Obstruction Ahead: Senate Dems Plot Course to Delay or Derail Trump Cabinet Picks

Posted: Dec 05, 2016 3:00 PM

While House Democrats appear to be tripling down on their failing battle plan, led by a tired septuagenarian leadership team, Senate Democrats are changing course. Rather than angrily decrying obstructionism (some convenient exceptions to these complaints always applied), they're returning to the pro-obstructionism approach they haven't embraced since, well, the last Republican administration. Via Politico, a glimpse at Chuck Schumer's potential next moves when the new Congress gavels into session with the GOP controlling both legislative chambers and the White House:

Senate Democrats are preparing to put Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks through a grinding confirmation process, weighing delay tactics that could eat up weeks of the Senate calendar and hamper his first 100 days in office. Multiple Democratic senators told POLITICO in interviews last week that after watching Republicans sit on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court for nearly a year, they’re in no mood to fast-track Trump’s selections...“They’ve been rewarded for stealing a Supreme Court justice. We’re going to help them confirm their nominees, many of whom are disqualified?” fumed Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “It’s not obstruction, it’s not partisan, it’s just a duty to find out what they’d do in these jobs.” Senate Democrats can’t block Trump’s appointments, which in all but one case need only 51 votes for confirmation. But they can turn the confirmation process into a slog. 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. Democrats could conceivably force up to 30 hours of debate for each Cabinet nominee, which would be highly disruptive for a GOP Senate that usually works limited hours but has big ambitions for next year...Democrats will force retired Marine Gen. James Mattis to get 60 votes for a legislative waiver to become secretary of defense, and they're singling out at least four other nominations for strict scrutiny...Democrats interviewed for this story, said that Republicans’ treatment of Garland is impossible to forget. “Past is present, and what goes around comes around. Now, those are pretty hackneyed sayings, but those are really true around here,” Feinstein said in an interview.

What goes around comes around? Let's recall that Merrick Garland was nominated by a lame duck president in an election year. The Senate GOP -- elected to the majority on an anti-Obama platform by the American people in 2014 -- chose not to move on the nomination, based on the standard of action urged by Vice President Joe Biden when he was a member of the upper chamber. Feinstein's formulation would make more sense if Mitch McConnell weren't merely following the Biden Rule. As for "past is present," remember this nihilistic GOP obstructionism when President Obama first took office?

Eight years ago, when the roles were reversed, with Barack Obama taking office and an all-Democratic Congress, Republicans were mostly deferential to the incoming president. On Obama's first day in office, the Senate confirmed seven of Obama's Cabinet nominees. By the end of that week, it had cleared more than a dozen senior-level positions, all without dissent except for Hillary Clinton’s nomination to be secretary of state, for which the GOP demanded a roll call. Trump almost certainly won’t be receiving similar treatment...“It is always the intention, at the start of a new administration, to have a smooth transition. That's something President Obama recently called for and that Democrats always say they want,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell. “When the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans worked with Democrats to confirm the president's Cabinet in a very, very timely manner.”

So yet again, Democrats are looking at escalating the arms race of tactical partisan warfare in the US Senate. Ironically, the last time they did so was by nuking the filibuster on almost all presidential nominations, thus removing one of the most potent arrows they would currently have in their quivers to slow or defeat the Trump picks they find most objectionable. That move by Harry Reid was designed to overcome Republican blockages of a number of majority-supported Obama nominations to the federal judiciary, a practice pioneered by -- ta da! -- Harry Reid and the Democrats, during the Bush years.  The Reid Rule is now in effect.  What goes around comes around, indeed.

But in a dynamic that is like to replicate itself on many fronts over the next two years, not all members of Team Schumer are sounding on board with the slow-roll strategy: "Informed that Democrats might hold up Sessions and other nominations past Jan. 20, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia responded: 'That’s just bullshit. My God, I think we should have an attorney general in place on Jan. 20. I sure do believe that," added Manchin, one of five Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states that overwhelmingly supported Trump." As various skirmishes and heavyweight battles play out, we'll be hearing a lot about that group of Democratic Senators from Trump-won states up for re-election in 2018.  That roster very much includes the aforementioned Sherrod Brown, whose state went for Trump by eight points and Rob Portman by 21 points.  Potential shipwreck ahead:

May they all heed the political demise of former Senator Tom Daschle, a powerful red state Democrat forcibly retired by his constituents for his quarterbacking of Bush-era obstructionism in 2004.