WASHINGTON–Senate Republicans gave newly inaugurated President Obama a smooth transition on his first day at the White House eight years ago, when the party, then in the minority, helped confirm seven of his nominees that day and over five more by the end of the president’s week, but Democrats have no plans to return the favor to Donald Trump.
By the end of the day on January 20, 2009, Obama had an Agriculture Secretary, Education Secretary, Energy Secretary, Secretary of Homeland Security, Secretary of the Interior, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Veterans Affairs Administrator. Clinton was confirmed as Secretary of State the following day. Each nominee was appointed by late November or early December, scheduled a hearing prior Obama’s inauguration and confirmed by voice vote.
Democrats, angered over Republicans’ blocking of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, appear to be in no hurry to confirm any Cabinet nominee of President-elect Donald Trump. At least four of Trump’s nominees will be held up for scrutiny by the minority in the Senate.
“There should be recorded votes, in my view, on every one of the president’s Cabinet nominees,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal told Politico. “Having all of these hearings before the inaugural in a thorough and fair fashion seems very difficult to do.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, though, disputed that Democrats plan to slow walk any nominee.
“Well we certainly haven’t taken the position that they’ve took when it came to filling the Supreme Court vacancies–no office appointments no hearings no votes. We are going to do this in an orderly way. We’re going to ask the important questions that all the American people want an answer to. So look there’s no effort to slow walk,” Durbin told The Daily Caller.
“[Republicans] have been rewarded for stealing a Supreme Court justice. We’re going to help them confirm their nominees, many of whom are disqualified?” Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown told Politico. “It’s not obstruction, it’s not partisan, it’s just a duty to find out what they’d do in these jobs.”
Upper chamber Democrats have already began a campaign against Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, Georgia Republican Rep. Tom Price and warned that Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, would not coast through his confirmation as a result of his current position. Democrats have indicated that Sessions will be taken to task for remarks he made 30 to 40 years ago that sank his confirmation hearing for a federal judgeship in 1986.
However, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday, referencing Minority Leader Harry Reid’s changing of the filibuster rules to benefit the majority for non-judicial appointments, that Republicans will use every advantage they now have.
“Well as a result of what our colleagues on the other side of the aisle did in 2013 there’s not a whole lot they can do. I’m sure they’ll try to make it as difficult as possible, but there are some advantages of being in the majority particularly with a 51 vote threshold for confirmations of most executive branch appointments, and we certainly intend to take advantage of it,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
Ultimately, Senate Democrats cannot block Trump appointments, which only need only 51 votes for confirmation, except for the Gen James Mattis appointment to the Department of Defense, who may need 60 votes. However, they can make the process much longer than it needs to be.
Any senator can force McConnell to hold procedural votes on nominees and senior Democrats could force up to 30 hours of debate for every Trump cabinet pick. Democrats could keep the lower chamber busy by obstructing other nominees and holding up Republican’s agenda in the House from coming to the floor of the Senate.
Any individual senator can force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold procedural votes on nominees. Senior Democrats said a series of such votes are likely for many of Trump’s picks.
“I don’t want to needlessly prevent President Trump from being successful,” said Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons told Politico. “But accelerating the confirmation of unacceptable candidates who have views that are outside the mainstream is not constructive.”