'Idiots' — Senate tensions boil over

The Senate has become embroiled in bitterness and name-calling less than two weeks after Inauguration Day.

The usually genteel chamber of Congress has been anything but recently amid controversial directives from the White House, Democratic opposition to President Trump’s political appointees and protests around the country.

Democrats on Tuesday slowed the pace of confirming Trump’s Cabinet nominees to a crawl, outraging Republicans, who accused them of unprecedented obstruction. The tactical move triggered a leading Republican to label Democrats “idiots.” Meanwhile, a liberal Democrat accused one of Trump’s Cabinet picks of lying to the Senate.

And the Supreme Court battle hasn’t really gotten started yet. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats boycotted a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, preventing scheduled votes on Trump’s picks to head the Treasury and Health and Human Services departments. They also filibustered a vote on Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsMueller's investigation ends, but divisive political circus will continue Mueller delivers report to Justice, ending investigation Trump says 'people will not stand' for Mueller report MORE (R-Ala.), nominated for attorney general, in the Judiciary Committee, forcing Republicans to adjourn the meeting without action.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLessons from the 1999 U.S. military intervention in Kosovo Five things to watch as AIPAC conference kicks off Romney helps GOP look for new path on climate change MORE (R-Ky.) blasted Democrats for intentionally causing “chaos” and called their behavior “foolish.”

“They’re manufacturing issues on a daily basis to drag this process out and to treat this president’s initial Cabinet appointments differently from the way we’ve treated presidents of the Democratic Party in similar circumstances,” McConnell fumed at an afternoon press conference.

McConnell said Republicans were not enthusiastic about President Obama’s Cabinet picks in 2009 “but we did not prevent him from getting up and functioning.”

“Totally different treatment by the Senate majority at the beginning of Obama from what we’re experiencing here,” he said.

On his first day in office, six of Obama’s Cabinet nominees were confirmed.

As of Tuesday afternoon, senators had confirmed only three Trump Cabinet members: James Mattis as secretary of Defense, John Kelly as secretary of Homeland Security and Elaine Chao as secretary of Transportation.

The Senate has also confirmed Mike Pompeo to serve as CIA director and Nikki Haley to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchNY's political prosecution of Manafort should scare us all Congress must break its addiction to unjust tax extenders The FDA crackdown on dietary supplements is inadequate MORE (R-Utah) appeared furious after Democrats refused to show up to the meeting he scheduled on Steven Mnuchin and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump’s selections to lead the Treasury and Health and Human Services departments, respectively.

“I think they ought to stop posturing and acting like idiots,” grumbled Hatch, the Senate’s president pro tempore and normally one of the chamber’s most decorous members.

“I’m very disappointed in this kind of crap,” he said. “Some of this is because they just don’t like the president.”

Democrats, however, argued the guerilla tactics were warranted after The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Price received a special opportunity to buy a biomedical stock at a bargain price, contradicting his congressional testimony.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Mueller delivers report, ending investigation | FEMA exposed info of 2.3M disaster survivors | Facebook asks judge to toss DC privacy lawsuit | Trump picks his first CTO | FCC settles lawsuit over net neutrality records Treasury expands penalty relief to more taxpayers Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' MORE (Ore.), the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, said Price “misled Congress and he misled the American people.”

They also pointed to the new revelation that Mnuchin, a former CEO of OneWest, wasn’t upfront about whether the bank had auto-signed mortgage documents. Democrats say records show it used the practice in Ohio despite Mnuchin’s assertion to the contrary.  

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTrump mounts Rust Belt defense Warren, Klobuchar call on FTC to curtail use of non-compete clauses The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Dems put manufacturing sector in 2020 spotlight MORE (D-Ohio), another member of the Finance panel, said Democrats had “great concern” that Hatch asked them to vote on two nominees “who out and out lied to our committee.”

Democrats say Trump’s Cabinet picks have taken a long time to process because several of them are billionaires and have huge agglomerations of assets that require many hours to review.

They also blame the selections, particularly Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice to head the Department of Education, for not submitting their paperwork for vetting until relatively late in the process.

“Their nominees were not vetted soon enough,” said one Senate Democratic aide who faulted Trump’s transition team for lagging in its duties.

The battle over the Cabinet nominees sets up an even more bitter battle over Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power Dem senators demand offshore drilling info before Bernhardt confirmation hearing Business groups urge Congress to combat LGBTQ discrimination in workplace MORE (D-Ore.), one of the Senate’s most liberal members, said this week he would filibuster Trump’s nominee no matter who it was because Republicans blocked Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, for nearly a year after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died.

Tempers reached a boiling point Tuesday after a month of wrangling over the confirmation schedule. Democrats cried foul earlier this month when McConnell tried to schedule six confirmation hearings on one day. 

McConnell and Republican committee chairmen agreed to delay some of the hearings after Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis Schumer4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar MORE (N.Y.) dug up a letter McConnell wrote in 2009 demanding that Democrats not move Obama’s nominees until the Office of Government Ethics had enough time to vet them.

The Senate’s slow pace has complicated Trump’s ability to execute his policies. On Monday, the president fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she directed Department of Justice personnel not to enforce his executive order on immigrants and refugees.

Trump may have avoided that imbroglio had Sessions, a fierce advocate for strict limits on immigration, already been confirmed.

The leadership vacuums at the tops of various departments have coincided with what some Republicans see as a breakdown of loyalty and discipline throughout lower-ranking offices.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer warned on Monday that “career bureaucrats” should “either get with the program or they can go” after State Department officials circulated a document questioning Trump’s executive order on refugees.

Four senior State Department officials resigned suddenly last week in what was seen as a protest of Trump’s policies.

The Associated Press reported that career officials across the government were “biting back” at the president by tweeting messages at odds with his agenda from official social media accounts and leaking information to the media.

Meanwhile, a senior Democratic aide said Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee to serve as secretary of State, is likely to be confirmed Wednesday.

Democrats feel they are riding a wave of momentum since a devastating election. And they are taking evident delight at GOP infighting over Trump’s order on refugees. Seven GOP senators have announced opposition to the order, and 18 have expressed some level of concern over it.

“During the first week and a half of the Trump administration, the White House has been untruthful, incompetent and at times un-American,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday.

Peter Schroeder contributed.