lies an important opportunity for the Trump team.


Mr. Tillerson will face nearly the same Senate Foreign Relations Committee roster which, in the Congress just ending, shamelessly jettisoned its own constitutional equities on treaty matters and handed President Obama his Iran deal. Democrats on the committee, led by none other than Maryland's Ben Cardin, ought to be held accountable for what they did, or in Mr. Cardin's case, what they did not do to stop Iran's nuclear program. If there is a nominee who is well-equipped to call them out, it is Mr. Tillerson.

In fact, few serving U.S. senators are as accomplished as Mr. Tillerson or the rest of the Trump cabinet lineup. Conventional wisdom says nominees should approach the Senate reverently, on their knees, like penitents approaching the Basilica at Fatima. They must be deferential and nod gravely in the presence of senators who can barely construct a coherent sentence. But the candidate who threw away the campaign handbook should now consider throwing away the Senate confirmation handbook.

Over the last several weeks, Barack Obama has been working hard to set the stage for a serious Trump-Senate confrontation over cabinet nominees. Messrs. Netanyahu and Putin are bit players. The grand prize for Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats is not solving the Palestine Arab question or cyber-containment of Vladimir Putin. It is political containment of Donald Trump.

Given what they will face in the Senate, Trump nominees should be ready for a fight. In fact, they should consider turning the tables on President Obama and Senate Democrats who are now preparing to burn them at the stake. The American people will support the president's nominees, and if the Senate balks on Trump nominations, there are workarounds to give our new president the cabinet he wants.

At this time, the most important venue for the future of our nation is not the Gaza Strip or the nest of vacationing Russian spies in Queen Anne's County. It is the U.S. Senate, and Trump nominees should come out swinging.

Richard J .Douglas ( was a U.S. Senate lawyer for five years. He ran for the Senate in Maryland in 2012 and 2016.