Senate Sputtering Over Trump Nominees

Posted by Dale Eisman on February 1, 2017


Today In Democracy

Are the last vestiges of comity in the U.S. Senate disappearing before our eyes?

It looks that way today, as Republicans frustrated by a Democratic boycott of two committee meetings have suspended procedural rules and sent two of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees to the Senate floor.

The Senate Finance Committee action on Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price could lead to a final vote on the Senate floor later this week. The committee's usual rules require that at least one member of the minority party be present for committee votes on presidential nominees.

Democrats boycotted the Treasury and HHS votes to protest President Trump’s immigration orders and his dismissal on Monday of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Price and Mnuchin “have yet to answer important questions that impact the American people,” committee Democrats wrote in a letter sent to Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-UT, this morning.

Democrats opted not to continue the boycott in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which shortly before noon voted 11-9 in favor of the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. That vote broke along party lines, with Republicans backing Sessions and Democrats opposed.


The Yates firing has triggered a spirited debate among legal and constitutional experts. Some argue that her refusal to defend Trump's executive order at least temporarily blocking immigration from seven African and Middle Eastern countries left the President with no choice but to fire her. Others hail her decision as a brave stand on on behalf of the principle that the attorney general's duty is to the law and the Constitution, not necessarily to the President.

The latter view is getting some surprising support -- on video -- from Sen. Sessions, who of course is Trump's nominee for a permanent appointment as attorney general. Not quite two years ago, when Yates came before the Judiciary Committee for confirmation as deputy attorney general, Sessions questioned her closely about her willingness to stand up to a President if she believed his orders violated the law and/or the Constitution. 

"It shouldn't take you too long so say 'no, this isn't right," Sessions told Yates then. "Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the Constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the President," she answered. 

 

Legal and public interest groups are putting the 10-year record of federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch under a microscope this morning following President Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

The nomination of Gorsuch, 49, a conservative from Colorado who supporters describe as very much in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, already is drawing opposition from Demos and People for the American Way, among other organizations. At least one senator, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, is promising a filibuster.

“This is a stolen seat. This is the first time a Senate majority has stolen a seat,” Merkley told Politico. “We will use every lever in our power to stop this.” He and other Democrats are still fuming over the Republicans’ refusal last year to hold hearings or a vote on Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the court vacancy.

Under current rules, the Senate’s 52 Republicans will need at least eight Democratic votes to break a filibuster and bring Gorsuch to final vote. Some senators already are discussing the possibility of a change in Senate rules to finally abolish the filibuster and allow Gorsuch and future nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority, 51 senators.

However many votes are required, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted Tuesday that Gorsuch will be confirmed.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: More Democracy Reforms

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