Democrats alone can’t stop President Donald Trump’s and the Republican Party's agendas.
Instead, they will try to make it a painfully long slog punctuated by slow-moving legislation and equally damaging public relations.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, held up the confirmation vote of Rep. Mike Pompeo to be CIA director Friday night because he wanted the nominee to be “fully vetted … and debated.” The move irritated Republicans who noted that the CIA would have no director for at least the weekend.
Pompeo was eventually easily confirmed by a vote of 66-32, but not until three days later. The outcome was the same but the process was slower and more difficult.
The Senate Judiciary Committee vote to approve Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general was delayed on Tuesday for a week. And the debate over the confirmation of former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state will begin next week. Democrats are considering using all thirty hours of debate allotted to them.
The confirmation stories of Pompeo, Sessions and Tillerson sum up in one word — delay — the Democrats’ strategy against many of President Donald Trump’s nominees, and, more broadly, the Republicans’ entire agenda.
Democrats in the Senate are in the minority and don't have enough members to block a nominee. However, if they slow down the process, it not only gives the party more time to negatively influence public opinion of the GOP agenda, but it also eats up valuable Senate floor time and stalls what Republicans hoped would be an aggressive legislative agenda that includes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Senate rules allow for up to 30 hours of debate on each nominee. Thirty hours of clock time could take days. Multiply that by a dozen cabinet nominees — not to mention the dozens of lower-level nominees that will come before the Senate — and it leaves much less time to achieve legislative wins.
Republicans hoped to have most of Trump's nominees confirmed by now, and they are far off pace, pushing the confirmation process into February.
Pointing to missing paperwork and incomplete background checks, Democrats have succeeded in delaying numerous confirmation hearings, committee votes and floor votes.
“Senate Republicans did not want to have a full debate on the merits of these nominees in committee, but they should be prepared to do so on the floor of the United States Senate,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor last week.
For example, in the second week of January, as ten confirmation hearings were scheduled, Republicans gave into pressure and postponed four of them, causing at least one hearing, that of Andy Puzder to be Labor secretary, to be delayed until February.
Republicans continue to argue that President Barack Obama had seven members of his cabinet confirmed on his first day. Instead, Trump has the fewest number of nominees confirmed on his first day of any president at least since Jimmy Carter in 1978.
“The more we learn about these nominees, the clearer it becomes that Trump's plan is to break his campaign promises, and the more the public gets fired up for a thunderous fight to stop him,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of the progressive grassroots group MoveOn.
MoveOn organized events at senators' offices in their home districts around the country to “stop Trump’s #swampcabinet.” It’s part of a sustained, multi-faceted campaign of calling Congressional offices, attending local town hall events and holding rallies.
Slowing the confirmation process log-jams Republicans' other legislative goals, too.
Even without the Democrats' delay tactic, the Senate has a long list of must-pass bills scheduled — including funding for the current fiscal year as well as for 2018 and even a vote to lift the debt ceiling. Debate will likely take days in the slow-moving Senate.
"These other issues will suck all the oxygen out of the Capitol," Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said. "It's hard to get to the policy questions."
The Republicans' wish list is long: Obamacare repeal and replacement, tax reform, and border wall funding and infrastructure — a lengthy list for a legislative body scheduled to be in Washington only three to four days per week.
"Trump's first 100 days are going to look nothing like Obama's first 100 days," Wikler said.
A new President Barack Obama fast-tracked a voluminous agenda, including a large stimulus package for an ailing economy. What also benefited him, however, was that he had a super majority in the Senate, giving Republicans little opportunity to block or slow his agenda.
"The Democrats up here are angry. They are very very angry," said Sen. Risch, R-Idaho. "I know anger when I see anger. These people are angry."