January 18, 2017

Udall Questions Trump Nominees Haley, Ross on Climate Change, Ethics During Two Hearings Today

Expresses concern at lack of full answers, rushed questioning for other key Trump nominees

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall questioned S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, President-elect Trump's nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Commerce Secretary-nominee, banker and investor Wilbur Ross during their confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations and Commerce committees, respectively. Udall asked questions of Haley and Ross about how Trump's statements on climate change and unwillingness to fully divest from his business could affect the United States at home and on the world stage. The hearings were two of several hearings for key cabinet nominees that Republican leaders scheduled simultaneously.

Afterward, Udall noted that Haley and Ross didn't fully answer his questions. And he agreed with Senate Democrats, who have expressed concern that confirmation hearings are being rushed and - in some cases - that nominees are being shielded from answering tough questions. For example, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee limited the time and length of questions for Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos during her hearing Tuesday evening, and rejected Democrats' request to delay today's hearing for Health and Human Services Secretary-nominee Tom Price so ethics charges against him could be vetted.

"President-elect Trump was elected on the promise that he would 'drain the swamp' of special interests - and then he went on to nominate the wealthiest cabinet in memory, including people who have run or are connected to major national campaign organizations and U.S. and international lobbying efforts. President-elect Trump himself has rejected calls for him to avoid constitutional conflicts by divesting from his company, and he has failed to release his tax returns - something every president has done for the past 40 years. So it's very disturbing that Republican senators are rushing hearings and cutting off questioning - and that nominees are not fully answering questions from senators," Udall said. "The American people deserve full transparency about whether the people running the government have conflicts of interest - and where they stand on the issues."

Haley confirmation hearing

This morning during her confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Commtitee, Udall pressed Haley about her position on climate change in light of Trump's promise to "cancel" the Paris climate agreement and withdraw any funding for United Nations global warming programs. Trump has repeatedly called climate change a "hoax."

Udall said: "Last September, the world passed a milestone in carbon emissions reaching 400 parts per million; 2016 was also the hottest year on record in terms of our climate. We are moving closer to a more unstable climate future, a future that could threaten my home state of New Mexico with heat waves and dangerous droughts, and your state with increased coastal flooding and perilous storms. And that threatens stability I think across the globe. We've talked about climate refugees.... Do you agree that the United States ... must maintain its leadership in the Paris Agreement in order to ensure that countries abide by their climate obligations?"

Haley responded: "I think that the climate change situation should always be on the table, should always be one of the issues that we look at. But I do think that when we look at the Paris Agreement, we should acknowledge what we do believe is right. But we don't want to do it at the peril of our industries and our businesses along the way. ... We don't ever want to do it to interfere with our economy."

Udall asked again: "You're not one to say you are going to tear up the Paris Agreement? The United States, which has helped to bring all these countries together - and for the first time in a generation we have countries together - you're not going to walk away from that? Are you committed to staying a part of the Paris Agreement and work toward climate change objectives and goals?"

Haley again failed to fully answer, saying: "Climate change will always be on the table for me."

Ross confirmation hearing

Shortly afterward, at Ross' confirmation hearing before the Commerce Committee, Udall asked how Ross will approach trade negotiations, given the various conflicts of interest that will be created by Trump's refusal to fully divest from his financial holdings. "The President-elect and his family have a wide variety of assets around the world that other countries could seek to use as leverage with the U.S. in negotiations," Udall said, noting that Ross had committed to divesting his own assets if confirmed as Secretary of Commerce.

Udall asked Ross if it would make his job negotiating international trade issues easier "if the President-elect did as you are doing, and divested his financial holdings, to avoid any complications?"

Ross responded that "the rules are different as they apply to the president."

Udall followed up: "The Trump Organization is all over the world, and this could raise some real conflicts for you in terms of doing your job," and asked Ross if he would commit to notifying the committee in the event that "another country offers incentives or threatens consequences to Trump family or Trump Organization assets" in the course of Ross' international trade negotiations and efforts to promote exports.

Ross again avoided answering directly.