5 things you may have missed at the confirmation hearings for Donald Trump's Cabinet

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Over the last two weeks, many of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees have been peppered with questions by U.S. senators seeking to vet potential members of the incoming administration.

Questioning during the confirmation hearings for these nominees — whom Trump said have the "highest IQ of any Cabinet ever assembled" — went on for hours. Many took place simultaneously, making it hard for the average citizen to watch and meaningfully absorb information from each one.

So, for your benefit, Mic has compiled the top moments — both substantive and silly — from the confirmation hearings held so far. 

Everyone seems to disagree with Trump, aka their future boss

Cabinet secretaries are de facto extensions of the presidents they serve, responsible for enforcing the commander-in-chief's agenda in their respective policy areas.

Yet Trump's Cabinet nominees disagreed with him on a number of key issues on which he focused during his campaign, including trade, foreign relations and the use of torture.

For example, Trump's nominee for defense secretary, James Mattis, disagreed with the president-elect for criticizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as his attempted reset with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.

Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, also clashed with Trump on a number of key policy areas, including relations with Russia, nuclear proliferation and a proposed ban on Muslim immigration, among others.

The disagreements were so pronounced that Trump took to Twitter to defend his picks, emphasizing his desire for them to "be themselves and express their own thoughts."

Protests galore

Trump's Cabinet nominees were interrupted early and often by protesters throughout their hearings.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, was greeted by numerous protesters incensed by his past remarks on race.

Meanwhile, Tillerson faced protesters angry about his oil-industry ties as CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil.

Scott Pruitt, Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, was met by environmental protesters concerned with his wishy-washy stance on the very existence of climate change.

Senators even began joking about the protesters' frequent presence.

"They obviously don't like rivers, but we do," Sen. Jim Inhofe quipped after being interrupted by a protester at Pruitt's hearing during a discussion about protecting the nation's rivers.

Sen. Al Franken emerges as a Democrat to watch

Heading into the spate of confirmation hearings for Trump's nominees, all eyes were on Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the liberal firebrands who were expected to lace into Trump's nominees, many of whom are the kind of billionaire bankers the lawmakers have spent their careers railing against.

Instead, it was Sen. Al Franken — two-term Minnesota Democrat and former Saturday Night Live writer — who stood out.

Franken's pointed line of policy questioning tripped up education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos on one of the biggest debates in education — proficiency vs. growth.

Source: YouTube

Franken also drew blood during the confirmation hearing for Rep. Tom Price, Trump's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. He pressed Price on questionable investments in health care stocks the nominee has previously made. 

When his line of questioning was cut off at Price's hearing — his time to ask questions had expired — Franken shot back with a biting response.

"The Benghazi hearing was 11 hours, that's all I'm saying," Franken said, referring to Republicans' 11-hour marathon hearing to interrogate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Franken also lightened the mood at certain hearings, cracking jokes and garnering laughter at the long and oftentimes dull events.

At Rick Perry's confirmation hearing to head the Department of Energy, one particular moment led to roaring laughter.

"Did you enjoy meeting me?" Franken jokingly asked Perry, referring to a chat the two had in Franken's Senate office prior to the hearing.

"I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch," Perry replied, later laughing when he realized how his comment could be misinterpreted.

Awkward moments

Then there were the Cabinet nominees who got caught having not doing their homework, none more ironically so than Trump's nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. 

DeVos had a number of uncomfortable viral moments.

First, there was her exchange with Franken on proficiency vs. growth, which DeVos appeared not to understand.

Then there was her answer on whether she supports guns in schools.

She said the presence of guns in schools should be up to the states, citing the need for guns in certain areas to protect students against grizzly bears.

Other nominees got caught in awkward moments, too. Ben Carson, Trump's pick to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, made an uncomfortable gaffe during a line of questioning from Warren.

When Warren inquired whether Carson would make sure Trump did not benefit financially from real estate deals negotiated by HUD, Carson flubbed his answer.

"It will not be my intention to do anything that will benefit any American," Carson said.

He quickly realized his mistake and clarified his intent: "It's for all Americans, anything that we do."

Tense exchanges between senators

Senators typically pride themselves on their decorum and respect for one another as colleagues. But things got tense at a hearing for Steve Mnuchin, Trump's pick for treasury secretary, when one senator offered another "a Valium pill" to help him calm down after a line of questioning.

"Senator Wyden, I've got a Valium pill here that you might want to take before the second round," Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts said to Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. "Just a suggestion, sir."

Wyden didn't seem to take offense at the offer; instead, it was Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, who shot back at Roberts' comment.

"I hope that that comment about Valium doesn't set the tone for 2017 in this committee," Brown said. "I like Senator Roberts, but I just can't quite believe that he would say that to a distinguished senator from Oregon."

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Emily C. Singer

Emily C. Singer, née Cahn, is a senior writer for Mic covering politics. She is based in New York and can be reached at esinger@mic.com

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