Sen. Jeff Sessions speaks on Capitol Hill.

Susan Walsh | AP Photo

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As coffee lines stack up around Capitol Hill, staffers and senators are preparing for a hairy and potentially chaotic first run of confirmation hearings for the incoming Trump administration.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. A complete congressional cluster

If you were hoping for a paced confirmation process, tough — these things are packed in tight.

On Wednesday alone there will be four hearings in various Senate committees, which means overlapping coverage, buried stories, and a cyclone of information certain to take up more than the available oxygen in the average news cycle. Additionally, the Senate is also currently planning to gather for a marathon voting session known as ‘vote-o-rama’ sometime during the full-court nomination press.

Though Senate leadership is expected to shuttle the picks through the process, be ready for a never-ending list of partisan attempts to smear and spin President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed Cabinet into oblivion.

2. The attempted borking of Sen. Jeff Sessions

Most sparks are expected to fly over Sen. Sessions’, R-Ala. (C 78%) nomination for attorney general. Since the announcement of the pick came just weeks after the election, the left-wing smear machine has been operating in full force to paint the junior senator from Alabama as some sort of unrepentant racist, despite a professional history as an attorney who fought the KKK, pushed desegregation, and – as Senator – fought to give Rosa Parks the Congressional Gold Medal.

Furthermore, a source with direct knowledge of the situation tipped off Conservative Review over the weekend that Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa (D, 66%) is expected to cave to Democrat demands and allow a special panel on civil rights during the proceedings. That is a move that would function as little more than a bully pulpit from which to bash Sessions’ character.

And while, it would appear that no such panel has been OK’ed as such at the time of this writing, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. (F, 22%) and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. (F, 14%), are scheduled to testify against Sessions, the latter on Sessions’ opposition to a criminal justice reform bill which CR has covered extensively. This will make Booker the first sitting senator in U.S. history to testify against one of his colleagues during a Cabinet post confirmation. Expect some really hammy grandstanding.

3. Going inside the mind of Rex Tillerson

This might be the most interesting storyline of the hearings, simply because the nominee’s views on foreign policy are still a mystery to many.

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson would be the first secretary of state to enter the office with no prior military or government experience, while his past as an executive at the Boy Scouts of America and ExxonMobil have raised concerns among some social conservatives about how he would handle related areas of the job. Expect a long day of open-ended questions on this one.

4. School choice on trial

Here’s another witch-hunt that stands a chance to get drowned out in the racket. Betsy DeVos’ hearing is scheduled before the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

DeVos has been a long-time advocate and activist for school choice, which has landed her in the crosshairs of anyone who’s ever accepted a check from a teacher’s union. Expect committee Democrats to go after the nomination with all the zeal seen in any case where there’s a threat to the government’s near-monopoly on K-12 education.

And while Republicans probably won’t press her too hard at all, some have cited DeVos’ previous (now renounced) support of Common Core standards as a reason for caution.

5. Officers on deck

As pointed out at Business Insider, three of the Marine generals Trump is expected to have advising him in key defense positions served in the same historic unit during the Iraq War. Two of them will have hearings this week.

The defense secretary hearing for retired Gen. James Mattis, easily the most quotable Marine in the history of the Corps, is scheduled for Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The hearing for retired general John Kelly, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was confirmed by the Senate in July 2015.

6. This is only the beginning

Some of the most contentious hearings may be this week, but there are several, according to CNN, which have yet to be scheduled. Furthermore, Senate Democrats have threatened to drag out the process for months, if possible. So, we might be at this for a while.

7. Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

Yes, that is an intentional George Jones reference. All the nominations are expected to be confirmed, even if the process drags, which means that several seats are going to open, requiring special elections or appointments to fill them.

If all of Trump’s picks are confirmed, there will be vacancies in key seats in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Montana, and South Carolina.



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Nate Madden is a Staff Writer for Conservative Review, focusing on religious freedom, jihadism, and the judiciary. He previously served as the Director of Policy Relations for the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. A Publius Fellow, John Jay Fellow, Citadel Parliamentary Fellow and National Journalism Center alumnus, Nate’s writing has previously appeared in several religious and news publications. Follow him @NateMaddenCR and on Facebook.

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