GOP OK With Trump Rally Delaying Labor Nominee

Tennessee event conflicted with confirmation hearing

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., talks with reporters before a GOP caucus luncheon. On Wednesday, he will join President Trump at a rally in Nashville. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., talks with reporters before a GOP caucus luncheon. On Wednesday, he will join President Trump at a rally in Nashville. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 14, 2017 at 5:00am

Despite hammering Democrats for slowing Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominations, Senate Republicans don’t mind delaying a confirmation hearing this week so the president can rally the base on Wednesday and sell a Republican-crafted health care bill. 

But GOP sources were quick Monday to defend the delay of a Cabinet-level nominee’s hearing, saying replacing the 2010 health care law is equally important. The situation is the latest example of the bumpy ride many of the 45th president’s top nominees have had.

Before Trump was even sworn in, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Democrats to “grow up” and allow the incoming chief executive’s nominees to receive committee and floor votes. Democrats, since Trump took office, have used the chamber’s rules to delay some of his top nominees, requiring roll call votes and the full floor time to expire before confirmation.

Republicans have sharply criticized Democrats, calling them sore losers and obstructionists.

Trump, hailing himself as a master marketer, recently slapped a label on the Democrats’ efforts to slow his Cabinet nominees: “obstruct and resist.” 

The Senate GOP’s Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso said Democrats were “taking a different approach” instead of being cooperative. 

“It shows how they’re responding to the fact that they lost all the elections that they thought they were going to win,” the Wyoming Republican said. 

For GOP senators, such denunciations have become commonplace.

But with Trump’s upcoming rally creating yet another slowdown in getting a new Labor Department boss on the job, they are taking a different approach.

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When the president’s still-functioning campaign organization scheduled a Wednesday evening rally in Nashville, it created a conflict for that state’s senior senator, Lamar Alexander. The GOP lawmaker is also chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which had scheduled a 1:30 p.m. confirmation hearing for Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta the same day.

Trump’s first nominee, fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, was already forced to withdraw. Alexander opted to postpone the hearing until March 22, creating a new delay spanning another week in the new president’s quest to finally get his own Labor chief on the job.

The White House made a note of the Labor secretary vacancy on Monday when Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters to expect “some empty chairs around the table” later in the day when Trump held his first Cabinet meeting. One of them would otherwise be occupied by the Labor secretary.

“Senate Democrats have drawn out this entire process for way too long and these key agencies and departments will not be represented at the president’s first Cabinet meeting,” Spicer said.

“The president is confident [of the] unquestionable abilities of the confirmed Cabinet members that will be in attendance. He is just as confident in the … quality of the individuals who will not be able to attend,” Spicer said, adding that “their absence will clearly be felt.”

He did not mention the delay caused by the Nashville rally.

Several Republican offices defended the delay by saying a senator’s proper place is in his home state for a president’s visit.

“Tennessee is ground zero for the collapse of Obamacare and Chairman Alexander will be in Tennessee with the president to talk about their critical work to rescue Tennesseans trapped in the collapsing system, and to replace that collapsing system with patient-centered reforms that lower costs and expand choices,” an Alexander aide told Roll Call.

A Senate GOP leadership aide pushed back against any notion of hypocrisy from his party.

“If Democrats are worried about a slight schedule change, would they pass [Acosta’s] nomination by UC in committee the next day?” the leadership aide asked rhetorically, referring to a unanimous consent motion.

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The White House declined to comment on whether the campaign knew about the Acosta hearing, referring a reporter to the Trump campaign. A campaign aide did not respond to a request for comment.

On Sunday, Alexander’s office announced he had delayed Acosta’s confirmation hearing so he could be with Trump in Music City.

“Because Chairman Alexander will be joining President Trump in Nashville on Wednesday, Alexander Acosta’s confirmation hearing will be rescheduled to Wednesday, March 22 at 9 a.m. The executive session for committee members to vote on Mr. Acosta’s nomination will be scheduled for the following week,” a spokesman for the HELP chairman said.

Based on the actual calendar, the change will amount to another week; based on the legislative calendar, however, the delay amounts to just a few days. That’s because the Senate has long been scheduled to only be in session Monday through Wednesday this week; and even that could be shortened by the week’s worsening weather.

Some Senate Republicans, such as Barrasso, have pressed senior administration officials about what they see as the slow pace of nominations. Barrasso, who also serves as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said last week that Vice President Mike Pence has assured the Republican caucus that “there’s a long list coming soon.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain said last week he detects “some trouble” and “gridlock somewhere” within the administration.

Niels Lesniewski and Rema Rahman contributed to this report.