Moderate Democrats are suggesting progressives are getting too far ahead of themselves by calling on members of the party to use hardball tactics and loopholes to keep Republicans from blocking Biden cabinet picks.
These progressive calls are the result of a shrewd assessment of the power imbalance Biden will face: If Democrats lose in the Georgia run-offs and Republicans maintain their control of the Senate, Mitch McConnell is likely to lead the party in blocking Biden appointees, or at least making the process of confirming them more difficult. It is also the case that if Republicans continue to hold the Senate majority, it will be virtually impossible for more left-leaning Democrats to pass any meaningful legislation, making the agency heads and cabinet members Biden selects crucial to enacting any sort of progressive agenda.
Progressive groups aren’t suggesting any strategies beyond what McConnell and Republicans themselves have used in the past, as Sam Adler-Bell explained in a piece for The New Republic last week. For example, Democrats could take advantage of recess appointments, a method of filling vacancies in a president’s administration during Senate recesses. Or, they could exercise the Vacancies Act, which allows presidents to temporarily fill vacancies with “acting” government officials.
But some members of the party—even those who have at times argued otherwise—insist that Republicans may come to confirmation hearings in good faith and approve Biden’s picks with little protest.
“The suggestions that we should leap ahead and assume that no one can get confirmed and that we should use some extraordinary measures is just getting a little bit ahead of ourselves,” Delaware Senator Chris Coons told the Hill on Sunday.
“Let’s just wait,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy said. “My hope is that progressive groups focus on one thing at a time, and right now, we should be focused on winning Georgia.”
Yet in the immediate aftermath of the election, Murphy seemed to suggest that the situation was just as dire as progressives say: “Mitch McConnell will force Joe Biden to negotiate every single cabinet secretary, every single district court judge, every single U.S. attorney with him,” he said in a Nov. 5 interview with Politico. “My guess is we’ll have a constitutional crisis pretty immediately.”
It’s somewhat maddening to hear Democrats place their hopes on Republican cooperation and good will once again, when history has shown there’s little reason to hold out for either. When Republicans—and cartoon villain Mitch McConnell in particular—see an opportunity to make a power grab, they tend to take it. The least Democrats could do is prepare to block these attempts, or entertain creative ways of getting around them.
After all, if you’re creating your cabinet with McConnell’s approval in mind, you’re already losing.