Incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gained congressional approval this week, becoming the sixth high-ranking Trump nominee to be approved by the Senate.
The next big battle will be to fill the late Justice Scalia’s Supreme Court spot, and many Democrats are still angry that Republicans blocked Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland.
On Wednesday, Trump told Senate Republicans to “go nuclear” if the Dems try to block Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Trump told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that it “would be an absolute shame if a man of this quality was put up to that neglect.”
“Going nuclear” refers to a plan that would circumvent a Democratic filibuster by changing the rule that requires a two-thirds majority vote. “The rule requiring a 60-vote majority to approve Gorsuch could be changed with a simple-majority vote – and then Republicans would have the votes to approve his nomination,” repots The Washington Post.
Bipartisan relations have dropped to “historically low levels in Congress,” reports the Post, but Republicans are optimistic that they can get the eight Democratic votes they need to confirm Gorsuch without breaking the rules.
Lawmakers on both sides believe “going nuclear” is a bad idea. “It diminishes the true balance and effectiveness of the Senate,” says Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Democrats like Charles Schumer (D-NY) have been more hostile towards Gorsuch, accusing him of basing legal decision on conservative ideologies and favoring corporate interests over normal people. “I have very serious doubts that Judge Neil Gorsuch is up to the job,” complained Schumer.
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), who could vote either way, says he’s “concerned” about Gorsuch’s views on campaign finance laws and voting rights.
Senate Republicans have labeled Gorsuch “mainstream,” with McConnell praising him as a “judge who’s known for deciding cases based on how the law is actually written, not how he wishes it were written, even when it leads to results that conflict with his own political beliefs.”
Trump’s pick to lead the Dept. of Education – Betsy DeVos – is in an even worse position than Gorsuch, and lawmakers on both sides are concerned with her focus on charter schools.
“I’m worried that Mrs. DeVos’s lack of experience with public schools will make it difficult for her to fully understand, identify, and assist with those challenges,” says Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). Republicans hold an effective 52-48 majority, but at least two have hinted that they will be siding with the Democrats against DeVos.
The vote on AG nominee Jeff Sessions (R-AL) will also be interesting. As I wrote in a previous article, the confirmation vote on Sessions has been transformed into a referendum on Trump’s controversial immigration policies. Sessions won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, and we expect him to win full approval soon.