Murphy cabinet picks face scrutiny from Senate committee

Nearly two full months into the Murphy administration and most of the 21 Cabinet positions remain unconfirmed. The process requires one-on-one interviews with Senate Judiciary Committee members, and that can be drawn out as short or long as they’d like. They met Thursday to consider three more nominees.

“I always like to get the attorney general and the secretary of state confirmed right away. Those are the first two because they’re constitutional commissioners. After that it’s really at my discretion,” said Committee Chair Sen. Nick Scutari.

Scutari’s discretion called for a vote on Robert Asaro-Angelo to head the state Department of Labor, along with Dr. Shereef Elnahal as the commissioner of the Department of Health and Carole Johnson to lead the Department of Human Services.

Sen. Gerry Cardinale asked, “How do you intend to advance the notion that we are not hostile to business?”

“So I know we can overcome any barrier or any hostility that businesses might feel by having better workforce training for those workers, better grants for the employers who are going to train them,” replied Asaro-Angelo.

The process was relatively smooth Thursday. If confirmed by the full Senate, Health Commissioner Dr. Elnahal would be one of the youngest, at 32, and the first Muslim-American Cabinet member in New Jersey history.

But it was a statement sent out earlier in the week by the state GOP and Senate Judiciary Committee member Kristin Corrado that caused another surprise. They expressed anger over the governor’s announcement to lower contributions to New Jersey’s cash-strapped pension system and called for the Senate to vote down Murphy’s choice of Democratic Assemblywoman Liz Muoio as state treasurer.

“I don’t want to speak before we vote, but I have some concerns,” said Corrado. “And the response to that press release was very well received. And others feel the same way we do, that we shouldn’t be doing that at this time.”

“I’m not going to comment on that because I’m not completely familiar with that call. I’m going to vet that nominee just like any other, we’ll have conversations with our members and we’ll see how it goes,” said Scutari.

All three nominees passed unanimously Thursday and will now go for a vote before the full Senate. The only other hiccup expected in this process is within the Department of Corrections, where that commissioner nominee is expected to face tough questions about a sex abuse scandal within the state’s female prison system.