Flood the zone with headlines so no bad news breaks through: Trump's week ahead strategy

What to watch for in this week's confirmation hearings...
What to watch for in this week's confirmation hearings...

In Washington, presidential nominees facing confirmation hearings dread making news. You want to get in, get the hearing over with and get out of there without political enemies landing too many body blows.

But the Trump team has a different strategy this week: They're going to make a lot of news. So much, in fact, that the bet is no one piece of bad news will break through the media clutter. It's all about safety in numbers.

That's why you'll see a wave of confirmation hearings all scheduled for the same day on Wednesday — even as Donald Trump himself provides cover with a long-awaited news conference in midtown Manhattan on the same day. The newser is bound to generate a wave of tweets, blog posts, cable TV hits and newspaper headlines that Republicans hope will wash over any poor performances by Trump's nominees on Capitol Hill. The idea is to flood the zone.

President-elect Donald Trump and musician Kanye West pose for media at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 13, 2016.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters

The week will begin with attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Homeland Security pick retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly facing Senate panels on Tuesday.

But Wednesday is when Team Trump will really dominate Washington. Here's who will be on the hot seat nearly simultaneously that day:

Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump's pick for secretary of State, will go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is chaired by Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who was himself a possible candidate for the post. Expect intense scrutiny of Tillerson's connections to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Tillerson, after all, was decorated by Putin with a Russian Order of Friendship award after signing massive oil deals with Russian companies.

Watch for questioning from former Trump opponent Marco Rubio, who tweeted in the wake of Tillerson's nomination: "Being a "friend of Vladimir" is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState." Also on the panel grilling Tillerson: Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, who ran against Trump as Hillary Clinton's vice presidential pick, and who last week compared Russian meddling in the 2016 election to Watergate.

Sessions will face the Senate Judiciary Committee for a hearing expected to start Tuesday. Senators are typically extremely deferential to their colleagues who are up for an administration position. But this year, Democrats are spoiling for a fight over what some believe to be Sessions' weak record on civil rights and racial issues.

Less than a week after an unprecedented intelligence community assessment that Putin sought to manipulate the 2016 presidential election to benefit Trump, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., will go before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as Trump's pick to head the CIA. Pompeo will have to explain how he plans to lead the CIA in an era in which the president-elect has been openly mocking the intelligence community and calling into question its central finding that Putin wanted Trump elected.

Jeff Sessions
Zach Gibson | AFP | Getty Images

Billionaire Betsy DeVos will face the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where Democrats are expected to pick apart her vast wealth. Democrats have already complained that many of Trump's wealthy nominees have not fully disclosed their holdings, raising questions of possible conflicts of interest. Look for DeVos to be a test case of whether they can get any political traction with that argument.

Elaine Chao will see a number of friendly faces at the Senate Commerce Committee for her hearing as Trump's pick for secretary of Transportation. She is a well-known figure in Washington, having been deputy Transportation secretary under President George H. W. Bush and secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush. Also, she's married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Expect this to be the smoothest of all Trump nominee hearings Wednesday.

Trump's nominees have been working the halls of Congress, meeting with Democrats and Republicans on the committees they will face this week. They have also, reportedly, been facing practice hearings at Trump transition headquarters complete with fake protesters interrupting proceedings. Those sessions are called "murder boards."

Team Trump is clearly hoping they can finish the week without any taking any political casualties.