Tammy Baldwin attracting attention for her ‘no’ votes on Trump nominees
The Capital Times
February 28, 2017
Partisan objection to presidential cabinet nominees is nothing new. It manifested under Republican President George W. Bush, and reached new heights under Democratic President Barack Obama.
After votes on 14 of his nominees, Republican President Donald Trump’s cabinet has had the second-most total “no” votes of any president’s in history. Obama’s nominees, over two terms, had the most at 406.
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin has supplied nine of the “no” votes against Trump’s picks. Opposition from Baldwin’s fellow Senate Democrats to Trump’s nominees is largely symbolic; they can’t prevent confirmations, but they can delay them. And they have.
In many cases, the symbolic opposition is tied to the 2018 election. Democratic senators face different kinds of pressures depending on the politics of their states. Democrats from blue states, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, can appease their base by casting “no” votes. Democrats from red and swing states can do the same, but not without catching the attention of national groups on the right looking to target them in ad campaigns.
That’s already happening to Baldwin. In addition to opposing nine of Trump’s nominees, Baldwin also voted against a waiver to allow retired Gen. James Mattis to serve as defense secretary, but voted in favor of his confirmation.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, has the most “no” votes, at 12. Six senators, including Warren and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, have opposed 11 nominees, and three have opposed 10. Baldwin is one of seven senators to have voted “no” nine times.
Among red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2018, Baldwin is joined by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Montana Sen. Jon Tester in having voted against nine appointees. At the low end is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who has only voted “no” three times.
Baldwin’s classification as a red-state Democrat is new. In 2016, Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes went to a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1984. But groups that back Republican candidates have been quick to target her as they assess 2018.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee took aim at Baldwin with a TV ad earlier this month pressing her not to filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. Groups like NRSC, America Rising PAC and America Rising Squared have been pushing the narrative throughout the confirmation process that Baldwin is a far-left obstructionist who has flip-flopped on her position when it comes to confirming Supreme Court nominees.
Gov. Scott Walker has joined the push against Baldwin, sparring with her on Twitter and calling on her to support a confirmation vote for Gorsuch at a news conference held by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.
Baldwin has said she supports a hearing and confirmation for Gorsuch, but that she will not vote to confirm him.
“I believe Judge Gorsuch needs to earn bipartisan support and 60 votes in Senate, but I will not be one of them,” Baldwin said in a statement this week.
There is no standard requiring 60 votes to confirm a Supreme Court candidate, however, 60 votes would be needed to end a filibuster if Democrats use one to block a vote.
Wisconsin’s Republican Sen. Ron Johnson supports Gorsuch, but last year joined Senate Republicans in blocking a vote on Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland.
Johnson, announcing his support of Gorsuch, praised his “fidelity to the Constitution and integrity to apply the law as a judge, not a superlegislator.”
Baldwin said she has “deep concerns about Judge Gorsuch’s record of ruling against disabled students, against workers, and against women’s reproductive health care.”
This year, Baldwin and Johnson have diverged on every nominee she has opposed. Johnson has voted to confirm each of Trump’s nominees, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose nomination sparked a flood of phone calls from constituents lobbying against her confirmation.
“I have heard senators on a bipartisan fashion talk about how elections matter, how presidents do deserve to surround themselves with advisers that agree with them, not necessarily with the members of the opposing party,” Johnson said during a Feb. 16 telephone town hall. “Certainly my track record was voting to confirm the vast majority of the nominees put forward by President Obama.”
Johnson, who took office two years after Obama began his first term, voted to confirm 17 cabinet nominees and voted against eight, including former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee over the weekend.
Baldwin has been especially vocal about her opposition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose commitment to defending civil rights she questioned; to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom she called a “billionaire oil tycoon;” and to DeVos, who she said is unqualified for the role.
“I look to make a judgment about each nominee individually, and when I do, I’m thinking about Wisconsinites and why they sent me here,” Baldwin said in an emailed statement. “In 2012, I was elected by the people of Wisconsin to take on powerful interests in Washington and to fight for Wisconsin’s working class. That is what I have done and that is what I will continue to do as I examine each nomination.”
The Wisconsin GOP slammed Baldwin for her opposition to those nominees.
“After nearly 20 years in Washington, Senator Baldwin is radically out of touch with Wisconsin voters. Instead of fighting for hardworking Wisconsin families, Senator Baldwin has aligned herself with the far-left wing of her party to defend liberal special interests and the Washington status quo,” said Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman Alec Zimmerman.
Baldwin argued Trump has not followed through on his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” by reducing special-interest influence on government.
“Many of his cabinet nominations present serious ethics concerns and are industry insiders poised to write rules to make a rigged system even worse,” she said.
A Los Angeles Times analysis found that Trump has nominated fewer cabinet members with political experience than Obama and Bush did. Trump’s cabinet has less executive business experience than Bush’s did, but more than Obama’s did. The analysis also showed that Trump has nominated fewer non-white cabinet members than Obama and Bush did.
So far, Trump has not nominated any Democrats to his cabinet. Obama nominated two Republicans to his cabinet, and Bush nominated one Democrat to his.
Baldwin has voted to confirm Mattis, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.
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