The three lessons learned from a wild week of Senate confirmations!
To say President Donald Trump’s cabinet has been controversial would be an understatement. Everyone from Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State to Sen. Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General, has drew some amount of controversy. Even a rather mundane appointment like Secretary of Education drew some of the strongest opposition from Democrats when President Trump named Betsy DeVos!
While it isn’t unusual to have fierce debates over cabinet appointees, this week in the Senate held important lessons to what can be expected in terms of congressional action for the next 4 years.
Lesson #1: Citizen Push-Back Actually Mattered, Even If It Seemed Like It Didn’t
— Rachel Levy (@RachelAnneLevy) February 1, 2017
For teachers’ unions, progressive school reform advocates, and private citizens, the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education most definitely hurt. It probably hurts even more knowing that they were just one vote away from actually blocking DeVos’ confirmation in the Senate. And while many of them will think the calls to their local senators weren’t effective, that couldn’t be further from the truth!
Take Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Rhode Island for example.
Originally Sen. Collins, like all Republicans in the Senate, were going to confirm all of President Trump’s nominee with little to no fanfair. But then the calls came in. As a moderate Republican, Sen. Collins was the ideal case in which groups against the nomination of DeVos could target to change their vote. And for their part, it almost worked!
Senators, like all politicians, really at the end of the day, only care about one thing; reelection. The targeting of moderate Republicans, to bombard their offices with phone calls worked relatively well. Or at the very least, make GOP Senators think twice before towing their party’s line.
The bombardment of constituent calls looked to be effective, and is a tactic that progressive groups could (and should) use going forward.
Lesson #2: Money Didn’t Matter THAT Much in the Confirmation Process (But It Definitely Did Help!)
The above video, featuring a pissed-off Ashley Judd, is a political ad from the group America Next. They’re a policy group formed by former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal back in 2013 that focuses on “winning the war on ideas” by pushing conservative policies. So when legitimate pushback on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos started to take place, it wasn’t very long till ads like the one above started to air on TV.
And we don’t have to remind you, political ads cost quite a bit of $$cash$$.
So with the confirmation of DeVos, the conclusion for many was simple; that “big money” had essentially pushed her through! But in reality, it’s more complicated than that…
DeVos represents an idea that Republicans have tried to champion for years; the policy of School Choice. As we explained in our DeVos profile, School Choice through the use of federal vouchers has become a major talking point among Republicans. As former chairwoman of the board of Alliance for School Choice – a group that pushes for School Choice legislation – DeVos as the Secretary of Education finally gives Republicans a voice in steering education policy towards that direction on a federal level. So in terms of School Choice, that potentially means encouraging state boards into adopting voucher programs through the incentivizing of federal grants.
Now did DeVos donating millions to GOP senators and various conservative super PACs give her a leg up in becoming President Trump’s choice as Secretary of Education; absolutely! But this is one of those “two birds with one stone” situations. The money definitely played a part in the GOP specifically choosing her, but there was more to her backing than just the money here.
Lesson #3: To the Victor Goes the Spoils
President Trump’s cabinet confirmation process in the Senate has shown one thing, the GOP isn’t afraid of pushing their weight around when it comes to interpreting senatorial procedures! Take Tuesday night’s incident when Sen. Elizabeth Warren tried to read statements by former Sen. Edward Kennedy and Coretta Scott King regarding Sen. Jeff Sessions.
With a vote of 49-to-43, right down party lines, Senate Republicans barred Sen. Warren from debating any further on the nomination of Sen. Sessions as Attorney General. The ousting came from an obscure rule in the senate bylaws known as Rule 19, which states, “no Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” In other words, by Sen. Warren reading a statement by Coretta Scott King that regarded Sen. Sessions as a “disgrace”, she overstepped her boundaries in regards to senate decorum by essentially badmouthing a fellow senator.
Quite honestly, this objection by Majority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is…
The Senate has always been an uneven venue when it comes to enforcing its rules. Granted, debate in the US Senate, for the most part, is generally cordial. But to say that Sen. Warren had violated decorum by “attacking” Sen. Session’s character by just reading a written statement is absurd! Especially if you consider Sen. Ted Cruz basically calling Sen. McConnell a liar back in 2015 and not get reprimanded for it!
The same strong-armed tactics looked to be true for DeVos’ confirmation vote as well.
DeVos, at her confirmation hearing, consistently looked to be out of her element, as she couldn’t field even the simplest education questions from Senate committee members. Yet earlier this week, in an unprecedented Senate vote where the Vice-President had to be the tie-breaker to approve a cabinet member, DeVos was confirmed as the US’ next Secretary of Education.
While DeVos getting confirmed by the Senate always looked to be inevitable – the GOP control both the presidency and the Senate after all – it’s still remarkable that it took a tie-breaking vote by the Vice President to get her confirmed!
Over the last few days, political junkies have been pondering whether Senate Republicans would go as far as to “go nuclear” and repeal the Democrat’s filibuster power, if they were to push-back enough against President Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch? Last week many – like ourselves – would have said it’s unlikely that Senate Republicans would go as far as to repeal the filibuster power in SCOTUS confirmations, because that’s a relatively extreme action for the ruling party to take in the Senate. But after the events of this week, everything now looks to be in play for Senate Republicans.
(Photo Credits: Google Images, C-SPAN’s YouTube Channel)