WASHINGTON – Democratic senators are amping up the fight over President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees — just as the stakes are set to become much higher with his Supreme Court pick.
Under immense pressure from a progressive base demanding that Democrats use every possible tool to stymie and obstruct Trump, some lawmakers are pushing to block nominees such as Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general and Trump’s eventual high court pick.
“It’s time for the Senate to stand up for the Constitution and exert moral leadership,” firebrand liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Tuesday of her opposition to Sessions.
Those fighting instincts were on display when Democrats boycotted committee meetings where two Trump nominees — Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price to helm the Department of Health and Human Services — were slated for confirmation votes. The Judiciary Committee’s vote on the Sessions pick was also kicked to Wednesday.
The progressive base’s sense that Democrats haven’t done enough to oppose Sessions — and fear that they won’t fight Trump’s Supreme Court nominee hard enough — has the left threatening to turn its ire inward just as Democrats are struggling to channel the anti-Trump energy seen in recent protests.
“The problem here is that voters are not used to Democratic elected officials having a spine, and Democratic elected officials aren’t used to having one — or being pressured to have one,” said Rebecca Katz, a former top aide to Harry Reid and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Schumer under fire
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, joined five of the most liberal senators Tuesday in voting against Elaine Chao — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, and widely viewed as among Trump’s best-qualified nominees — for transportation secretary.
Schumer joined a who’s-who of progressive potential 2020 candidates: Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley.
Schumer also announced Monday he’d oppose eight other Trump nominees.
Among the reasons: Schumer is under intense pressure at home to use every tool available to Democrats to stymie and obstruct Trump.
The Working Families Party in New York already has more than 4,000 people on Facebook signed up to attend a march called “What the f*ck, Chuck?!” — from Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to Schumer’s home in Prospect Park West.
“The message that we’re delivering — and people by the thousands and thousands are delivering — to Senators right now, and we’ll see if they hear it or not, is that this is not a time for Senate collegiality,” said Joe Dinkin, the regional party that supports Democrats’ communications director.
Mad about Sessions
Winnie Wong, the co-founder of People for Bernie, a pro-Sanders group, said Sessions, in particular, is “morally unfit” to be attorney general.
“Our elected Democratic lawmakers have a done a great disservice to democracy by doing too little, too late to stop this man,” Wong said. “In this moment, I’m hearing Bernie Sanders’ rallying cry of, ‘Never lose your sense of outrage.’ I’m furious.”
Progressive groups are already threatening primary challenges against Democrats who won’t oppose Trump at every turn.
“Congressional Democrats are on the wrong side of a popular revolt against Trump and the racists and billionaires he nominated,” said Max Berger, a progressive activist and organizer for #AllOfUs. “If they won’t do everything they can to stop Sessions — who’s one of the worst of Trump’s nominees — they should expect primary challenges against them.”
The prodding from the left comes as Democrats attempt to wrangle a base suddenly activated by opposition to Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven nations — and still just days after millions of women marched against Trump around the world.
“I sense that Senate Democrats are quickly realizing that not only are they well positioned to act as a vocal, and unrelenting, opposition to Trump — but in fact the American people are demanding it of them,” said Matt McDermott, a senior analyst for Whitman Insight Strategies, which polls for left-leaning candidates and groups. “Progressives are looking for a fight, and want to know that Democrats in Washington are geared up for that fight.”
Progressives are discovering, McDermott said, that protests are uniquely able to do what Hillary Clinton never could: Steer media coverage away from Trump, even drowning out his dust-storm Twitter tactics.
“With that attention secured, protesters are looking for Democrats in Washington to pick up the reins and continue pressing an opposition,” McDermott said.
‘No wonder DC doesn’t work’
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and 2008 GOP presidential nominee, suggested Democrats are overreacting.
“I sense they’re still not over the shock. They just aren’t over the shock,” he said. “People weren’t just measuring the drapes, they picked out their offices and they were hiring assistants. I just don’t think they’ve recovered yet to put together a cohesive plan. So what’s the easiest thing to do? Block everything.
“You saw what we went through when we shut down the government. You remember that? As our approval rating dropped to negative numbers,” he added.
And Trump continues to show his frustration with the slow pace of cabinet confirmations.
“When will the Democrats give us our Attorney General and rest of Cabinet! They should be ashamed of themselves! No wonder D.C. doesn’t work!” he tweeted.