Last week, I opined on the slow pace of Senate confirmations for President Trump’s cabinet nominations. With just five Trump nominees confirmed at that time, disgruntled Democrats had managed to block, delay or boycott the hearings.
A week later, I would like to announce the Senate confirmation pace has picked up, but that would be a clear case of resorting to “alternate facts,” which I abhor to the core. The truth is only modest progress has been made.
First came the controversial, contentious and razor-thin confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The billionaire businesswoman was pilloried by Democrats and praised by Republicans, except for Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Both voted against Devos. Their defection from the GOP ranks resulted in an unprecedented 50-50 tie vote between Senate Democrats and Republicans. That meant Vice President Mike Pence would have to do his duty as Senate President by breaking the tie, which he did in favor of DeVos. According to my research, that is the first time in American history a vice president has been called to cast the deciding vote in a Senate confirmation for a presidential cabinet nominee. However, it may not be the last.
Next came the controversial confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Like DeVos, he was lauded by fellow Republicans and lambasted by several Democrats, including Sens. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Charles Schumer, and Elizabeth Warren. Despite their vocal vitriol against a fellow senator, Sessions was ultimately confirmed 53-47. A number of Democrats, one, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin voted for him.
Finally Friday, the Senate confirmed GOP Representative Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. That puts him in charge of repealing and replacing the controversial Affordable Care Act. The final vote was 52-47. It came shortly after 2 a.m., in the wake of Democratic denunciations and Republican accolades. Dr. Price will be the first physician to lead the department since Dr. Louis Sullivan left that post at the end of the first Bush administration in 1993.
By the way, the Senate remained in session for 57 continuous hours last week, just to confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. No wonder tempers flared on both sides of the aisle, as acrimony trumped amity.
With senators, Democrat and Republican, exhausted by the many late-night sessions, there are some signs of a thaw in the confirmation process. If so, it could result in getting the vast majority of Trump’s nominees confirmed by the Senate before Congress goes on recess, now scheduled for Friday, Feb. 17.
However, hard-core disgruntled Democrats are likely to persist in their resistance to any and all of President Trump’s nominees still to come. And that includes the “Big Kahuna,” his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. If confirmed, he will fill the seat vacated a year ago by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.