Even before Donald Trump is inaugurated as president on January 20, the U.S. Senate will begin considering his nominees for top administration posts.
"I think it's going to be one of the great Cabinets ever, ever, ever," the president-elect said at a recent rally.
In choosing his presidential inner circle, Trump drew from corporate boardrooms, the military and the ranks of conservative, pro-business public servants. Perhaps no Trump nominee has gotten more attention than ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, tapped to be secretary of state. Tillerson's reported ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin have raised concerns.
"My relationship with Vladimir Putin, which dates back almost 15 years now, he understands that I'm a businessman," Tillerson said earlier this year at a public forum for business leaders. "And I've invested a lot of money, our company has invested a lot of money, in Russia."
Democrats are signaling grave misgivings over Trump's Cabinet picks, but know they will be unable to block them on their own.
"We're going to ask a lot of questions, and we'll see what sorts of answers Mr. Tillerson has," Senator Chris Coons told VOA. The Delaware Democrat serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that will consider Tillerson's nomination.
"There are both Republicans and Democrats asking questions about Mr. Tillerson's potential conflicts of interest, about his long and close relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia, and about his ability to balance the demands of being a diplomat and fighting for America's interests with his long experience leading an oil and gas company," Coons added.
"The confirmation hearings, at least some of them, will be very contentious," said political analyst John Hudak of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. "This is going to be, in some ways, Trump's first test of congressional relations."
Most Senate Republicans are rallying around Trump's picks.
"I've been very impressed with the nominations so far," said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "Of the nominees we're aware of, I'm optimistic they will be confirmed."
Republicans have a slight Senate majority and, if they remain unified, they can ensure Trump's Cabinet selections are confirmed.
"There is not much that Democrats in the Senate can do without having two or three Republicans join with them," Hudak said.
"These [Republican] senators realize they are going to have to work with this president over the coming years," he added. "And one of the easiest ways to sully the relationship between you and the president of your party is to really run his nominees through the ringer."
Democrats, meanwhile, will use confirmation hearings to illuminate and probe questions surrounding the nominees, hoping to sway public opinion and a few Republicans. The Constitution tasks senators with providing "advice and consent" on nominees — a duty Democrats say they take seriously.
"One of the signature features of American democracy is the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch," Coons said.
For now, Trump is talking up his nominees, describing Tillerson as "a fierce advocate for America's interests around the world."