WASHINGTON – Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont progressive independent, has emerged as a candidate for labor secretary in the administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., a prospect that matches his ambitions to be a warrior for working Americans – and one that makes some Senate Republicans very uneasy.
“I think this is someone we know is an ideologue and is very unlikely to be sustained in a Republican-held Senate,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, one of several Republicans who served Mr. Sanders said. A self-described democratic socialist would likely not get the approval of the Chamber.
It is evidence of the deterioration in the Senate verification process that a longtime colleague – even one they vehemently oppose politics – would face such a Republican roadblock. In the not-too-distant past, fellow senators had considerable leeway in being selected to join the executive by the opposing party.
“The truth is, to the best of my knowledge, there was a courtesy in the Senate that when a president appoints senators, they were approved,” Sanders said in an interview.
The growing opposition of the Senators to Mr. Sanders, even before the new administration takes formal action, reflects the daunting task that Mr. Biden faces. Should Republicans hold onto their Senate majority next year, Mr Biden would be the first president since George Bush in 1989 to take office without his party controlling the chamber and administering the verification process. And that process has become much more toxic, to the point where senators routinely take a near-blanket approach to electing a president for the opposing party – if they allow it to be considered at all.
“It’s kind of unknown water,” said Lindsay M. Chervinsky, a presidential historian and author of a book on the George Washington cabinet. “For most of history, the Senate has given presidents, especially first term presidents, a wide berth. Usually they give the president whoever they want. “
Today there is no certainty. Some Republicans, who must win at least one of two runoff elections to the Senate in Georgia on Jan. 5 to maintain their slim majority, have already made it clear that they don’t want to give Mr. Biden much leeway in the nomination. They take note of the efforts made by the Democrats over the past four years to block the election of President Trump and force Republicans to overcome any time-consuming procedural hurdle, even if the final outcome was inevitable.
“I can assure you that Donald Trump will not have a single set of rules, and should Joe Biden take office, another set of rules for him,” said Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show this week. a conservative host. “What the Democrats have done for the past four years, if it’s good for the goose, it will be good for the beholder too.”
Other Republicans – including Senators Susan Collins from Maine, Lindsey Graham from South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska – have said they would be willing to support Mr Biden’s recommendations as long as they are mainstream and recognize that a Democratic one President is entitled to choose that fits his views.
You and other Republicans say potential candidates who could pass this test are Senator Doug Jones, the Alabama Democrat who lost his re-election offer this month; Antony Blinken, a longtime foreign policy advisor to Biden; and Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware and confidante of Biden.
But the general stance seems skeptical, and Republican senators have signaled that it is not just a duty for Mr Biden to give the President his team, but that it is right up to Mr Biden to find candidates to go with them can work together. In addition to Mr Sanders, Republicans have also announced that they will reject the nominations of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama.
It’s not just about the top slots. The Senate must also approve dozens of other candidates for the executive branch, who are critical to running large agencies.
If the Republicans hold out, it will be up to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader who in 2016 refused to even consider the Obama Supreme Court candidate for nominations. He’s not one to take action that isn’t widely supported by Republican senators and party voters.
The transition of the president
“I would hope McConnell doesn’t get someone down who has strong opposition in the Republican caucus and the Republican base,” said Republican Senator Richard C. Shelby from Alabama.
Only nine cabinet candidates were rejected by the Senate, and 15 more were withdrawn when issues threatening affirmation arose. The high profile defeats included John Tower, Mr. Bush’s election as Secretary of Defense, whose nomination was failed by his former Senate colleagues who cited character flaws. He was the last cabinet candidate to be definitively defeated and the first former senator to be rejected.
Despite these rare exceptions, the top presidential elections in the past received fairly easy and quick approval as new administrations took shape and lawmakers wanted to ensure government continuity, sometimes confirming cabinet secretaries unanimously without a vote. Even in Mr Obama’s first term, which began in 2009, several candidates were voted for on the day of his inauguration. Hillary Clinton was confirmed as Secretary of State by a 94-2 vote on Mr Obama’s first full day as President.
But the process has gotten increasingly uglier, and partisanship has increased over the past decade. Much of the focus has been on judicial officer appointments and their tenure in office, but executive jobs have also been caught in the crossfire. After taking control of the Senate in 2015, Republicans moved slowly forward to some Obama candidates for executive and ambassadorial posts, reluctantly allowing Loretta Lynch a 56-43 approval after months of delay and debate.
Still reveling in the Republicans’ decision to block Judge Merrick B. Garland’s nomination by the Supreme Court in 2016, Senate Democrats deemed many of Mr. Trump’s nominees unqualified and unsuitable.
During the Democratic presidential primaries, Senate candidates proudly emphasized the number of candidates for the Trump administration they had spoken out against. Similarly, Senate Republicans voting in the 2022 election or considering running for presidency in 2024 might be reluctant to be viewed as too cooperative with the Biden administration for fear of angering supporters or primary To trigger opposition.
Biden transition officials are optimistic that the caliber of the new president’s decisions, his own knowledge of the Senate and the need to face the coronavirus pandemic will help move his selection through the polarized chamber.
“Its nominees will be experienced, able and ready to kick off on day one,” said Kate Bedingfield, a spokeswoman for the transition. “The American people voted in historic numbers for the Biden-Harris ticket and they expect the Senate to put together the capable team he needs to fight this virus and restore economic health.”
They also say they are under no illusions about the possible difficulties that lie ahead. They are putting together a high-profile team to build public support for their candidates, although Judge Garland’s case showed that Republicans do not easily succumb to such pressures.
Some Democrats and their progressive allies say that if Mr Biden is foiled on personnel issues, he should bypass the Senate and appoint incumbent agency chiefs, as Mr Trump often did, or use his power to appoint people appointed during recess in Congress. However, the proceedings of the Supreme Court and Senate have helped severely limit opportunities for appointments during recess, and the incumbent officials do not have the same clout as those confirmed by the Senate.
Members of the new administration and Senate Democrats would greatly prefer Mr Biden’s decisions to receive the full Senate stamp of approval, and that includes any Democratic Senators installed for cabinet posts if Mr Biden decides to move in that direction.
“I would hope and expect that there will be at least a number of Republican senators who understand that it is the sitting president’s prerogative to nominate candidates to his liking,” said Sanders. “And that they would respect that.”