Will the Senate slow down the confirmation process of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks, as Chuck Schumer demands? Er … not exactly, Mitch McConnell told CBS’ John Dickerson on Face the Nation yesterday. He reminded Dickerson that Republicans faced the same situation eight years ago and sucked it up enough to get seven of Barack Obama’s picks confirmed on Inauguration Day. Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, McConnell has advice for Senate Democrats … grow up:
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Let me move on to nominees. The Office of Government Ethics has asked the Senate to slow down the confirmation process. The executive director wrote, “I’m not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominees had completed the ethics review process.” Will you slow down the process?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, we’re—we’re still in the process of getting the papers in. I think at least five of the nominees have all of their papers in. You know, what this is about, John, the Democrats are really frustrated that they lost the election. I was in Senator Schumer’s position eight years ago. I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation, that the other guys won the election. What did we do? We confirmed seven cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate. I understand that. But we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that. We need to have the president’s national security team in place on day one. And papers are still coming in. And so I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to get up to seven nominees on day one, just like we did eight years ago.
JOHN DICKERSON: Should it be a rule that the papers come in and then you have the hearing?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, on Hillary Clinton, for example, we had a hearing before her FBI report was completed. The– the real thing is the vote on the floor. And we want to have all the records in– all the papers completed before they’re actually confirmed on the Senate floor.
Bear in mind that Republicans still had the full use of the filibuster in January 2009, although they only had 40 seats in the 99-member Senate at that time. (Al Franken wouldn’t get sworn into office for six more months.) Republican voters were just as unhappy with Obama’s picks as Democrats are now with Trump’s, but McConnell cooperated with the traditionally expeditious process of confirming an incoming administration. Schumer has even less leverage, and McConnell offered a blunt form of clarity, albeit tinged with a bit of humor, on what his protests buy in terms of delay.
Dickerson asks whether the qualitative differences between the two Cabinet slates should make a difference, a question that McConnell literally laughs off:
JOHN DICKERSON: Wouldn’t their response be, “There’s a qualitative difference between the Obama nominees and the Trump nominees?” You’ve got people here who have these big private industry successes, but also a lot of complexity.
MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, I could have made that same argument eight years ago!
McConnell has lots of reasons to laugh, but the biggest reason is the karmic revenge visited on his Senate opponents for stripping McConnell of the filibuster on presidential appointments. Without Harry Reid, McConnell would have to sweat out cloture on the confirmation votes, and Trump would have had to pick nominees with more cross-aisle appeal. Now all McConnell has to do is keep his own caucus in line — not the easiest task in the world, but a lot less trouble than McConnell might otherwise have if not for Reid.