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Senate opposition to Trump Cabinet nominees likely to set record

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee participate in

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee participate in the committee's "markup" on the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next U.S. attorney general on Jan. 31, 2017, in Washington, D.C. Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is expected to set a record in the coming weeks: Senate Democrats are on track to vote against more of his Cabinet nominees and cast more votes against them than for any other first-term president in U.S. history.

That anticipated milestone underscores the heightened partisan clash in Washington, as Democrats object to Trump’s unconventional Cabinet choices, who include billionaires with no government experience, ideologically conservative lawmakers and nominees accused of having conflicts of interest.

Democrats also are waging a procedural war to slow down the confirmation process: Four appointees have been confirmed, eight are awaiting a full Senate vote and three are still being vetted in committee.

Despite the unprecedented opposition led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the 52-member Senate Republican majority is expected to confirm most, if not all of Trump’s Cabinet because they need only 51 votes.

Yet the scale of this conflict shows deep discord and party-line governing. “That does not bode well for policymaking and long-term interests of the administration,” said Hofstra presidential scholar Meena Bose.

Battles over a new president’s Cabinet appointments have happened sporadically over the years. Both John Quincy Adams and Rutherford B. Hayes faced stiff opposition after winning in contested elections, Bose said.

Still, the Senate has approved, without a dissenting vote, the Cabinets of three-quarters of the 43 first-term presidents, according to a Newsday analysis of Senate Historical Office records.

Since Richard Nixon became president in 1969 and partisanship began to grow, the analysis shows it has become routine for senators in the opposition party to vote against at least one or two of a president’s first-term Cabinet choices.

President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, now holds the record for the number of first-term Cabinet members that senators voted against — eight.

President Barack Obama, a Democrat, has the record for most total votes against his first set of nominees, with 105.

Trump, who has 15 Cabinet positions to fill, is on a path to demolish both records.

Already, Democrats have cast 61 votes against Trump’s four confirmed appointees, a total tied for the third-most ever.

Schumer voted against two of the confirmed Cabinet members and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) voted against all four.

And Democrats are just getting started.

Schumer said he’ll vote no on seven of the 11 other Cabinet nominees, and several Democrats also have come out against many of them.

Schumer criticized Trump and his aides for their selections. “They have not proposed a normal Cabinet. This is not even close to normal,” Schumer said last week. “I’ve never seen a Cabinet this full of bankers and billionaires, folks with massive conflicts of interest and such little experience or expertise in the areas they will oversee.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer has criticized Schumer, saying he’s shown “he’s more interested in politics than actually moving the government along. And I think that is troubling.”

Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said, “Sen. Schumer has taken dysfunction to a whole new level.”

The Senate is expected to vote on more nominees this week, but only four have cleared the Democrats’ procedural hurdles so far. It is not clear yet when any will get a final vote.

When the final tally is in, the history-making opposition will stand even when the historical record is adjusted for the number of Cabinet members, which has grown from five to 15, and the number of senators, which has risen from 26 to 100.

But the record also shows that having a cooperative Senate that votes for Cabinet appointees does not necessarily translate into smooth sailing for the new administration.

The only recent president whose Cabinet picks were approved without a single “no” vote was Bill Clinton in 1993.

To achieve that, Clinton had to withdraw his first two choices for attorney general because they didn’t pay nanny taxes. Five years later, Republicans tried to impeach him.

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