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Words of GOP Senators Come Back to Haunt Them

Back in December, Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig issued a warning describing what would happen if Senate Republicans continued to use their power during the lame-duck period to obstruct a swift confirmation process for President-elect Biden’s Cabinet nominees. He warned of the dangers of the potential setback, and the families, small businesses, and workers that would suffer from any delay during the transition from one administration to the next. 

Fast forward a month, and that warning has become a dire reality. Just two days before the Inauguration, none of President-elect Biden’s nominees have had hearings in the Senate, and only five are on the books for January 19, just one day before the Inauguration. Not only does this break a 45-year, 10-administration precedent of preparing the new administration’s national security team to get to work on day one, but goes against the very demands made by Republican senators, who, just four years ago, prioritized Trump’s picks in the name of national security. 

Setting the Scene: 

Four years ago, Senate Republicans rallied behind unqualified, inexperienced, and potentially compromised Trump nominees, rushing them through confirmation hearings and ignoring legitimate concerns from independent ethics watchdogs regarding their qualifications. Many of Trump’s nominees willfully did the bidding of special interests, helping Big Oil and Big Pharma get richer — while leaving working families behind. Now, those same senators are standing in the way of President-elect Biden’s Cabinet because they know his administration will undo the work of the Trump administration and finally put workers, families, and communities first.

We are also seeing rank hypocrisy from many Republican senators who in 2017 justifiably claimed that a president should have their national security team set up “from day one.” Now, as the new administration prepares for office, those same Republican Senators have slow-walked Biden’s national security nominees to the point that President elect-Biden is in danger of entering office without a single confirmed Cabinet secretary, completely abandoning their concerns for national security they professed just four years ago. 

Here are some Senate Republicans who preached about the importance of ensuring deference and a swift nomination process for an incoming administration in 2017:

  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I ask our friends across the aisle to now demonstrate the same courtesy and seriousness (President Obama was given) for President-Elect Trump’s nominees, especially his national security team. The Senate has a longstanding tradition of confirming the Cabinet nominees of a newly elected administration in a timely fashion, and the Senate and its committees are now following the same standard for President-Elect Trump and his nominees as we have for past Presidents.” [C-SPAN, 1/10/2017].
  • Senator Ron Johnson: Johnson, the outgoing chair of the Homeland Security committee, said “I think it is incumbent on this Committee and I think it is incumbent on the U.S. Senate to recognize how important it is for any President to be able to set up and establish their national security team from day one”. [U.S. Government Publishing Office, 1/10/2017]. 
  • Senator John Barasso: Barrasso will serve as ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources committee. In 2017, he said “I think that the president coming in for his first time ought to be able to have the Cabinet. He won the election. He ought to have who he wants surrounding him. [CNBC, 1/20/2017]. 
  • Senator Chuck Grassley: “Previous attorney general nominees for presidents-elect — such as John Ashcroft for George W. Bush and Eric Holder for Barack Obama — had their confirmation hearings before the president was formally sworn into office… ‘It would be my intention to move ahead in that procedure,’ [POLITICO, 11/29/2016]
  • Senator John Cornyn: In 2017, Cornyn said, “I am prepared for the Senate to stay in session as long as it takes – all night, all weekend – to confirm President Trump’s Cabinet nominees.” [Tweet by Sen. John Cornyn, 1/20/2017]
  • Senator Marco Rubio: In 2017, Rubio explained, “I believe the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet.” [Facebook Post by Marco Rubio, 1/23/2017]
  • Senator Rob Portman: After voting to confirm Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Portman said, “I have long argued that every president — no matter the party — should be given considerable leeway when it comes to putting together his or her team.” [Columbus Dispatch, 2/7/2017

This obstructionism from Senate Republicans is especially galling, considering the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, as well as the fact that the United States was just victim to what is being deemed the “worst domestic attack since 9/11” at the Capitol, in addition to the worst Russia cybersecurity attack in recent history. These Republican stall tactics will delay leadership at the highest levels in the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense at one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history. If Republican senators have any concern for national security or public safety, they must work with Democrats to quickly move through the confirmation process to let President-elect Biden and his Cabinet get to work. 

We’re not the only ones concerned about Senate Republicans’ attempts to delay the transfer of power: Vox’s Ian Millhiser detailed all the ways in which Mitch McConnell, in his last days as Senate Majority Leader, is delaying or obstructing the incoming Biden administration, including using impeachment to further delay Senate business. According to Millhiser, “unless confirmation hearings begin very soon, holding those hearings after Biden takes office could delay the confirmation of individual cabinet members by days or even weeks.” With the timeline of Senators-elect Warnock and Ossoff’s swearing-in shrouded in uncertainty, Senate Democrats won’t have the majority until further notice, leaving Republicans with more time to delay the confirmations until the majority is taken from them. 

At this rate, the majority of President-elect Biden’s nominees will not even have had hearings ahead of Inauguration Day. At the hands of Senate Republicans, the incoming Biden administration is in a worse position than Trump was in just four years ago when these same

Senate Republicans were calling for swift confirmations for the sake of national security. Now, with national security risks at an all-time high, President-elect Biden deserves the same ability his predecessors were given to get to work on day one for the American people.

At this point four years ago, Donald Trump was well on his way to a fully-formed Cabinet, with fifteen of his picks completing their hearings before Inauguration Day. Both Presidents Obama and Trump had their national security officials in place on day one, and George W. Bush had his secretaries of state and defense confirmed within four hours of being sworn in. According to Senate records, President-elect Biden will be only the second president in the last 45 years to not have his secretary of Defense confirmed on the day he is sworn into office. The lack of urgency demonstrated by Senate Republicans now, amid a deadly global pandemic, unprecedented civil unrest, and growing threats of national and cyber security attacks, is inconsistent with their hardline rhetoric from four years ago.

Unfortunately, this behavior is anything but surprising: Senate Republicans have been gearing up to delay President-elect Biden’s nominees since the moment he was declared the winner.

Here are some of the same Senate Republicans on the record detailing their plan to stall or obstruct President-elect Biden’s picks

  • Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “They (Biden’s nominees) aren’t all going to pass on a voice vote, and they aren’t all going to make it […].” [Politico, 12/22/2020] 
  • Senator John Barrasso (R-WY): “[I]t’s not going to be a garden party…If the Republicans are in the majority, these nominees are going to have to run the gauntlet.” [The Hill, 12/20/2020]
  • Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO): “[A]ll of these nominees ought to receive hard vetting — every single one of them.” [CNN, 12/22/2020]
  • Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA): “Senator Chuck Grassley signalled on Thursday that he and other Senate Republicans will reject President-elect Joe Biden’s request for them to quickly confirm his Cabinet selections so he can hit the ground running after his inauguration.” [Independent, 12/17/2020]
  • Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD): “Mike Rounds of South Dakota says the Senate won’t hurry to confirm Biden’s picks […].” [Roll Call, 12/14/2020
  • Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND): “We will be in a bit of a brawl […] We’re going to have to stand our ground and fight the fight.” [Detroit News, 12/18/2020]
  • Senator John Cornyn (R-TX): “I don’t know what [Becerra’s] Health and Human Services credentials are…It’s not like Alex Azar, who used to be, you know, work for pharma…” [POLITICO, 12/08/2020]
    • “[Neera Tanden] stands zero chance of being confirmed” over her ‘endless stream of disparaging comments about Republican Senators.” [Salon, 12/12/2020]
    • “I think most of us feel like there should be some deference in the president-elect’s choice for his Cabinet, but some of these folks are pretty radical.” [The Hill, 12/09/2020]
  • Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK): “I don’t really care [about the legal aspect]… [I care] more about the problems with Biden’s pick for Defense secretary, retired General Lloyd Austin.” [Axios, 12/10/2020]
  • Senator Mike Braun (R-IN): “[Becerra’s] got tons of other reasons I’m going to be uncomfortable with him.” [The Hill, 12/09/2020]

This behavior is blatantly hypocritical, and begs the question: why would these Senate Republicans, many of whom are on the record calling for a swift confirmation process just four years ago, drastically change their position? 

Jim Manley, political strategist and longtime aide to former Majority Leader Harry Reid with experience ushering in new administrations — both Republican and Democratic — outlined a potential motive behind these flip-flopping senators: money from special interest donors. Manley writes, “certain Republican senators will do anything to save their political souls and further their special-interest donors’ bottom lines, including, apparently, putting the health and safety of their own country at risk.” For the last four years, Republican members of Congress have done the bidding for special interests, big corporations, and billionaires at the expense of hardworking American families. Now, these same senators are stalling the confirmation process of President-elect Biden’s Cabinet because they feel threatened by this slate of qualified nominees who will finally put working families and the American people over the special interests that have bankrolled their political careers. 

  • Senate Majority Leader McConnell took $1.8 million from Big Pharma and indicated he would not move quickly to confirm President-elect Biden’s nominees, including Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. 
  • Senator Barrasso took nearly $1.2 million from Big Oil and stalled the confirmation of an energy secretary who vowed to take on polluters like oil corporations.
  • Senator Cornyn took over $1 million from Big Pharma and questioned the qualifications of Xavier Becerra, President-elect Biden’s pick for Secretary of HHS, who has a record of holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for gouging patients and for their role in the opioid epidemic.
  • Senator Grassley took over $1.3 million from the financial industry, and didn’t move to confirm President-elect Biden’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury.

President-elect Biden has gathered a top-notch, highly qualified team of experts who are ready to tackle our country’s toughest challenges. His team must be in place as quickly as possible to enact the agenda that millions of Americans support: to address the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritize the needs of working families ahead of special interests, and undo the damage caused by the last four years of the Trump administration. Further delaying the confirmation of President-elect Biden’s nominees will only cement Senate Republicans’ legacy as disrupters of the decades-long tradition of ensuring a swift transition of power from one administration to the next. It is the responsibility of these lawmakers during this lame-duck period to fulfill their oath of office, which includes preparing the next administration for leadership, regardless of their personal political beliefs. Any senator unable to do that should step down from their position and make room for leaders willing to put country over party.