GOP plans to crush Democratic opposition to Trump Cabinet – Politico
Senate Republicans have a plan to break the Democratic resistance to Donald Trump’s Cabinet: Make their delay tactics as excruciating as possible.
With Senate Democrats threatening to drag out the confirmation process for weeks, the GOP is preparing to keep the chamber running around the clock if that’s what it takes to speedily confirm Trump’s Cabinet. It’s the kind of retaliatory strategy that would bring all-night sessions, 3 a.m. votes and a long slog through the first months of Trump’s presidency that could sap some of the GOP’s legislative momentum.
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Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said the GOP will do “whatever it takes” to get Trump his team as quickly as possible.
Added Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas: “The Senate can stay in session around the clock; we can stay through the weekend. If [Democrats] want to stay here and demonstrate that they’re obstructionists rather than try to work in good faith … then I think they’ll pay a price for that.”
The battle is expected to begin soon: Several key committee chairmen said in interviews that some high-profile nominees will likely be ready for a floor vote on Jan. 20, Trump’s Inauguration Day.
Shell-shocked after their devastating electoral loss in November, Senate Democrats have rallied behind plans to attack Trump’s Cabinet, arguing that his picks are hostile to the working class — not to mention at odds with his “drain the swamp” rhetoric. They say that until they get adequate financial disclosures and ethics and FBI checks, they are prepared to throw up myriad procedural hurdles that disrupt Trump’s efforts to install his administration.
In an interview, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said every one of President Barack Obama’s nominees had an ethics report and a 90-day plan to avoid conflicts of interest by Jan. 10, 2009. With a week to go until Jan. 10, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — Trump’s pick for attorney general — had checked those boxes, and Republicans said secretary of state selection Rex Tillerson would soon join him.
“Listen, bottom line is, we believe that these nominees need a thorough vetting. And the original intent of doing all of them the first week or two isn’t going to work,” Schumer said. “I hope we can come to reasonable agreement; that’s what I hope. We’re not rushing these through.”
Democrats can’t unilaterally block Trump’s appointments, but they can drag out the process of each confirmation over multiple days. They can also force the Senate to go into recess to do some confirmation committee hearings if they begin objecting to routine parliamentary agreements that allows panels to meet later in the day.
If Democrats go all-out, the GOP could lose several valuable weeks of floor time. The first few months of a new administration and new Congress are key opportunities to seize on a recent election win and pass new laws.
“The coin of the realm of the U.S. Senate is chamber time. And through obstructionist tactics, they will sap that chamber time, and we have to figure out ways to create it,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
But Republicans such as Tillis are willing to work long nights and weekends if necessary. And several senior Republican aides predicted such a slog wouldn’t last very long. After Senate Democrats changed the chamber’s rules to allow majority confirmations of most nominations in 2013, Republicans retaliated by objecting to Democratic attempts to schedule votes during normal working hours. After a couple of all-nighters, the marathon sessions ended as both parties quickly ran out of steam.
This time around, the GOP believes that if Democrats pull out their dilatory techniques the pressure will increase on moderate Senate Democrats from Trump-leaning states to buck their party and help Republicans move the nominations along.
“They can slow it down, but I’m not sure what that accomplishes for them at the end,” Thune said. “Those tactics or antics will wear thin.”
Some Democrats say this time will be different, though the party must line up legions of energetic speakers if they want to significantly delay the confirmation process. Republicans are preparing to enforce a rule that limits an individual senator to using only one hour of the maximum 30-hour debate time for Cabinet nominees.
“Good for them. I have a lot of energy. I would welcome a chance to work late,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) when informed of the GOP’s plans.
Democrats have found creative ways to methodically decelerate the confirmation process for Trump’s picks. Aside from demanding additional documents from nominees, Schumer is asking that no confirmation hearings be held simultaneously — a demand that Republicans appear to be ignoring as they pack next week’s calendar.
And though GOP senators began meeting with the Cabinet hopefuls as soon as they were announced — a common courtesy during the nomination process — Democrats decided as a caucus not to meet with any of Trump’s picks until the new year, according to Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). That decision was meant to allow freshman senators to be involved in the process and to do it in an “orderly manner,” Durbin said.
Democrats are starting their meetings now: Coons will meet with Tillerson on Wednesday, and Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Tim Kaine of Virginia, along with Durbin, are planning sit-downs with Sessions this week.
But despite calls from Democrats to slow down the process, Republicans are powering ahead with their plan to launch confirmation hearings for several key Trump nominees starting next week.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a two-day session for Sessions, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he is close to scheduling one for Tillerson. Hearings for Labor Department pick Andrew Puzder and Health and Human Services choice Tom Price will follow the next week.
Republican chairmen are planning to hold committee votes on some of those nominees before Trump is even sworn in, an attempt to further expedite their confirmation. Corker said that while he doesn’t “want to stuff anybody” by rushing the process, it’s his hope that Tillerson receives a committee vote before Inauguration Day.
And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who chairs the committee that will process Trump’s education secretary pick, Betsy DeVos, and Puzder said the GOP will follow the “golden rule” and treat Trump’s nominees just as it did Obama’s. In 2009, seven of Obama’s nominees were confirmed on Inauguration Day without dissent.
“Both the labor and education secretary hearings were before President Obama was inaugurated. And they were promptly confirmed even though we could have slowed it down if we’d chosen to do that. I see no real obstacle to either one of them to being confirmed promptly,” Alexander said.
After Republicans stonewalled Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, Democrats would beg to differ. In an interview, Durbin said his party’s cooperation — or lack thereof — “depends on how long it takes them to produce the documents and answer the questions.”
But Republican leaders said once the GOP begins confirming nominees, Democrats will see the writing on the wall and regroup for a fight they can actually win, rather than just delaying the inevitable.
“It’s harder to keep your side together if you’re losing day after day than if you’re winning day after day,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership. “I just don’t think they’ll be able to stick with it.”