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Republican unity thwarts Democrats’ plans to block Trump’s Cabinet nominees

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been a fierce critic of President-elect Donald Trump and expressed concerns about his nominee for secretary of state, now says he is “totally persuadable” to support Rex Tillerson. (Associated Press)

January 03, 2017

Some of President-Elect Donald Trump’s most bitter critics among Senate Republicans are warming to the idea of giving the president-elect his choice of Cabinet members, further complicating Democrats’ plans to impede the confirmation process.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY.) has put a bull’s-eye on at least four of the nominees and assailed Trump’s Cabinet selections Tuesday in his first floor speech of the 115th Congress.

“Too many of his Cabinet picks support the same hard-right doctrinaire positions that many in the Republican Party have held for years — policies that the American people have repeatedly rejected,” Schumer said, forgetting that the American people voted Democrats out of power in both the House and Senate, and elected a Republican as president.

His hopes for sinking any of the nominees depends on Democrats’ ability to peel off Republican votes in the narrowly divided chamber. Trump transition team officials, however, have grown increasingly optimistic about keeping Senate Republicans unified and picking up support from Democrats facing tough re-election races in 2018.

“Even those who have not supported Donald Trump appear ready to work together,” said Rep. Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania Republican and a member of the Trump transition team.

Democrats already faced an uphill battle to defeat Trump’s Cabinet picks because in 2013, when they were in the majority, they resorted to the “nuclear option,” changing Senate rules to confirm nominees with 51 votes instead of 60.

Republicans occupy 52 seats in the 100-member chamber.

The transition team also is confident that Democrats can’t sustain their attempts to slow-walk confirmations. Schumer has threatened to use procedural maneuvers to delay votes to as late as March.

Trump is prepared to wait out the Democrats, who can’t say no forever, said a source close to the transition team.

Barletta warned that Democrat moves to gum up the confirmation process could backfire.

“President-elect Trump comes in with a lot of political capital, and that means something,” he said. “Anyone who wins an election — especially in the way he did when the odds were so far against him — I think members here know he’s got some political capital behind him in the trust of the American people and that needs to be respected.”

The nominees topping the Senate Democrats’ hit list are Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general, school choice activist Betsy DeVos for secretary of education and debt crusader Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina for director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Democrats and liberal activists also oppose Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, fast-food restaurant executive Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor, billionaire investor Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary and Obamacare detractor Rep. Tom Price for secretary of health and human services.

Schumer said Trump’s choices reveal broken promises to working-class voters who elected him.

“The bottom line is, the president-elect ran as a change agent. He ran against the establishments of both parties. He promised to change the way America operates, to oppose elites, drain the swamp and pay attention to working families,” he said. “But since the election, he seems to have forgotten that.

“Looking at the Cabinet, which is stacked with billionaires, corporate executives, titans of Wall Street and those deeply embedded in Washington’s corridors of power, it seems that many of his campaign themes are quickly being abandoned. He said he was going to unrig the system. So far, it still looks rigged,” said Schumer.

The nomination of Tillerson met early resistance from some Republicans. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina raised concerns about his close business relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But both senators now promise to keep an open mind.

“I’ve expressed my concern about Tillerson. So I am supposed to meet with him and then I’ll have a better feel for things,” Mr. McCain said.

Graham, a former primary rival of Trump, said he now is “totally persuadable” to support Tillerson.

“He’s a very accomplished businessman. We’ll see what his views are toward the threats we face,” Graham said. “I’m deferential to most presidential nominees but not a blank check.”