GOP senators say Warren nomination would divide Republicans

Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are warning that President-elect Joe Biden would spark “a fight” if he were to nominate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or former national security adviser Susan Rice to his Cabinet.

Republicans will control at least 50 seats in the next Senate. The GOP is hoping to add to its majority by winning two runoff races scheduled for Jan. 5 in Georgia, a state that traditionally votes Republican but where Biden has a 14,000-vote lead in the presidential election.

If Democrats can win both seats, they’d have the Senate majority with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking ties.

But if Democrats lose just one of those races, they’ll need GOP support to confirm Biden’s nominees.

Republicans are already seeking leverage by saying Biden would be better off picking centrists such as Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) or Doug Jones (D-Ala.) for his Cabinet rather than the progressive stars Warren and Sanders.

GOP lawmakers declined to speak publicly about their expected opposition to Warren and Sanders, who are both their colleagues. But privately they’re warning that tapping a senator with outspoken liberal views to head the Treasury Department or Labor Department would spark a fight.

“I had a colleague of mine say there’s no way Elizabeth Warren or Susan Rice could ever get confirmed,” said one GOP senator.

The lawmaker said “it would be a fight” if Biden tapped Warren, Sanders or Rice.

Some GOP senators think Warren could get through because of her credentials. Even critics acknowledge the former Harvard professor is an expert on financial regulation and an accomplished policymaker. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), one of the chamber’s most conservative members, was a student of Warren’s at Harvard.

If Biden nominated Warren as Treasury secretary and the Senate held a vote, some senators think she would easily win 50-plus votes.

“I would not be one of the ones to stop the nomination,” said one of the GOP senators. “They could get all the Democrats and 10 Republicans.”

But there are real questions over whether a nomination of Warren, Sanders or Rice would get to a vote in a GOP-majority Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made it a policy not to bring bills to the floor that divide his conference and has yet to explain to fellow GOP senators what his policy would be for controversial Biden nominees.

“There may be some individuals who have to be opposed,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), depending on “what ideologically” the nominee is “pushing.” In general, Johnson said “I give a great deal of latitude to the president” on nominations.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said “if it’s someone who represents some of the more radical views that we see gaining a lot of traction in the Democratic Party, I think they would have a lot of problems getting through.”

An additional obstacle for Warren is that Massachusetts has a Republican governor, Charlie Baker, who under current law would appoint someone to succeed her. Liberal strategists who favor putting Warren in the Cabinet say the overwhelmingly Democratic state Senate and House in Massachusetts could change the state’s law to require Baker to pick someone from Warren’s party.

While there is usually a “Senate courtesy” extended to fellow senators who are nominated to the Cabinet, it’s not a guarantee of confirmation, especially in today’s partisan atmosphere, when many of the chamber’s traditions of collegiality are broken.

Both Sanders and Warren have proposed a wealth tax. Warren has offered a 2 percent yearly rate on net wealth above $50 million and 3 percent on wealth above a billion while Sanders has called for a wealth tax of 1 percent on married couples worth over $32 billion, sliding up to 8 percent on wealthier estates, according to the Tax Foundation.

They both support Medicare for All, free college, cancelling student debt, and the Green New Deal. In short, they back some of the boldest progressive proposals being floated, which Senate Republicans campaigned hard against in the fall election.

Rice is controversial because many Republican voters and activists believe she misled the public about the nature of the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

She withdrew from consideration for secretary of State in December of 2012 because of the controversy.

Rice said on Sunday talk shows in September 2012 that the Benghazi attack had begun spontaneously in reaction to violent protests in Cairo which were sparked by an anti-Islamic video.

In November of that year, Rice told reporters after meeting with a group of Republican senators that the “talking points provided by the intelligence community” and the initial assessment of the attack “were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.”

Rice said the intelligence assessment had “evolved” and that neither she nor anyone else in the administration had intended to mislead the public. 

McConnell staked this year’s campaign message on a Republican-controlled Senate being a firewall to block proposals such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

“You add up things like packing the Supreme Court, getting rid of the Electoral College, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for none and you have a prescription of turning America into something it never has been and never should be,” he said last year.

Some Senate Republicans say that it would be too big of a flip-flop to then turn around and confirm Democratic senators who are high-profile champions of these policies to head the Treasury and Labor departments.

A fourth Republican senator who requested anonymity said “Warren wouldn’t get through” and predicted that neither she nor Sanders would be nominated if Republicans keep the majority after the Georgia runoffs.

Updated: Nov. 14, 12:46 p.m.

Tags Bernie Sanders Chris Coons doug jones Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Labor Department Marco Rubio Mitch McConnell Ron Johnson Tom Cotton Treasury Department

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