Some Trump Cabinet picks have given big bucks to senators voting on their confirmations

What to watch for during Cabinet confirmation hearings

Several of Donald Trump's Cabinet picks who face potentially tense upcoming hearings on Capitol Hill have donated hundreds of thousands to the senators who will vote on their confirmations.

Five of Trump's choices who will face Senate committees — secretary of State pick Rex Tillerson, Education secretary choice Betsy DeVos, Labor secretary pick Andy Puzder, Commerce secretary pick Wilbur Ross and Transportation secretary pick Elaine Chao — have contributed $449,559 combined to current senators' campaigns or outside groups supporting them, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. All but Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, contributed to at least one senator elected in 2016.

Past Cabinet picks have also given to confirming senators, and the donations do not necessarily mean they will get preferential treatment. Still, they underscore the political connections of Trump's picks, whom experts say have more collective wealth than Cabinets typically have in the past.

Others facing upcoming hearings, attorney general choice Jeff Sessions, Homeland Security secretary pick John Kelly and Defense secretary choice James Mattis, have not donated to current senators. Treasury secretary pick Steven Mnuchin, who will have a hearing at a later date, has also given thousands to confirming senators.

The president-elect picked several wealthy individuals and big political donors for his Cabinet, prompting criticism from Democrats and interest groups who said he failed to live up to his populist campaign rhetoric. That issue, along with Cabinet choices' past statements, qualifications and potential foreign entanglements, could feature prominently in hearings this week.

Trump has defended his picks of wealthy people from the business world, saying they know how to create jobs.

Democrats have also pressed to delay the hearings until the Cabinet picks complete a traditional ethics review demanded by the Office of Government Ethics. There are no indications yet that this push will force the Senate to delay the hearings.

Here are some of the Cabinet choices who will face Senate committees this week:

  • DeVos is a billionaire Republican donor and school choice advocate. She has given $167,300 to confirming senators, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. She will face questions from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Wednesday and has contributed to several of its members. DeVos has given $7,800 to Bill Cassidy (R-La.), $7,400 to Tim Scott (R-S.C.), $5,400 to Richard Burr (R-N.C.) $5,400 to Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and $5,400 to Todd Young (R-Ind.), all members of that committee. She gave $60,500, the most she donated to any senator, to Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) campaign and an outside group supporting him, combined.
  • Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr. He has contributed $151,659 to confirming senators. Puzder will face questioning from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee as soon as early next week, according to multiple reports. He has given $1,000 each to two senators on the committee, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Scott.
  • Ross, a billionaire distressed debt investor, has donated $62,100 to confirming senators. He will face the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Thursday. Ross has donated $4,800 to the committee's ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). He has also contributed $25,000 to Rubio's campaign committee and a PAC backing him. Rubio serves on the committee.
  • Chao, a former Labor secretary, and McConnell have given $42,300 to confirming senators. None of those lawmakers serve on the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, which will question Chao on Wednesday.
  • Tillerson previously served as CEO of oil titan Exxon Mobil and has ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. He has given $26,200 to confirming senators. Tillerson has contributed $2,500 and $1,000, respectively to John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who serve on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Tillerson will appear before the committee Wednesday.