New York’s very own Chuck Schumer is the Senate Minority Leader, a position that ought to make him a leader of the political resistance to the Trump agenda. In media appearances, he’s doing his best to sound the part. Trump is “using populist rhetoric to cover up a hard-right agenda,” Schumer told CNN on Sunday. “We certainly feel that we have to bring to the American people how different this Cabinet is — how hard-right, how many conflicts of interest, billionaires.”
So far though, Schumer’s tough talk doesn’t square with his voting record. As of now, the Senate has voted on three of Trump’s nominees: General James Mattis for the Department of Defense, General John Kelly for the Department of Homeland Security, and Mike Pompeo for the Central Intelligence Agency. Schumer has voted for every single one of them, and, absent meaningful opposition, each of them has been confirmed. Trump is batting 1000 at assembling the cabinet he wants.
Schumer has spoken critically about many of Trump’s nominees, has declared his intention to vote against Trump’s Attorney General nominee, Jeff Sessions, and has promised to oppose at least eight or nine other nominees. But the ones he’s already let in the door are hardly innocuous characters.
Pompeo believes Trump’s government should maintain a robust intelligence database of American’s financial information and “lifestyle” details and has refused to rule out a regime of government torture. Mattis, as a freshly retired general, is such a glaring deviation from the principle of civilian control of the military that he required a special waiver from the rule against military self-rule. Kelly, another general, may not be the very worst person you could imagine implementing Trump’s promised reign of immigration-enforcement terror, but neither has he given any reason to believe he’ll resist it.
Schumer’s fine with that. “I looked at their records … and I think they’d be very good,” Schumer said of Mattis and Kelly.
In some instances, it seems Schumer isn’t just voting for Trump nominees, he’s inclined to help Team Trump speed their passage through the Senate with a minimum of scrutiny. In Pompeo’s case, Senate Republicans schemed to push his confirmation through the full Senate without even waiting for a vote by the Intelligence Committee. A handful of Democrats — Ron Wyden of Oregon, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — objected to the railroading, forcing the Senate at least to provide a measly six hours of questioning in advance of the confirmation vote.
But even that weak gesture could apparently only be made over Schumer’s objection. Senate scuttlebutt has it that “Schumer wanted to confirm Pompeo, but worked instead to accommodate Wyden, Leahy and Blumenthal,” according to Politico. After the senators negotiated for a more expansive six hours of debate yesterday, Politico reported, “Wyden leaned into Schumer and told him: ‘Much better.'”
That the leader of the Democratic opposition had to be led by the nose to demand a bare minimum of legislative oversight before co-signing on someone who pointedly refused to disavow American torture chambers raises the question: If this is what resistance looks like to Schumer, what distinguishes it from collusion?
Schumer is a notoriously transactional politician, so no doubt he sees some angle in all this collaboration, but it’s hard to see what it might be. Are Republicans, who have the numbers to pass all of Trump’s nominees without any Democratic help anyway, really going to reward Schumer and Democrats with concessions down the road because they lined up on cabinet appointments?
Is Schumer worried that refusing to give Trump what he wants will hurt Democrats in the coming election? Trump has the lowest poll numbers of any incoming president in the modern era. Millions of Americans all over the country turned out for the largest mass protest in American history the day after he was inaugurated. If ever there was a mandate to refuse to go along, Schumer has it.
Back in November, less than two weeks after Trump’s election, a group of protesters worried that Schumer was ill-suited to lead any meaningful resistance against the Trump agenda briefly took over his Washington office. One of the organizers of the protest told the Voice at the time,”What’s really dangerous about Chuck Schumer and the Democratic leadership is they don’t understand the stakes of what’s happening in this country.”
We asked Senator Schumer’s office to explain his approach to voting on the president’s cabinet nominees, and to explain his “Yea” votes for Mattis, Kelley, and Pompeo. Spokesman Angelo Roefaro responded with the following statement:
“Senator Schumer is leading the effort to put a spotlight on each and every cabinet nominee so the American public can hear what these nominees actually believe. This process has unearthed serious ethical problems with nominees and showcased beliefs that go directly against what the President promised the American people during his campaign. In cases where those stark contrasts are revealed, or those candidates are in opposition to core values, the Senator will vote ‘no,’ and urge his Republican colleagues to do the same.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 24, 2017