Tea party gains voice in Trump’s Cabinet with budget chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — The tea party wing of the GOP gained a voice in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet on Thursday when Mick Mulvaney was sworn in as director of the White House budget office.

Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office hours after the Senate confirmed the South Carolina Republican’s nomination on a narrow 51-49 vote in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Pence praised Mulvaney’s “extraordinary record” and said he “couldn’t be more enthusiastic” about Trump’s decision to choose him.

Not all Republicans shared Pence’s sentiments.

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Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is emerging as perhaps the most vocal GOP critic of the Trump administration, opposed the former congressman based on his past House votes supporting cuts to Pentagon spending.

“Mulvaney has spent his last six years in the House of Representatives pitting the national debt against our military,” said McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senators also gave a tentative 54-46 procedural green light to Trump’s choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. It was a signal that Pruitt should sail through on a final vote scheduled for Friday, despite being opposed by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a GOP moderate.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, two of the party’s more moderate members, backed Pruitt.

Trump has tapped some of the wealthiest Americans to serve in his Cabinet and ethics reviews have slowed the confirmation process. So have Senate Democrats who have mostly opposed all the nominees and forced hours of debate.

Trump lashed out a Senate Democrats during a White House news conference Thursday, saying he has worked to build a Cabinet over their “delays and obstruction … You’ve seen what they’ve done over the last long number of years.”

In fact, Democrats pushed to secure confirmation of President Barack Obama’s picks the past eight years.

Mulvaney’s vote means that 13 out of 22 Trump Cabinet or Cabinet-level picks have been confirmed. Nominees to key Cabinet departments such as Interior, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy await confirmation.

Mulvaney’s confirmation promises to accelerate work on Trump’s upcoming budget plan, which is overdue. That’s typical at the beginning of an administration. But there is also the need to complete more than $1 trillion in unfinished spending bills for the current budget year, as well as transmit Trump’s request for a quick start on his oft-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and tens of billions of dollars in emergency cash for the military.

In the past, Mulvaney has routinely opposed catchall appropriations bills, which required Republicans to compromise with the Obama White House. The upcoming measure is also going to require deals with Democrats.

Mulvaney brings strong conservative credentials to the job, and he’s likely to seek big cuts to longtime GOP targets such as the EPA and other domestic programs whose budgets are set each year by Congress.

Trump has indicated, however, that he’s not interested in tackling highly popular benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare and wants a major investment in highways and other public works. The House Freedom Caucus, a group of the most conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill, issued a statement saying that the president’s pick of Mulvaney “sends a strong message that the Trump administration is serious about tackling our national debt.”

Democrats opposed Mulvaney over his support for curbing the growth of Medicare and Social Security and other issues, such as his brinksmanship as a freshman lawmaker during the 2011 debt crisis in which the government came uncomfortably close to defaulting on its obligations.

“He said to me in a one-on-one meeting how he would prioritize the debts he would pay if he defaulted on the debt,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “Wouldn’t that be a great addition to the chaos we are all feeling right now?”

The vote came a day after Trump’s pick to head the Labor Department, Andrew Puzder, abruptly withdrew his nomination in the face of Republican opposition. Puzder was met with questions over taxes he belatedly paid on a former housekeeper not authorized to work in the United States.

Mulvaney has managed to survive questions about his failure to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a nanny more than decade ago. He has since paid the taxes.