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Liberals Narrow Their List of Trump Picks to Target

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En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency nom­in­ee Scott Pruitt is among the progressive's main targets. En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency nom­in­ee Scott Pruitt is among the progressive's main targets. Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Faced with a long list of ad­versari­al Cab­in­et nom­in­ees, the Sen­ate’s lead­ing voices on the Left have de­cided to nar­row their tar­get list.

Rather than com­plain about every­one that Pres­id­ent-elect Trump has picked, lib­er­als on the Hill say they’re fo­cus­ing their at­ten­tion on can­did­ates who seek to un­der­mine the agen­cies they could soon rep­res­ent.

Top­ping their con­cerns in the con­firm­a­tion hear­ings, they say, are En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency nom­in­ee Scott Pruitt, At­tor­ney Gen­er­al nom­in­ee Jeff Ses­sions, and sec­ret­ary of State nom­in­ee Rex Tiller­son. In the com­ing weeks, that list will ex­pand to in­clude Health and Hu­man Ser­vices nom­in­ee Rep. Tom Price and Labor nom­in­ee Andy Puzder.

While all of Trump’s nom­in­ees are ex­pec­ted to be con­firmed, lib­er­als’ strategy on their con­firm­a­tion hear­ings could of­fer some in­sight on the Left’s ap­proach to a Trump White House over the next four years. And in some cases, early fights on the Hill will sig­nal a shift in pri­or­it­ies, as lead­ers pick their battles between mul­tiple hear­ings go­ing on at once.

“We’ve got sev­er­al fights on our hands, and we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Sen. Bri­an Schatz of Hawaii said in an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al. Schatz said Pruitt’s plans to “do vi­ol­ence” to EPA put the Ok­lahoma at­tor­ney gen­er­al at the top of his per­son­al con­cern list, but ad­ded that there’s a “pat­tern” among “the most ob­jec­tion­able nom­in­ees.”

“The sec­ret­ary nom­in­ee for Hu­man Ser­vices seems to want to shred the so­cial safety net,” said Schatz. “The EPA nom­in­ee seems to want to un­der­mine the Clean Air and Clean Wa­ter Acts, and the sec­ret­ary of Labor seems to not want to rep­res­ent labor, but rather man­age­ment.”

In an in­ter­view out­side of Ses­sions’s con­firm­a­tion hear­ing, Sen. Chris Van Hol­len of Mary­land echoed that sen­ti­ment, list­ing Ses­sions and Pruitt as areas of fo­cus. Sen. Bernie Sanders spokes­man Mi­chael Briggs said Sanders was also fo­cus­ing his at­ten­tion on Ses­sions and Puzder.

“People have con­cerns about a lot of them, so it’s dif­fi­cult to nar­row it down at this point,” said Van Hol­len. But “in each case we want people lead­ing agen­cies who sup­port the mis­sion of the agen­cies.”

For the time be­ing, lib­er­als say those con­firm­a­tions take pri­or­ity, even over choices like Treas­ury sec­ret­ary nom­in­ee Steven Mnuchin, a former Gold­man Sachs ex­ec­ut­ive. Mnuchin’s plans to “strip back” key ele­ments of Dodd-Frank would dir­ectly un­der­mine Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren’s work on con­sumer pro­tec­tion—an is­sue that’s served as a main ral­ly­ing point for the base in re­cent years.

War­ren’s of­fice did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, but the sen­at­or has writ­ten let­ters con­demning many of Trump’s picks, in­clud­ing Edu­ca­tion nom­in­ee Betsy De­Vos and Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment nom­in­ee Ben Car­son. War­ren spoke vehe­mently against Mnuchin when he was nom­in­ated, call­ing him the “For­rest Gump of the fin­an­cial crisis.”

“It’s kind of the Maslow’s hier­archy of needs,” Demo­cracy for Amer­ica spokes­man Neil Sroka said, re­fer­ring to a well-known psy­cho­logy the­ory about what mo­tiv­ates people. He said that while Mnuchin’s Wall Street ties were “deeply con­cern­ing,” polling and in­ter­views of DFA mem­bers since Novem­ber’s elec­tion in­dic­ated they were more con­cerned about civil rights, en­vir­on­ment­al is­sues, and even for­eign policy—an is­sue that rarely re­gistered at all for them un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

For that reas­on, some lib­er­als cau­tion read­ing too much in­to the con­firm­a­tion hear­ings. An­gela Kel­ley, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or for the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress Ac­tion Fund, said once ac­tu­al policy battles be­gin to take shape, the base’s pri­or­it­ies will start to match those of lead­ers on the Hill.

“[War­ren] is really the lead­er of a sig­ni­fic­ant base now … so I think that she’s go­ing to be in a po­s­i­tion to really dic­tate the agenda, people will largely fol­low,” said Kel­ley. “The chal­lenge right now is, with the ex­cep­tion of the [Af­ford­able Care Act] battles, we’re talk­ing about people, and not yet policy.”

So as Re­pub­lic­ans work to push many of the nom­in­ees through be­fore Trump’s in­aug­ur­a­tion, some are try­ing to keep the fo­cus on a broad­er theme they be­lieve will help them down the line elect­or­ally.

“You have a lar­ger pat­tern here, which is that you have a per­son who runs for pres­id­ent claim­ing that he was the cham­pi­on of work­ing people and yet so many of his nom­in­ees are people who did very well for them­selves, of­ten at the ex­pense of people who were work­ing for them, or at the ex­pense of oth­ers,” said Van Hol­len.

Adam Green, pres­id­ent of the War­ren-aligned Pro­gress­ive Change Cam­paign Com­mit­tee said that’s the sort of mes­sage that Demo­crats can use not only to rally the grass­roots, but also ap­peal to some of Trump’s own sup­port­ers.

“It’s im­port­ant for Demo­crats to have a uni­fied mes­sage so that voters ac­tu­ally hear our mes­sage re­gard­less of the is­sue of the day or hour,” said Green. “And across these nom­in­a­tions there is a theme of cor­por­ate cronyism.”

While Re­pub­lic­ans have the votes to ap­prove all of the nom­in­ees on their own, Demo­crats can draw out the pro­cess by open­ing dis­cus­sion on the Sen­ate floor. Some grass­roots groups, such as Mo­ve­On, are push­ing their al­lies on the Hill to use that and oth­er tools to buy more time for them to parse the tar­get-rich pool of nom­in­ees.

Schatz said Demo­crats were still con­sid­er­ing call­ing for ad­di­tion­al hear­ings and wheth­er or not to ex­ped­ite nom­in­a­tions on the floor.

“We’re cer­tainly pre­pared to col­lab­or­ate when it’s in the pub­lic’s in­terest, but the pro­cess has to en­sue,” he said.

(Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore)

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