Is consistently voting “no” on President Trump’s nominees obstructionism or is it principled opposition?
That is a question being asked about votes on executive branch nominations. As we noted in a previous blog, some senators were voting against almost all of President Trump’s cabinet nominations.
This trend has continued with even lower-level nominees, which are generally far less controversial than cabinet picks. Consider some of the recent tallies for these nominees:
- Brock Long, Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Administration – 95 to 4
- Scott Brown, Ambassador to New Zealand – 94 to 4
- Courtney Elwood, General Counsel to the CIA – 67 to 33
- John Sullivan, Deputy Secretary of State – 93 to 6
- Terry Branstad, Ambassador to China – 86 to 12
- Rachel Brand, Associate Attorney General – 52 to 46
- Jay Clayton, Security and Exchange Commission – 60 to 36
Unlike Ben Carson or Jeff Sessions, none of these nominees has a divisive public record. And yet all received votes in opposition.
There are a handful of senators who vote “no” on almost every nominee put forward by President Trump. Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Kristin Gillibrand (NY), and Kamala Harris (CA) are generally consistent votes in opposition to any Trump nominee. This includes the nomination of Scott Brown, a former senator, to be ambassador to New Zealand. Other senators, however, save their “no” votes for only select nominees.
There are some questions if senators are opposing these nominees for political reasons or policy reasons. Rachel Brand, for instance, has a fairly standard record for an appointment to the Justice Department – Supreme Court clerkship, private firm work, and Justice Department experience. But she received the opposition of 46 senators. Patrick Leahy, senator from Vermont, said that Brand “carries a heavily skewed, pro-corporate agenda that would do further harm to the Justice Department and its independence.” Few senators made statements opposing the nomination of Courtney Elwood to be the CIA’s general counsel, but 33 of them voted against her.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, defends his vote against a large number of Trump nominees as being about policy, not politics:
“Lost in all of the obvious concern about Russia is the fact that Trump is pushing an extremely, extremely right-wing, reactionary agenda: tax breaks for billionaires, throwing 24 million people off health insurance, and massive cuts to programs that working people need. And many of his appointees are pushing exactly that agenda, and I’m not going to support that.”
Republicans aren’t buying it. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell points out the similarities to votes in the past by senators who eventually ran for president:
“When President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton were in the Senate, they often voted against nominees — even though those nominees had wide bipartisan support — as a means of protecting themselves from their base and setting themselves up for a primary.”
What do you think? Are Democrats who are consistently opposing President Trump’s nominees playing politics? Or are they offering principled opposition to a dangerous policy agenda?