Democratic senators know they probably can’t block Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, but they plan to force lengthy debate on nominees they consider radical – potentially stretching well beyond Inauguration Day.
While the Senate traditionally gives presidents significant leeway to choose their own team, many of Trump’s picks have liberal groups howling in protest.
“I’m inundated, inundated – nominee after nominee – by people in Michigan who are concerned,” said Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a member of the party’s leadership. “It goes on and on and on.”
No Republicans, however, have yet come out against Trump’s picks, and Democrats cannot block a nominee without Republican help. That’s because they effectively changed the rules to bar filibusters of executive-branch nominations in 2013. Democrats can drag out the process, though, while Republicans seek to address other priorities such as repealing Obamacare.
“Unless there’s some information that comes out in the hearings that isn’t currently known, I think they’ll all be confirmed,” said Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership.
This leaves Democrats trying to figure out how hard to fight Trump’s most controversial nominees. They’re likely to lose all of the battles, but senators see an opportunity to highlight where Trump’s picks stray furthest from his populist campaign message - both in lengthy hearings in committee and in debate on the Senate floor.
Among the particularly contentious picks so far are Exxon Mobil Corp CEO Rex Tillerson, who was awarded a friendship medal in 2013 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, at state; former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker Steven Mnuchin to run treasury, and longtime Medicare privatisation advocate and Obamacare foe Representative Tom Price to head health and human services.
Three Republicans would need to join with Democrats to block a nominee if all the Democrats hold together in opposition. But moderate Democrats in states that Trump won who face re-election in 2018 will face extra pressure to go along with the president-elect’s choices. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, for example, has already signalled his general intent to vote for Trump’s nominees.
Tillerson faces the toughest road so far, says Kentucky Republican senator Rand Paul, John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have all expressed skepticism about the Exxon chief’s close ties to Putin.
Opponents of US president-elect Donald Trump demonstrate outside the North Carolina State Capitol building before the state’s electors meet to cast their electoral college presidential ballots in Raleigh, North Carolina, yesterday.