Virtually all Democratic senators are expected to vote against President Trump’s picks to lead the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury and his top budget nominee — a historic rebuke of a first-term president’s Cabinet selections.
The Senate is scheduled to continue confirming Trump’s Cabinet nominees this week, with a vote scheduled for Tuesday to approve Betsy DeVos, nominated to run the Education Department. Senators are poised to confirm Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to serve as the next attorney general by the end of the week.
But those votes are expected to happen with little or no Democratic support. Only Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) has announced plans to support Sessions. As of Monday, no Democrat has announced support for DeVos, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), nominated to lead Health and Human Services, or Steven T. Mnuchin, nominated as treasury secretary. They all are scheduled for up-or-down votes in the coming days.
Near-unanimous opposition to a first-term president’s Cabinet picks is rare and hasn’t happened in recent history. But it comes amid a growing furor among progressive groups calling on Democratic lawmakers to oppose all of Trump’s nominees and policies. A CNN poll released on Sunday showed that just 59 percent of Democrats approve of their party’s leaders, a sign that die-hard partisans want lawmakers to serve as a more aggressive check on Trump.
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted that “If not total unanimity, we’re going to have near Democratic unity in opposing the remaining nominees for President Trump’s Cabinet. This unity makes clear just how bad this Cabinet would be for America’s middle class and those struggling to get there, and bodes well for the major battles ahead, including over the Affordable Care Act.”
Opposition to Labor nominee Andrew Puzder; Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget; and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency remains firm, but the final whip count is less certain, aides said. Votes on those nominees are not scheduled for a few more weeks. Puzder has not yet been scheduled for a confirmation hearing.
Republicans on Monday blasted Democrats for continuing to delay votes on Trump’s nominees, especially for forcing senators to run out the clock on procedural votes to prolong the inevitable. The continued delays are causing the slowest formation of a new president’s Cabinet since at least the 1950s, Republican said. As of Monday, just four of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries have been confirmed, compared with 12 of former president Barack Obama’s Cabinet secretaries at this point in 2009 and 16 of George W. Bush’s picks in 2001.
“The American people elected a new president last November. Democrats don’t have to like that decision, but they do have a responsibility to our country,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Monday.
Democrats announced in January that they would target eight Trump Cabinet nominees on the basis of their policy positions or lack of government experience. Only one of the eight, Rex Tillerson, has been confirmed so far — but he was the first secretary of state nominee in U.S. history to ever have to clear various procedural hurdles before a final vote.
Schumer’s declaration came as Democrats launched a last-ditch attempt to oppose DeVos by announcing that they will continue to speak out against her nomination through the overnight hours until the vote on Tuesday afternoon.
DeVos, a billionaire Republican power broker and charter school advocate, is expected to be confirmed with a one-vote margin. Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said that they will oppose her, meaning they would join all Democrats to cause a 50-50 tie. That means Vice President Pence would be called in to break the tie in DeVos’s favor — becoming the first vice president to cast a Senate vote since Richard B. Cheney helped break a tie on a procedural matter in 2008.
The opposition to DeVos is notable given that 25 Democrats are facing reelection next year, including 10 from states that Trump won. Those 10 have been facing pressure from Republicans to work with Trump or to be supportive of his policies and nominees.
But even the most imperiled Democrats are standing firm, including Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who has said he will vote against DeVos, Sessions and Price. He continues reviewing Mnuchin’s record before a final vote, a spokeswoman said.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said last month that he plans to vote against DeVos in part because she “prioritizes private schools over public ones. That would put our students, Montana’s rural communities and our very democracy at risk.”
DeVos has spent decades using her family wealth and its political clout to advocate giving parents taxpayer-funded avenues to allow choice beyond troubled public schools.
Many Republican elected officials, who have received campaign donations from DeVos or her family members, embrace her views and consider her an ideal “outsider” to change the nation’s education system.
But progressive groups and labor unions — who also donate generously to Democratic senators — have unleashed members on senators in both parties for weeks, flooding Capitol Hill phone systems with messages opposing DeVos.
Trump’s other nominees aren’t faring well among Democrats, either. Despite early hopes for broader support for Sessions and six-figure ad campaigns by conservative organizations supporting him, several moderate Democrats remain undecided.
Representatives for Tester and Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wouldn’t say on Monday whether the lawmakers had decided to back Sessions. Voting no would put them at odds with groups such as the National Rifle Association, which said it will include the Sessions confirmation vote in its voter scorecard next year.
A McCaskill spokeswoman said that the senator plans to vote against Price but is undecided on Mnuchin. Representatives for Heitkamp, Manchin and Tester said that those lawmakers hadn’t reached conclusions on Price or Mnuchin.