Remember when Democrats insisted that incoming presidents had to get immediate confirmation of Cabinet appointments for the good of the nation? What a difference an (R) makes ... The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe reports on a plan by Senate Democrats to “slow walk” confirmation of Donald Trump’s appointments, including an insistence on nor more than two confirmations a week:
Democratic senators plan to aggressively target eight of Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees in the coming weeks and are pushing to stretch their confirmation votes into March — an unprecedented break with Senate tradition.
Such delays would upend Republican hopes of quickly holding hearings and confirming most of Trump’s top picks on Inauguration Day. But Democrats, hamstrung by their minority status, are determined to slow-walk Trump’s picks unless they start disclosing reams of personal financial data they’ve withheld so far, according to senior aides.
So who’s on tap for the slow-walk strategy? It might be better to ask who’s not. According to O’Keefe, Democrats don’t plan to slow down two of the generals nominated for Trump’s Cabinet, James Mattis and John Kelly. That’s a shift from the murmuring last month that Trump was relying too much on military leaders in the next government, but the relative popularity of both appointments probably persuaded Democrats to keep their powder dry. Also, slow-walking national security appointments would have made this exercise considerably more dangerous, not just politically but also in terms of our war efforts.
For everyone else, Chuck Schumer wants two full days of hearings and witnesses, with unlimited rounds of questioning, apparently based on whether the minority wants to keep going or not. They also want enough spacing between hearings by multiple committees that it would take almost two months to confirm the incoming Cabinet — two per week for nineteen posts that have Cabinet rank, at least in Barack Obama’s administration. That would be a curious arrangement for approval by a Senate Majority Leader, and a far cry from how Congress acted eight years ago, as McConnell’s spokeswoman recalls:
“It’s curious that they’d [Democrats] object to treating the incoming president’s nominees with the same courtesy and seriousness with which the Senate acted on President Obama’s nominees,” Antonia Ferrier, a McConnell spokeswoman, said in an email. “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) urged his colleagues yesterday to move quickly to approve Obama’s nominees. “It is up to us, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, to work as quickly as we can to confirm the worthy nominees so they, along with our president, can hit the ground running,” he said.
Seven of President George W. Bush’s Cabinet nominees won Senate approval immediately after he took office on Jan. 20, 2001. That list included Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, in addition to Bush’s energy, education, commerce and agriculture picks.
The demand to restrict confirmation hearings to two per week amounts to an admission that Senate Democrats can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Separate standing committees conduct the confirmation hearings for each nominee; Armed Services handles the Secretary of Defense nomination, Foreign Relations handles the State nominee, and so on. There is no reason other than sheer bloody-mindedness that these committees can’t work in parallel to proceed quickly with the transition, which is literally what happened in the previous two transitions, and very likely most of the rest as well.
So why press for slow-walking now? For one, Schumer has to establish his credentials as an opposition leader, and he’s following Harry Reid’s act — whose antics helped in some part in putting Senate Democrats in the minority rather than the majority. Second, the longer it takes to confirm these appointments, the longer it takes to change policies in these departments and the longer that careerists can do whatever they want. They also want to maximize their ability to get media coverage for their attacks on Trump and his nominees, and unlimited time in which to make them.
And this might have worked if Democrats had any leverage at all on confirmations. Reid, however, stripped them of it by ending the filibuster on presidential appointments except for Supreme Court nominations. With that gone, McConnell has no reason to accommodate Schumer at all. Republicans control the committees, the committee processes, and the floor vote schedule, which means Schumer’s threats are simply vaporware. Democrats lost the election at all levels, and just because they’re pretending that they won something doesn’t make it so.
McConnell won’t even bother to throw Schumer a bone here if he’s smart. Democrats made this particular bed, and the best thing to do is to have them lie in it for as long as possible.