The Republican nominee to serve on the Federal Election Commission, James “Trey” Trainor, pushed back on Democrats’ suggestion he recuse himself from decisions related to President Donald Trump’s campaign because of his previous role advising Trump’s 2016 White House bid.
The questioning from Democrats came during a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing attended by both party leaders. It was dominated by Democrats’ questioning of Trainor’s qualifications and the party’s concerns about Republicans’ breaking with the tradition of advancing FEC nominees in bipartisan pairs. Senate Democrats have recommended a nominee for a Democratic vacancy on the commission, but Trump has only nominated Trainor, a Texas election lawyer.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the panel’s ranking member, asked if Trainor would “just recuse yourself from the beginning on these Trump matters” to avoid possible conflicts of interest.
“Not as a blanket matter,” Trainor responded. He said would follow the practice of other commissioners, none of whom have such recusals. “I think we should all follow the same rules and guidelines.”
Though some current commissioners have been involved with campaigns in the past, all have served for more than a decade on the panel and have no involvement with recent campaigns.
Trainor said he would consult with FEC staff about possibly recusing himself from specific enforcement cases or other matters, in line with the past practice of other commissioners.
The commission has been without a quorum of at least four members since last August, leaving it unable to vote on campaign finance enforcement matters or new regulations and advisory opinions. If confirmed, Trainor could restore a quorum, joining three current commissioners.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer(D-N.Y.) said at the hearing there are “significant questions about Trainor’s fitness to carry out the anti-corruption” mission of the FEC.
Schumer cited Trainor’s past statements opposing the disclosure of those funding political messages, as well as his involvement in partisan redistricting efforts in Texas.
Trainor said he recognized that the Supreme Court has upheld campaign finance disclosure requirements and he would enforce these rules on the commission. The court “has held that our current campaign finance regulations, particularly the disclosure regime, are an allowable exception to the First Amendment for the purpose of deterring corruption,” he told senators.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended Trainor during the hearing, noting that he has waited for three years from his initial nomination in 2017 to have a Senate hearing.
“I’m optimistic we will be able to move forward with this nomination,” McConnell said. The Kentucky Republican added that he would like to follow up with the appointment of a “clean slate” of nominees for all six seats on the commission.
To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org