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 BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit 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 McConnellGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default 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 CoonsBiden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' Hillicon Valley: Cryptocurrency amendment blocked in Senate | Dems press Facebook over suspension of researchers' accounts | Thousands push back against Apple plan to scan US iPhones for child sexual abuse images 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 TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default 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 MurphySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Tell our troops: 'Your sacrifice wasn't in vain' Sunday shows preview: Bombing in Kabul delivers blow to evacuation effort; US orders strikes on ISIS-K 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 SandersPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Congress must address the looming debt crisis MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' The Trojan Horse of protectionism Federal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review 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 LeeOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Rocky US alliances as Biden heads to UN assembly Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan Biden to speak at UN general assembly in person MORE (D-Calif.) to serve as secretary of State and Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibProgressive foreign policy should not be pro-autocracy Democratic bill would force Fed to defund fossil fuels Democrats brace for battle on Biden's .5 trillion spending plan MORE (D-Mich.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThis week: Democrats face mounting headaches Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Manchin suggests pausing talks on .5 trillion package until 2022: report 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 DurbinDemocrats up ante in risky debt ceiling fight Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October 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 GarlandTexas sues Biden administration over guidance on transgender worker rights Barr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event Grassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation 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 ThuneThis week: Democrats face mounting headaches Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants 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 HawleySenators slow Biden with holds at Pentagon, State Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley becomes lightning rod on right 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 RubioPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Milley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job Overnight Defense & National Security — Milley becomes lightning rod 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 CollinsMcConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Welcome to ground zero of climate chaos MORE (Maine), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname Centrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary Emboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes MORE (Ohio) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack 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 RoundsThe 19 GOP senators who voted for the T infrastructure bill Senate passes T bipartisan infrastructure bill in major victory for Biden Senate votes to end debate on T infrastructure bill 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.”