Travel Ban Fuels Slowdown of Trump Nominees

Democrats call on Cabinet picks to take positions on executive order

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer attempted to delay a vote on Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be secretary of State over President Donald Trump’s executive order. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer attempted to delay a vote on Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be secretary of State over President Donald Trump’s executive order. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted January 31, 2017 at 5:00am

Senate Democrats are willing to drag out Senate consideration of Cabinet nominees over President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order, and they wasted no time doing so as the week began. 

On Monday afternoon, Democrats objected to a request for committees to meet two hours after the Senate convened, a routine unanimous request that typically sails through with nary a whisper of dissent. Blocking the daily procedure showed Democrats were stepping up their slowdown efforts.

The move prevented the Finance Committee from meeting at 6 p.m. to vote on Steve Mnuchin’s nomination to be Treasury secretary.

“While not surprising, this is an unfortunate and needless delay that simply means the committee will reconvene tomorrow morning to vote on the nominee for U.S. Treasury secretary,” said Julia Lawless, a spokeswoman for the Finance Committee.

Rachel McCleery, a spokeswoman for the committee’s Democrats, said the vote was postponed so they could attend a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court at 6 p.m. relating to Trump’s executive order on immigration. 

“This delay will allow members to protest the president’s unconstitutional ban on Muslims entering the United States while voting on Mr. Mnuchin’s nomination little more than 12 hours later,” McCleery said in statement.

Democrats are expected to raise their objections to the executive order in Cabinet confirmation battles moving forward.

The order temporarily bars refugees, as well as nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. It sparked protests at airports across the country over the weekend, and a wave of Democratic criticism. Lawmakers from both parties said the order was not thought through, was overly broad and has been poorly implemented.

“We are better than this,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said on the Senate floor on Monday. “So I will fight with every fiber of my being until this executive order is gone.”

Democrats will be asking the remaining Cabinet nominees about whether they were involved in, or if they have positions on, Trump’s missive, according to a senior Democratic aide. Democrats are expected to call for delays on confirmation votes until they get answers.

Many of the remaining nominations were expected to be drawn-out floor fights even before the executive order, as they include eight picks whom Democrats have named as the most concerning.

Though Democrats may be able to delay confirmations by blocking time agreements that would speed up the process, they cannot block Cabinet nominees from being confirmed. Due to a Democratic rule change in 2013, only a simple majority of senators is required to end debate, meaning nominations can move forward with Republican support alone. 

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said floor tactics, like blocking committee meetings, could continue. Cardin and the committee’s chairman, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, said they were not consulted before the order was signed.

“I think you’re going to find that the more Mr. Trump does things that show a lack of respect for input from members of Congress and from our democratic system of government, the more you’re going to see members use every tool they can to make this point,” Cardin said.

That intensifies an already contentious fight over nominees. The minority party had already threatened to draw out debate on the Senate floor if they felt the nominees were not properly vetted in committee. A week and a half into Trump’s administration, the Senate has only confirmed four of his nominees. 

Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s nomination to be secretary of State moved forward on a procedural vote Monday night, despite a Democratic attempt to postpone it until the executive order was rescinded and lawmakers received Tillerson’s position on the action.

Elaine L. Chao’s nomination for Transportation secretary is also set to come before the Senate on Tuesday. Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is a former Labor secretary and there is little dispute over her qualifications.

But on Monday, Sen. Bill Nelson, the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Chao, asking a series of questions about Trump’s order, including whether she agreed with the action.

Republicans dismissed the Democratic slowdown attempts, as they have previous Democratic threats to slow down confirmations of nominees whom Democrats considered unacceptable. 

“It shows how they’re responding to the fact that they lost all the elections that they thought they were going to win,” said Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the Senate GOP’s policy committee chairman. “So rather than being cooperative, they’re taking a different approach.”

“I’m sure tomorrow they’ll want to double-down on slowing something down on this Supreme Court nomination,” said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, the GOP conference vice chairman. “So that’s just something that McConnell and our side are going to have to work with.”

“At this point I’d say people demonstrating, as well as apparently some Democrats in the Senate, don’t even know what they’re opposed to,” Blunt said. “They just know they’re opposed to whatever is going on.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas had previously suggested the Senate could stay late into the night or over the weekend to counteract Democratic slowdown tactics.

Asked if Democrats’ renewed threat to slow down confirmations made all-night sessions more likely, Blunt said, “I’m for that.”

“I think we’re willing to put in whatever time it takes to get these rules reversed that make no sense to the American economy or the American families and get a team in place to take the country in another direction,” Blunt said, referring to the GOP effort to overturn regulations passed during President Barack Obama’s administration. 

He added, “If that’s 24/7, that’s fine with me.”