A Democratic Time-out: And Where Are the Nominees?

January 31, 2017; Politico

Yesterday, the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee and Judiciary Committee delayed the confirmations of Steven Mnuchin, Tom Price, and Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominees for treasury secretary, secretary of health and human services, and attorney general, respectively. Whereas in the Finance Committee they simply did not attend the meeting, for the Judiciary hearing for Sessions, they engaged in long debate that delayed any vote until today.

Concerns about Mnuchin and Price focus on what are characterized as financial misstatements. Objections to Sessions come from concerns about the degree to which he could retain independence from the office of the presidency if Trump strays into legally thin ice, an issue that has been brought into stark relief by the dismissal of Sally Yates as acting attorney general.

The outrage expressed by Republicans on this obstructionist behavior shows a convenient kind of amnesia regarding recent history. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) called the refusal to cooperate “unconscionable.”

“We did not inflict this kind of obstructionism on President Obama,” added Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA), “a completely unprecedented level of obstruction. This is not what the American people expect of the United States Senate.”

I think they do, though. The Washington Post points out that Republicans “similarly boycotted a senate committee’s vote on Gina McCarthy to serve as President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Senators said at the time that she had refused to answer their questions about transparency in the agency.”

And “other walkouts have happened, most famously in 2003, when Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, dispatched U.S. Capitol Police officers to find Democrats who had left a hearing where Republicans were trying to pass a pension bill. He later apologized for his heavy-handed tactics on the House floor.”

Meanwhile, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, has advanced through a senate committee in a 12-to-11 vote to a vote in the full Senate, where she will need 51 votes in what could be a close call. The less controversial Elaine Chao (wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) was confirmed to serve as Trump’s transportation secretary by a vote of 93 to 6, but she is the first transportation secretary ever to receive “no” votes. Also being forwarded to the Senate are former Texas governor Rick Perry to be energy secretary and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) to be interior secretary.—Ruth McCambridge