Are we headed for a confirmation battle here? Probably not, but when the news broke last night that Nauert was Trump’s pick it occurred to me that she’d be DOA in a Democratic-run Senate. Not so Bill Barr (I think). He’d be put through the wringer during his confirmation hearing over Russiagate and his views of executive power but he’s well-regarded as a lawyer and former AG and would be able to point to his Bush 41 pedigree as evidence of his independence from Trump. I think he’d be confirmed even by Schumer’s caucus.
Nauert would not be. Lack of diplomatic experience is bad but maybe not fatal. Nikki Haley had no diplomatic experience when she got the job, remember. Lack of any government experience beyond a spokesman role, which she’s had for all of 18 months at State, is worse. But maybe that wouldn’t have been fatal either. In a populist age, a thin resume in public service isn’t disqualifying; Trump got elected without it, Rex Tillerson got confirmed as Secretary of State without it. Tillerson, though, had traveled widely and met with the highest foreign officials in his role as head of Exxon. Nauert doesn’t have anything like that to her record. She doesn’t even have the sort of academic/think-tank credentials that the Susan Rices and Samantha Powers of the world can point to as proof that they, ahem, know what they’re talking about on foreign policy.
That’s a thin resume even by the standards of thin resumes. And to top it off, Nauert is known to the public mainly for the years she’s spent at the left’s least favorite media organization, a network that now devotes most of its time to cheerleading for their least favorite politician. I think it’s likely she’ll get not a single Democratic vote for confirmation. Even the usual red-state possibilities like Joe Manchin won’t be under any pressure to support her, knowing they won’t face voters again for six years.
Fortunately for Nauert and Trump, unified Democratic opposition is no bar to confirming nominees. He’ll have 53 Republican votes in the next Senate, easily enough if he can keep (nearly) everyone onboard. Can he, given Nauert’s lack of qualifications? Susan Collins is up for reelection in 2020 so she’ll be leery of crossing Trump, but she just banked a huge amount of goodwill among righties by coming through on Kavanaugh. She could get away with a no vote here knowing that the next UN nominee will be confirmed. Murkowski is even less likely to vote yes: She’s not up until 2022 again and has already been attacked by Trump for opposing Kavanaugh. And Ben Sasse is a wild card. He’s been pounded by critics for talking a good anti-Trump game while steadfastly voting with the president but that may change in the final two years of his Senate term if he’s leaning towards not running for reelection. Plus, Sasse has attacked Fox News staffers like Sean Hannity for pushing “polititainment.” Nauert isn’t from that side of the network but he might cast a symbolic vote against her to make the point that Trump shouldn’t be staffing influential diplomatic positions with his favorite Trump TV personalities.
If all three of them balked we’d have a 50/50 split, barely enough to get Nauert confirmed with Pence’s vote. Any remaining Republican could sink her. What would Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham do, given how seriously both of them take their roles in influencing foreign policy? (Rubio almost never defies Trump but Graham has pushed back on the White House over the Khashoggi killing.) What would Mitt Romney do?
I think it works to Trump’s disadvantage here that he’s pushing Nauert on the new Senate at the same time that he’s pushing a likely-to-be-confirmed candidate like Barr for a much more important position. If the Senate had only Nauert to consider, some Republicans who are on the fence might vote yes purely out of fear of being seen as antagonistic to Trump. Getting Barr and Nauert together in a sort of package makes opposing the latter easier, though. Fencesitters can vote yes on the former and no on the latter and point to their Barr vote as proof that they’re not opposing Trump reflexively. They backed his choice for AG! They simply, and respectfully, disagree with his choice for the UN. That thinking may weigh especially heavily on Romney, who’ll spend the next few years being criticized by the left every time he votes with Trump and by the right every time he doesn’t. Splitting his vote on the two would mollify both sides to some extent and would let him signal early how he plans to approach Trump. “I support him when he’s right but am independent enough to oppose him when he isn’t,” Romney might say. I’d say there’s a fair chance that Nauert doesn’t get confirmed.
Update: So much for Graham putting up a fight. The odds of her being blocked just dropped to 10 percent or so.
“I’ve known Heather for many years. She was an effective spokeswoman for the Department of State and enjoys the confidence of Secretary Pompeo and President Trump,” Graham wrote.
“I’m sure she will perform well at her hearing and look forward to supporting her nomination,” he added.