- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A Republican leader in North Carolina’s Senate downplayed potential conflict Tuesday while the chamber scrutinizes Cabinet picks of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has already filed a court challenge to the process.

Soon after a committee met to lay out confirmation procedures, Cooper’s office urged lawmakers to delay until the legality of confirming his Cabinet choices is settled. The statement raised questions about whether Cabinet secretaries would participate.

Cooper “encourages his Cabinet secretaries to meet informally with legislators and to work with them at every turn,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in a release. “However, we believe that the confirmation law is clearly unconstitutional and we urge the legislature to let the court decide the case first.”

The December law made Cooper’s 10 Cabinet picks subject to the “advice and consent” of a majority of senators, a power provided in the state Constitution that hadn’t been used for at least several decades. The mandate was one of several provisions, approved barely a week after GOP Gov. Pat McCrory conceded the gubernatorial election to Cooper, that were designed to reduce or check the new governor’s powers.

Cooper sued over the nomination process in early January, his lawyers arguing that GOP legislators overstepped their powers and that confirmation applies only to officers named in the Constitution.

The Senate nominations committee announced dates from next week through mid-March when specific policy committees would meet to examine each of the eight secretaries Cooper has announced to date. Each policy committee would make a recommendation to the nominations committee, which would then hold its own vote on a recommendation to the full Senate.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick and the committee’s co-chairman, said he didn’t anticipate a confrontational process with Cooper’s choices similar to what has been found recently on Capitol Hill with President Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks.

“I should hope that all of these would be confirmed,” Rabon told committee members. He said the confirmation would “focus primarily on determining if a candidate is capable and qualified, ensuring that the candidate has no conflict of interest and ensuring that the candidate will follow the law.”

Rabon and Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, the other nominations committee co-chairman, said later in a release that Cooper should advise Cabinet members “they have nothing to worry about and encourage them to comply with the law” if the secretaries meet the standards Rabon described to the committee.

Cooper has yet to name secretaries to head the Department of Revenue and Department of Information Technology. The other eight have been sworn in and, according to the new law, are in place until they are either formally rejected by the Senate or when the General Assembly adjourns for the year, probably this summer.

The Senate’s confirmation schedule would begin Feb. 8 with former Rep. Larry Hall, who is now leading the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The two last scheduled secretaries could face the most robust questioning.

Michael Regan, Cooper’s pick for the Department of Environmental Quality, was a longtime advocate for the Environmental Defense Fund. Dr. Mandy Cohen, the new secretary for health and human services, was a top administrator of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, which many Republicans oppose. Cooper’s administration and legislative leaders already are in court over Cooper’s attempt to expand Medicaid through the overhaul law.

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