The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Senators Warren and Booker try to answer Democratic anger at votes for Trump nominees

Sen. Cory Booker on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 18. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

This week, in a video message to his 800,000-plus Facebook followers, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) promised to keep resisting the Trump administration, in solidarity with the people in the streets.

“Don’t let this stuff become normal so we’re just becoming numb to it,” Booker said. “We have got to stay in the trenches and keep fighting.”

Below that video — and below an image of Booker testifying against Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) this month — the senator was deluged with people asking for more.

“You are my senator,” said Eileen Mary Kenny. “I voted for you enthusiastically. I’d like you and the Democrats to be MUCH tougher on this administration. Please block these terrible Cabinet nominees. Obstruct in every way you can.”

“I’m not overwhelmed, I am pissed!” said Alice Carney. “YOU, Cory, need to obstruct everything they are doing.”

“Senator you need to truly represent our state,” said Brenda Santos. “Please do not vote for ANY Cabinet picks.”

Nearly every Democrat has been hearing the same this week; the party’s embrace of mass protests has happened in tandem with votes to approve the first batch of President Trump’s Cabinet picks, from CIA Director Mike Pompeo to all-but-certain HUD Secretary Ben Carson. On Twitter and other social media, Democrats are excoriated for the votes; there are fitful suggestions of primary challenges for senators who go off the reservation. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who, like Booker, is considered a potential presidential candidate, won praise for opposing every nominee; she then voted for Nikki Haley to become ambassador to the United Nations.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), one of the left’s most popular figures, attempted to quell protests about her vote for Carson with a Facebook post. With palpable frustration — “okay, let’s talk about Ben Carson” — Warren said that she and every Democrat was faced not with choices between opposition and appeasement, but bad and worse.

“In his written responses to me, he made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws,” Warren wrote. “Promises that — if they’re honored — would help a lot of working families. Can we count on Dr. Carson to keep those promises? I don’t know. People are right to be skeptical; I am. But a man who makes written promises gives us a toehold on accountability. If President Trump goes to his second choice, I don’t think we will get another HUD nominee who will even make these promises — much less follow through on them.”

The wild-swinging criticism of Democrats has not focused on a particular way to slow down nominees. The Democrats have fewer tools available to them than any opposition party in history, thanks to their 2013 reform of filibuster rules that allowed blocked nominees like the CFPB’s Richard Cordray and former secretary of labor Tom Perez to be confirmed.

The filibuster does apply to Supreme Court nominees, meaning that, without a change to current rules, Republicans will need eight Democrats to vote for cloture on whomever Trump nominates next week. Several Democratic senators are on record characterizing the open seat as “stolen,” because Republicans refused to hold hearings on former president Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.