On a call organized by MoveOn.org on Sunday night, ACLU political director Faiz Shakir encouraged activists to demand a slowdown in the Senate until President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees were tacked back.
“We’ve got [attorney general nominee] Jeff Sessions, who we’re told was involved somehow in the drafting of these executive orders,” said Shakir. “If they want to press this through, say: You don’t get an attorney general until you overturn the Muslim ban.”
Currently, the Alabama senator’s nomination for attorney general is scheduled for a Tuesday morning vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is expected to be recommended with every Republican voting in favor and every Democrat voting against. In the full Senate, only one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), has suggested that he will vote for Sessions, whose nomination is being scored as a “key vote” by the National Rifle Association.
But the ACLU’s advice came as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) was calling for Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, to answer questions on the executive orders. Votes on Trump nominees, which had been attracting the support of dozens of Democrats, have become more politically toxic for senators as the party’s restive base demands more opposition.
Even as they showed up at airports this weekend to join protests or attempt to free travelers from detention, senators were challenged on their votes for Trump nominees. When Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) arrived at Dulles International Airport and delivered a speech about “fighting this administration,” a protester yelled, “Will you block his nominees?
“I will be blocking, I will be fighting against many of their nominees, including an attorney general nominee who I believed was involved in this tonight,” said Booker.
That drew applause at the time, but Booker’s use of the word “many” led to criticism online. And the demands for rougher Democratic tactics are not limited to the party’s activist base. Shakir is a veteran of former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s office; Adam Jentleson, who was Reid’s former deputy chief of staff, argued in The Washington Post on Friday that Democrats should deny unanimous consent on Trump nominees, forcing Republicans to spend extra days debating them.
“With 48 senators in their caucus, [Democrats] have the votes to block most bills,” Jentleson wrote. “But even when Democrats don’t have the votes, they can force McConnell to spend time jumping through procedural hoops. This is the insight McConnell deployed against Reid to manufacture the appearance of gridlock, forcing him to use the cloture process more than 600 times.”
Tillerson’s vote, scheduled for Monday evening, could become the first test of whether Democrats are willing to slow down the process, following Republican tactics that enraged them in the Obama years.