Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has a simple request for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees must meet the same traditional standards that were demanded of President Barack Obama’s nominees eight years ago.
In fact, the request is so similar that Schumer sent the exact same letter McConnell sent to Harry Reid, then the Democratic majority leader of the Senate, and simply swapped out some of the names:
Our requests are eminently reasonable, shared by leaders of both parties. I'll return this letter to @SenateMajLdr with the same requests. pic.twitter.com/IMT7ZtJFjV— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 9, 2017
There’s a reason for the snark: Republicans, who control the Senate, are starting to hold nomination hearings before the nominees have completed background checks and ethics clearances that are traditionally required of Cabinet appointees. These were the first two standards that McConnell demanded of Obama’s Cabinet nominees eight years ago — and that the Obama administration met — when Democrats controlled the Senate.
Yet Trump’s nominees now seem to be getting a pass on these same standards, even though there are lingering concerns about the Trump administration’s big conflicts of interest around the world.
Still, Schumer’s letter likely won’t be able to accomplish as much as McConnell’s did.
When McConnell sent this letter eight years ago, there was an implicit threat that GOP senators would filibuster — which would require 60 out of 100 votes in the Senate to overcome — Obama’s nominees if Democrats didn’t follow the rules, effectively stopping any nominee from getting through.
But after years of Republican obstruction of Obama’s nominees, Democrats in the Senate dismantled the filibuster for executive nominees, including Cabinet positions. So now these executive nominations can’t be filibustered and only need a simple majority to get through.
Since Republicans have 52 of 100 seats in the Senate and only need 50 votes (the vice president, soon to be a Republican, can break a tie) to clear a nominee, they don’t have to worry about appeasing Democrats. And that leaves the minority party with no real political leverage for nominees, giving McConnell’s letter much less weight than it had eight years ago.