The first key battle: appointments

The first key battle: appointments

There's a lot of talk about the first hundred days of Trump's presidency. But they could be dwarfed in importance by the first week and a half.

That's when Trump is likely hoping to get many of his key cabinet picks confirmed—and the rest, in a normal administration, would be confirmed by the end of February. The window to act will be narrow.

This matters, because a lot of the power Congress has delegated to the executive branch isn't delegated to the president himself. It's delegated to the cabinet, and a vast array of other, lower officials appointed by the president and subject to confirmation by the Senate. There are over a thousand such positions, cataloged in a publication called the "Plum Book", for anyone curious about the details.

Not only does the cabinet exercise a great deal of the day-to-day power of the executive, under the 25th Amendment, it would be the cabinet that would be responsible for declaring Trump incapacitated if he decided to nuke China on a whim. And yet, to the extent the cabinet may be called on to check Trump's recklessness and willingness to abuse power, various lower-level officers of executive departments could be just as important, because they could end up as acting cabinet members if Trump fires one or more members of his cabinet.

This was actually an issue in the Nixon administration, during an event known as the "Saturday Night Massacre". Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the Special Prosecutor who'd been appointed to oversee the Watergate investigation. Richardson resigned in protest, so Nixon gave the same order to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also resigned. Finally, Solicitor General (and future Supreme Court nominee) Robert Bork agreed to carry out Nixon's order and fire Cox. What the Saturday Night Massacre indicates is that there's a distinct possibility the fate of the planet could end up being decided by people with titles like "Solicitor of the Interior"and "Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs".

With all this in mind, let's look at some of Trump's rumored cabinet picks (cribbed from the betting site PredictIt):

  • Steve Mnuchin (the finance chair for Trump's campaign)
  • Chris Collins (the first member of Congress to endorse Trump)
  • Ben Carson (who is totally unqualified and one of the first GOP presidential candidates to turn Trump sycophant to boot)
  • Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and David Clarke (all noted for being unusually enthusiastic Trump boosters among mainstream Republicians)
  • Reince Priebus (who is chair of the RNC, but who has never held public office and whose main accomplishment is enforcing loyalty towards Trump within the GOP) 

I submit that we cannot let the Senate confirm any of these men to a cabinet post. More broadly, we cannot let anyone whose main qualification is loyalty to Donald Trump be confirmed to a cabinet post, or any position that is in the line of succession of a cabinet post. I also submit that we cannot allow anyone involved in the Bush administration's torture policies be confirmed to a position of power—that would include Jose Rodriguez, rumored to be Trump's pick to run the CIA.

This is not to say that we should try to force Trump to appoint Hillary Clinton's cabinet. That is obviously impossible, especially with Republicans (narrowly) retaining control of the Senate. What we can try to make the Trump administration look as much as possible like a normal Republican administration. However, if we don't act quickly it may be too late even for that.

Indeed, this is arguably the (small-d) democratic outcome. Trump is a historically unpopular President-Elect. If the US had a parliamentary system, it's possible the three major parties in congress would be the Democrats, the Republicans and the Make American Great Again party, with the first two negotiating a deal to lock the third out of power by forming a coalition government led by Prime Minister John McCain. 

Indeed, traditionally Congress gives the President wide latitude in picking a cabinet, but the Constitution says the President is to make appointments with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. There is no reason that Senate Republicans who've been principled in their opposition to Trump couldn't confer among themselves and come up with a complete list of appointees who they strongly advise Trump to select.

So please, contact your Senators about this. This is especially true if you live in states like Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, or Nevada—all states with Republican senators who refused to endorse Trump, or withdrew their endorsement during the election. They could be in need of some encouragement right now to do the right thing. But living in California, I plan to do so anyway, lest our Democratic senators decide a few seemingly unimportant Trump appointments aren't worth fighting him on.

Like this post? Sign up for our mailing list. Already signed up? Then tell your friends—the more people we can get to call Congress about this, the better.

Showing 6 reactions

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  • commented 2016-11-16 04:07:06 -0800
    Should democrats be trying to choose candidates or should democrats be providing a solid wall of obstruction to give Trump-critical Republicans leverage?
  • commented 2016-11-14 13:31:47 -0800
    Is it useful to call senators if I’m not a citizen, and thus don’t count as a (potential) voter?
  • commented 2016-11-14 10:10:30 -0800
    Maybe a silly question, but is there any real reason I can’t, say, call Dean Heller and say I’m a Nevadan? How would they know?
  • commented 2016-11-12 21:34:47 -0800
    The White House Chief of Staff, which is what Priebus is being considered for, is not confirmed by the Senate.

    “we cannot allow anyone involved in the Bush administration’s torture policies be confirmed to a position of power” This feels like a step too far, in the sense that it would alienate badly needed Republican allies.
  • commented 2016-11-12 13:54:01 -0800
    I think one thing that would be useful is a script people can use when calling Senators. It would also help to identify cabinet appointments that would be acceptable (and have a chance of being liked by both Trump and Congress). Happy to help with these though my expertise on this is close to zero.
  • published this page in Blog 2016-11-12 10:03:28 -0800