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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 BidenBiden offers support to union organizing efforts Senate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Kavanaugh dismays conservatives by dodging pro-Trump election lawsuits 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 McConnellTrump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner Trump rules out starting a new party: 'Fake news' Sunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate 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 CoonsPompeo: Release of Khashoggi report by Biden admin 'reckless' Senate Democrat: Saudi relationship being 'recalibrated' Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' 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 TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress 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 MurphyOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees 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 SandersSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill NFL's Justin Jackson praises Sanders for opposing Biden's USDA nominee MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Exclusive: How Obama went to bat for Warren Minimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster 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 LeeLawmakers, Martin Luther King III discuss federal responses to systematic racism The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Ahead: One-shot vax, easing restrictions, fiscal help Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds MORE (D-Calif.) to serve as secretary of State and Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSix ways to visualize a divided America Jamaal Bowman's mother dies of COVID-19: 'I share her legacy with all of you' Democrats urge Biden FDA to drop in-person rule for abortion pill MORE (D-Mich.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalProgressives fume over Senate setbacks House Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' 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 DurbinSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo 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 GarlandDOJ faces swift turnaround to meet Biden voting rights pledge Merrick Garland is right to prioritize domestic terrorism, but he'll need a bigger boat The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by The AIDS Institute - Finger-pointing on Capitol riot; GOP balks at Biden relief plan 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 ThuneRick Scott acknowledges Biden 'absolutely' won fair election After vote against aid package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents 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 HawleyFive takeaways from CPAC 2021 CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues 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 RubioCPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Watch live: Day 2 at CPAC DeSantis derides 'failed Republican establishment' at CPAC 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 CollinsSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Collins urges Biden to revisit order on US-Canada border limits MORE (Maine), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSunday shows - Trump's reemergence, COVID-19 vaccines and variants dominate Portman on Trump's dominance of GOP: Republican Party's policies are 'even more popular' Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues MORE (Ohio) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyEx-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress Five takeaways from CPAC 2021 Trump shows he holds stranglehold on GOP, media in CPAC barnburner 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 RoundsIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 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.”