Dem Senators Face Loud Demands From Base To Block Trump's Cabinet

Jan 31, 2017
Originally published on January 31, 2017 9:45 pm
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While Democratic lawmakers are speaking out against President Trump's policies, the party's base wants more. Some protesters are demanding that Senate Democrats try to block Trump's nominees from getting confirmed. The problem is the minority party doesn't have the votes to do that unless some Republicans also vote no. NPR's Scott Detrow reports from the Capitol.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: When House and Senate Democrats held a rally last night to oppose Trump's executive order on refugees and immigrants, the crowd wasn't all on their side.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Do your job. Do your job. Do your job.

DETROW: Do your job. That's something several Democrats have been hearing because of the fact that so far, Cabinet picks have been passing by relatively wide margins. Protesters confronted Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse this weekend. Their problem - the fact that one of the most liberal members of the Senate had voted in favor of CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was approved by wide margins.

In Cranston, R.I., today, Jane Tucker and about 50 other people showed up at Senator Jack Reed's office to demand Reed vote against Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general. In fact, Reed has already said he'll vote no on that pick.

JANE TUCKER: Yay, OK, good. We're going to be here to say thank you then. And we're also going to talk to him about all the other horrible Cabinet picks that he hasn't come out against yet.

DETROW: In addition to these office visits, most Democratic senators' phones have been ringing off the hook.

TUCKER: We're looking for more senators, our senators to be like Warren and Sanders. We want them outspoken and advocating for us.

DETROW: But even Elizabeth Warren is drawing the ire of angry progressives. After a committee vote in favor of Ben Carson's Housing and Urban Development nomination, Warren had to explain herself.

OK, let's talk about Dr. Ben Carson, she wrote on Facebook, saying he's not who she'd want running the department but that he made good promises during his confirmation hearing. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut says he's hearing a lot of feedback, too.

CHRIS MURPHY: I don't think one is pushing the other. I think both, you know, Democratic senators and those who are protesting outside recognize the gravity of this moment. So I wouldn't say that one is influencing the other.

DETROW: But the fact is as the pushback has gotten louder, Senate Democrats have adjusted their tactics. Today, they blocked a committee vote on two Trump Cabinet picks by boycotting a committee meeting. That's not a permanent solution, but it slows down the confirmation timeline for Trump's Treasury and Health and Human Services picks.

And in the Senate where decorum goes a long way, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made waves today by voting no on the nomination of Elaine Chao for transportation secretary. She's the wife of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and someone who's worked in several White Houses.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: My view is that every nominee to the Cabinet should state their position on this horrible executive order. And Secretary Chao was asked by Senator Nelson to do so publicly. She has not, so I voted against her. And I will vote against every nominee who does not.

DETROW: Democrats are also delaying a final vote on Rex Tillerson's secretary of state nomination for as long as they can. Still, Schumer is facing protests at his Brooklyn home tonight for not grinding the Senate to a halt to block Trump's Cabinet picks. The fact is, Democrats are hesitant to throw the same roadblocks that Republicans used throughout President Obama's eight years in office. Here's Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

SHERROD BROWN: There's not a plan to slow walk or slow things down the way that Mitch McConnell did on darn near everything.

DETROW: That may change if this pushback continues. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.