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Senate committees approve HUD, commerce, transportation picks

By Allen Cone
Senate committees approve HUD, commerce, transportation picks
Ben Carson testifies during his Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing to be HUD secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on January 12. The committee on Tuesday sent him nomination to the full Senate. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Senate committees approved three of Donald Trump's Cabinet selections Tuesday -- Housing and Urban Development, transportation, and commerce but delayed a vote on the pick for attorney general.

The approvals move to the full Senate where a simple majority is needed for confirmation. With the Republicans controlling the Senate with 52 votes, that means every Democrat can reject a nomination and it would still pass. And Democrats cannot filibuster with the nominations.

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Two nominations were first confirmed Friday -- a pair of 66-year-old former generals: James Mattis as defense secretary and John F. Kelly as secretary of homeland security. On Monday, the Senate confirmed U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, 53, of Kansas, as CIA director.

Ben Carson (C) hugs his granddaughter, Tesora, before testifying during his Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee confirmation hearing to be HUD secretary in the Trump administration, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on January 12. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sits to Carson's right. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
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Housing

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee approved Dr. Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and former Republican candidate for president. The senators questioned him for one-and-a-half hours.

Carson, 65, said there was a connection between housing issues and health issues, which made him qualified to lead HUD.

The agency manages a $1.6 trillion mortgage portfolio and oversees the majority of the United States' affordable housing programs. It also plays a role in education, transportation and community redevelopment.

"I will manage things in a way that benefits the American people," Carson said in response to a question from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, whether Trump's businesses, particularly real estate, could benefit from HUD decisions.

Billionaire businessman and former banker Wilbur Ross, nominated to be Commerce secretary, makes remarks during Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearings, on Capitol Hill, January 18, in Washington, DC. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI

Commerce

The Senate Commerce Committee approved billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross. He was interviewed for four hours for his views on trade, corporate taxes and infrastructure.

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Ross, 79, served as as an economic adviser to Trump during the campaign and made a fortune rehabilitating U.S. steel companies.

RELATED Watch live: Tom Price's second confirmation hearing for HHS

Ross said the North American Free Trade Agreement must be "dealt with."

"I am not anti-trade. I am pro-trade," he said. "But I am pro-sensible trade, not pro-trade that is to the disadvantage of the American worker and the American manufacturing community."

Elaine Chao testifies during her transportation secretary confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on January 11. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Transportation

The Senate Commerce Committee approved Elaine Chao, who was the only Trump appointee to have worked at the Cabinet level. She went through the hearing without contentious questioning.

Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, served as deputy secretary of transportation from 1989-91 under President George H.W. Bush and then as labor secretary for President George W. Bush's entire eight years in office.

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"The Department of Transportation has a key role to play in modernizing our transportation systems, strengthening our country's competitiveness, and improving our quality of life," Chao, 63, said in her opening statement.

Trump has proposed spending $1 trillion to upgrade roads, ports, bridges, public transportation and other transit systems.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., raises his right hand to be sworn in prior to testifying during Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings to be the next U.S. attorney general, on Capitol Hill, January 10. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI

Attorney general

The Judiciary Committee has delayed a vote on Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

"As we have done for most nominees...I'm asking that the vote for Senator Sessions be held over until next week," Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee said Tuesday.

The committee was scheduled to vote Tuesday. Under committee rules, any legislator can ask that a nomination be held over for a week if it's on the agenda for the first time. Feinstein said senators and staff need more time to review nearly 190 pages of response to questions returned Sunday by Sessions. 70.

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He has been questioned about his past views on racial matters.

"Sen. Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job, to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens," Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said during the hearing. "In fact, at numerous times in his career he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions."

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