Nov 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Republicans quietly plot to sink Biden nominees

Illustration of scales of justice weighted down by an elephant

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Republicans are making plans to torpedo some of President-elect Biden's prospective Cabinet, agency and judicial nominees if the GOP keeps its majority, aides involved in the discussions tell me.

What we're hearing: Top targets include political names and civil servants who spoke out loudest against President Trump, forced out his appointees or became stars in the impeachment hearings — like Sally Yates and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman — as well as longtime targets of conservative media, like Susan Rice.

  • Targets also include more obscure potential nominees for federal judgeships, solicitor general and the Supreme Court. Republicans worry these nominees could blunt conservative moves on deregulation or social policy.

Driving the news: With Biden planning to announce his first slate of Cabinet picks this week, Senate GOP staffers are closely following reports of floated names, gathering opposition research and even planning potential hearing questions, staffers familiar with the processes in two separate Senate committees tell me.

  • Some leaked names are labeled "really objectionable," and Republican staffers have begun circulating research to members to try to preempt their nomination altogether.
  • These preparations are very preliminary, given that Trump hasn't conceded, his GSA administration has blocked the transition from the beginning and Republicans haven't begun meeting with Biden's team.

Between the lines: Of course, this doesn't mean doom for such nominees. Even if the GOP did retain a bare majority of control after two remaining runoffs in Georgia in January, a few Republicans could cross party lines.

  • And several Republicans — including Sens. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Pat Toomey — still believe in the longstanding norm that presidents should get the cabinets they want unless there are truly legitimate concerns about a nominee.
  • This is particularly true in nominations that touch on two areas — national security and health care — one GOP leadership aide said, given Biden's immediate demands being driven by the pandemic.
  • "He's entitled to have those agencies running, especially at this time," the aide said. "It doesn’t seem sustainable nor politically smart to block someone in those roles."

Don Ritchie, the Senate's former historian, said presidents historically have gotten "about 95% of their nominations through."

What they're saying: "There is historic urgency for Republicans and Democrats to work together in this moment of unprecedented crisis," Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said.

What we're watching: Some Democrats have discussed the idea of Biden choosing a "sacrificial lamb" for Republicans to take down, thus easing the passage of other nominees.

  • That could give Republicans the opportunity to show they wield power, while simultaneously making Biden's other nominees look more agreeable in a hyper-partisan environment.
  • But some people around Biden say a move like that isn't his style.
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