Warren and Franken make Trump’s Cabinet picks squirm – Politico

Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren know how to command a spotlight — if there was ever any doubt, they’ve dispelled it this week with highlight reel-worthy grilling of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks.

In the process, they’ve have cemented their roles as lead figures of the Democratic Party’s Trump opposition front.

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Franken and Warren have produced a series of viral moments — tripping up several Cabinet hopefuls with intense questioning that’s drawn tens of thousands of online shares and retweets. They’re the biggest but not the only Democratic stars of the confirmation dais, which gives the minority party a valuable spotlight as it searches for a unified message following a brutal election-year defeat.

Warren pressed Trump’s health secretary pick after Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) refused to swear off future Medicare or Medicaid cuts — eliciting an exchange tailor-made for future attack ads — while Franken’s wonky confounding of Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos has garnered more than 50,000 retweets. That social media traction is unlikely to bring down a single nominee, but it could help stiffen Democratic spines as the party vows to tie up confirmations of eight Trump Cabinet choices.

The viral moments from Tuesday’s rocky DeVos hearing “didn’t come from gotcha questions,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in an interview. “They were simple questions about ‘what is IDEA [the Individuals with Disabilities Act]’, ‘do you think guns should be in schools’.”

“I thought those were softball questions, and yet they produced moments that millions of people have now watched all across the country,” added Murphy, who sparked a meme-worthy hearing moment of his own when DeVos told him that guns in Wyoming schools might be called for to protect students from grizzly bears.

After Warren had her own tense question-and-answer session with DeVos in the health, education, labor and pensions committee, conservative pundits cried foul over video that appears to show the liberal Massachusetts icon passing up a post-hearing handshake with the billionaire GOP donor. But Warren, Franken and other Democrats had drawn first blood by capitalizing on the single round of questions that Republicans allotted them for DeVos.

The confirmation hearing for the Amway scion Trump has tapped to lead his Education Department, who declined under questioning to commit to continued funding for public schools, kicked off at the uncommon time of 5 p.m. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday charged Republicans with “a blatant attempt to prevent more Americans from watching the hearing and the news coverage of it.”

Thanks in part to Franken and Warren, however, many more Americans watched the most heated moments of the hearing than the average audience for a second-tier Cabinet confirmation grilling. Franken scored by tripping up DeVos over the difference between using test scores to gauge students’ growth versus proficiency, a widely debated topic in education policy circles.

“There were going to be a whole bunch more clips for people to view had we gone a second round,” Murphy said.

Republicans counter that the single round of questioning for education secretary nominees is in line with past committee precedent, chalking up Democratic complaints about insufficient time to question Trump’s Cabinet picks to the minority’s desire to drag out the confirmation process for as long as possible.

“When President Obama was elected, Republicans and Democrats worked together and expeditiously to carefully consider his nominees. The Senate held hearings on multiple nominees before he was even sworn in,” Don Stewart, spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), wrote in an email.

Senior Democrats “approved wholeheartedly of this approach at the time, so it’s odd that they’d object to treating the incoming president’s nominees with the same courtesy and seriousness,” he added. “Our committees and chairmen are fully capable of reviewing the incoming Cabinet nominations with the same rules and procedures as the same committees did with President Obama’s nominations.”

Meanwhile, Franken and Warren were at it again on Wednesday during the health committee’s confirmation hearing for Price, who’s under fire from Democrats for trading stocks in pharmaceutical companies that would have benefited from legislation he later supported. Warren got under Price’s skin during the four-hour-plus hearing by pressing him on whether he had aided a company whose stock he owned, prompting the House Republican to reply that he was “offended by the insinuation.”

Franken, who also made headlines last week while questioning attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on his civil rights record, piled on Price later during Wednesday’s hearing. “It really begs credulity, sir when you say you did not know that you got a discount on this” stock purchase, the Minnesota Democrat told the Republican.

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