January 04, 2017
Senate Republicans have launched a public shaming campaign to try to shift public opinion against Democrats’ threats to stall action on eight of Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees until March.
Democrats, led by new Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have repeatedly warned that they will drag out confirmation votes with a series of procedural tactics. They say they have no qualms delaying the Trump nominees if they feel they don’t receive adequate background information and financial records and don’t have enough time to review them.
Senate Republicans, during their first day of the new Congressional session, started fighting back. While they are preparing for some inevitable delays, they are also pointing to their own record of quickly acquiescing to most of President Obama’s Cabinet choices as a model for the way forward.
“If I’m not mistaken, on the day that President Obama was sworn into office, Jan. 20, 2009, there were seven Cabinet members…who were confirmed that day – seven,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tuesday in a speech on the Senate floor. “To me, that demonstrates the sort of good faith and accommodation that this Senate should continue.”
Five more Obama early nominees were confirmed by voice vote the end of his first week in office, including Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, according to a Senate GOP release.
Republicans privately are dismissing the Democrat delays as particularly egregious because Republicans could have more easily opposed Obama’s early choices because back then Senate rules allowed the minority party to filibuster nominees, which could only be overcome by 60 votes.
Senate Democrats ensured all of Trump’s Cabinet will likely get confirmed, unless Republicans defect, by changing Senate rules in 2013 to require a simple majority vote of 51 votes for all executive nominations except those to the Supreme Court.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who chairs the Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee, said Republicans will begin highlighting Democrat quotes from late 2008 and early 2009 expressing the dire need for quick approval of Obama’s nominees.
“What we should do is respond with their own words and what they were saying back in 2008 and really for the last eight years,” Johnson told the Washington Examiner. “There’s a lot of damage repair from the last eight years, and this president needs the administration and personnel to be able to begin it.”
The Senate Republican Communications Center, the messaging arm for Senate GOP leaders, on Tuesday sent out a release quoting four Democrats, including Schumer, on either the need to avoid gridlock or the importance of quickly approving presidential nominees.
“We have a moral obligation, even beyond the economy and politics, to avoid gridlock and get the country to work again … We have to get things done,” Schumer told Bloomberg one day before Trump’s surprising victory, when polls predicted a Clinton win.
Republicans also referred to remarks that Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Clinton’s running mate, made during an Armed Services Committee hearing in 2013.
“I think we owe deference to a president for choices to executive positions, and I think that that is a very important thing to grapple with,” he said at the time. “The American public chose someone to be president. They’re giving that individual a mandate to govern, and that mandate includes the assembly of the team that the president feels is the appropriate team.”
The cabinet nominees Democrats plan to target include: Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick to be secretary of state, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., his choice for attorney general, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C. who he named to lead the Office of Management and Budget and Betsy DeVos, selected to serve as education secretary.
They also will focus extra scrutiny in on Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and shepherd changes to Obamacare, Andrew Puzder, an executive for the Hardees restaurant chain, to serve as Labor secretary, Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner chosen for treasury secretary, and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Senate confirmation hearings are set to begin next week with Sessions’ two-day hearing, scheduled for Jan. 10 and 11. The Foreign Relations Committee also plans a one-day, two-part hearing for Tillerson next week.
But Democrats argue that Trump’s Cabinet selections require more elaborate scrutiny because many of them either have extensive financial holdings or have conflicts of interest with the departments they were named to head.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, for example, has two pending lawsuits filed against the Environmental Protection Agency, which Trump tapped him to lead.
“The [Senate] process of advise and consent is a serious process, and it should be pretty transparent – -particularly when you are dealing with nominees who have huge conflicts of interest,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told the Examiner. “It’s important to have a record of those so everyone can understand that going in.”
Schumer is pressing for at least two days of hearings for each of eight nominees and is asking them to be held on separate weeks, with no more than two Cabinet picks getting a hearing in the same week.
If those demands aren’t met, Schumer said Democrats would use procedural votes to allow up to 30 hours of speeches and debate on each nominee once they are being considered on the floor. Republicans say they would then yield their allotted time for speeches to speed up the process, but the delays could cost the GOP roughly a week of time for each, thwarting their promise to move quickly to repeal Obamacare and overturn Obama-era regulations farther down the road.
Democrats also argue that most of Trump’s nominees haven’t received the required certification from the Office of Government Ethics before a confirmation vote, a hurdle most Obama’s early picks had overcome before their confirmation hearings.
In addition, most are still going through FBI background checks, a Senate Democrat aide points out.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., an ardent opponent of climate-change regulations who previously chaired the Environment and Public Works Committee, said he doesn’t believe Democrats stalling tactics will prevail in the court of public opinion.
“They can stall the system and that will satisfy some of the liberal base, and they’ll say, ‘Good job, go after them,'” Inhofe said. “But that’s a much smaller universe than those saying ‘Wait a minute, now we need to get something done, and there’s no reason to stall because it’s not going to change things.'”