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Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks

Senate Democrats are distancing themselves from calls by progressives for President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE to play hardball with Republicans over his Cabinet picks.

Facing the prospect of a GOP-controlled Senate, progressive groups argue Biden should try to leapfrog Republicans if Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellImmigration, executive action top Biden preview of first 100 days Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight McConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report MORE (R-Ky.) blocks a nominee or refuses to even allow a floor vote by utilizing the Vacancies Act or trying to force Congress to adjourn.

Democratic senators say the groups shouldn’t assume Republicans will be complete obstructionists in the event Democrats fail to win the two runoff races in Georgia on Jan. 5 and Republicans retain control of the chamber.

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Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, said Democrats shouldn’t “get ahead of ourselves” by expecting the worst about the confirmation process.

“I think our immediate challenge is getting President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE to accept reality and the Republican majority to begin the sort of outreach and consultation that I suspect the incoming administration would welcome to figure out who is appropriate to move forward for confirmation,” he said.

“You know, 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,” he added.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Biden decides on pick for secretary of State Overnight Defense: Formal negotiations inch forward on defense bill with Confederate base name language | Senators look to block B UAE arms sales | Trump administration imposes Iran sanctions over human rights abuses MORE (D-Conn.) added that the scenario envisioned by progressives makes assumptions about the outcome of the Georgia races and McConnell’s actions.

“Let’s just wait,” 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.”

The battle lines on potential Cabinet picks come as Biden is expected to name his choices for key roles. Those picks could test the preelection truce between the president-elect and progressives, who are jockeying for influence in the new administration.

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Biden has already said that he’s made a decision on one key position, his Treasury secretary, pledging that it would be someone palatable to progressives and moderates alike. A list of front-runners for other top positions, such as secretary of State, have been circulating in Washington for weeks.

But progressives, who lined up behind Biden to help defeat Trump earlier this month, are urging him to make bold choices for his Cabinet picks, powerful positions that will shape significant policy decisions in the administration.

Two top progressive groups — Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement — released a wish list earlier this month for Cabinet picks that included Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members Hillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden: 'Difficult decision' to staff administration with House, Senate members The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus MORE (D-Mass.), who could face a rocky, potentially impossible, path to confirmation in a GOP-controlled Senate.

They also floated Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Top contender for Biden Defense chief would be historic pick Overnight Defense: 5 US service members killed in international peacekeeping helicopter crash in Egypt | Progressives warn Biden against Defense nominee with contractor ties | Trump executive order to ban investment in Chinese military-linked companies MORE (D-Calif.) to serve as secretary of State and Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' MORE (D-Mich.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalBiden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Trump, attorneys step up efforts to reverse election's outcome MORE (D-Wash.) as potential nominees to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sanders — who has publicly confirmed his interest in being Labor secretary — told The Associated Press that “progressive views need to be expressed” within the new administration.

“It would be, for example, enormously insulting if Biden put together a ‘team of rivals’ — and there’s some discussion that that’s what he intends to do — which might include Republicans and conservative Democrats — but which ignored the progressive community. I think that would be very, very unfortunate,” Sanders added.

But a GOP-controlled Senate awaits as a likely landmine for progressive picks. Even though a Republican majority would be capped at 51 or 52 seats, McConnell would have leverage to block any nominees he or a majority of his caucus considered too far to the left.

Progressives say that’s why Biden should be willing to play hardball.

“All personnel must have demonstrated that they prioritize the needs of communities of color and service in the public interest. If necessary, we urge you to accomplish this by using tools like the Vacancy Act and recess appointments to overcome any obstruction by Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans,” nearly 60 progressive and good government groups wrote in a letter to Biden.

Indivisible, one of the groups, detailed its own vision for how Biden gets his desired Cabinet, saying he should “use a play from Donald Trump’s playbook.”

Trump has used the Vacancies Act and tapped “acting” appointments to get around the Senate confirmation process for key posts. He also briefly floated forcing Congress to adjourn so that he could make recess appointments — something legal experts quickly said he couldn’t do because there was no disagreement between the House and Senate.

Though legally untested, Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution grants a president the power to "on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper."

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Asked if he thought those two options should be on the table, Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinWhitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Durbin seeks to become top-ranking Democrat on Judiciary panel MORE of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, replied, “I hope they are not. I hope we get back to a normal chain of events, and I hope the Republicans are reasonable.”

Pressed if he would be comfortable with Biden using the options if Republicans prove problematic, Durbin demurred, calling it a “hypothetical on top of a hypothetical.”

McConnell in 2015 temporarily held up former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s nomination and in 2016 ignored Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandMcConnell pushed Trump to nominate Barrett on the night of Ginsburg's death: report Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks MORE, then-President Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee.

McConnell hasn’t publicly acknowledged Biden’s election victory, much less publicly discussed potential Cabinet picks. Asked about the chance that a GOP-controlled Senate would confirm Sanders or Warren, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions MORE (R-S.D.) sidestepped, calling it premature.

Republicans have bristled for years over Democrats' handling of Trump’s Cabinet. Trump got only two Cabinet picks confirmed on the first day of his presidency, compared with six for Obama and seven for then-President George W. Bush. By Feb. 10, Trump had seven confirmed Cabinet members confirmed to Obama’s 12 and Bush’s 14, which was his entire Cabinet.

“I do think that what has been, I think, a historically unprecedented effort to keep the government from being staffed ... will have repercussions,” said Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Rush Limbaugh lauds Hawley: 'This guy is the real deal' Trump told advisers he could announce 2024 bid shortly after certification of Biden win: report MORE (R-Mo.).

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“I think that means that this next administration, if it’s a Biden administration, will not get a free ride,” he said, predicting that the dynamic would play out not only with Cabinet picks but also with sub-Cabinet-level nominations.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio signals opposition to Biden Cabinet picks Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Fla.) added that “there’ll be a lot less deference given to presidential appointments.”

“There's just no way that Biden's nominations are going to be treated like they traditionally have been treated under previous presidents, simply because the atmosphere in the Senate has changed,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

But other GOP senators, including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (Maine), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden says transition outreach from Trump administration has been 'sincere' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump holds his last turkey pardon ceremony The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience MORE (Ohio) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden teams to meet with Trump administration agencies Paul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism MORE (Utah), have indicated they would be willing to give Biden a Cabinet as long as the picks were within the mainstream.

“I think most members of the Senate would be pretty responsible,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software MORE (R-S.D.). “There’s some individuals that naturally would not philosophically be acceptable within a Republican Senate. At the same time, there are some nominees that we’ve heard of who might very well be pretty easy nominations within the Senate.”