The Fight Against Trump’s Horrifying Cabinet

It’s clear that Donald Trump and his administration pose unprecedented threats to our nation.

His hateful agenda puts vulnerable communities at grave risk – and his administration has already begun a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary Americans to powerful corporate interests.

Progressives urgently need effective strategies to not just resist Trump but defeat him. Increasingly, we are finding them.

From the day after Election Day through the first 50 days of the Trump administration, Demand Progress and our Rootstrikers project have helped lead the charge against Trump’s unacceptable cabinet, a powerful place for fired-up activists to channel their energy.

Why Work to Block Trump’s Cabinet?

(Photo via Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Trump resistance movement must constrain Trump where it’s possible, limit the damage he can inflict, and pivot quickly toward winning back power in 2018 and 2020.

Some of Trump’s first actions as president-elect and president were to select a horrifying set of nominees for cabinet positions. From Betsy DeVos to Jeff Sessions to Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s picks have been unvetted, unqualified, and unacceptably committed to an agenda of hate and Wall Street greed.

These picks drew an immediate battle line for progressives, and activists have found dramatic success driving Senate opposition to Trump’s appointees.

Demand Progress and our Rootstrikers project have long espoused the philosophy that “personnel is policy,” popularized by Senator Elizabeth Warren. After Trump’s inauguration, we have committed ourselves to helping organize and lead the opposition to Trump’s unacceptable nominees.

Here’s why:

1) It’s a place where the Senate has real power.

Trump has made it clear he is dead-set on ramming through an extreme and unpopular agenda. Other political actors must check him where they can.

Nearly all of a president’s most important nominations must win Senate confirmation to take office. Like we’ve already seen, the threat of a coming rejection can force a nominee to pull out in disgrace like Andy Puzder, Trump’s initial pick for Secretary of Labor.

2) It impedes Trump’s ability to do bad.

Without Trump’s unvetted and unqualified appointees in place, executive branch agencies are less able to implement Trump’s agenda.

Furthermore, despite his authoritarian ambitions, Trump is a president not a king. From repealing the Affordable Care Act to gutting environmental protections, much of Trump’s harmful agenda can only be achieved by Congress.

The Senate calendar is a key limit on how many radical policies Trump and his Republican Party can ram through. Every day the Senate calendar is occupied with appointments is a day harmful legislation like attacking Title II net neutrality or rolling back Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform is delayed.

3) It creates the right narrative.

Personnel is policy. The hatemongers and corporate cronies he has selected for the most important positions in the country has made it exceedingly clear who Trump is and what his plans are for the country.

Riding a surge of grassroots activism, senators have been able to tell that story, exposing nominees’ unqualified records and histories of hurting ordinary families. Resisting Trump’s nominees’ hateful ideology and agenda of corporate enrichment has helped link progressive opposition into a unified whole.

The American public gets it. It’s a key part of why Donald Trump has not enjoyed the typical “honeymoon” of new presidents, facing bottom of the barrel job approval and favorability numbers.

4) It puts elected officials on the record.

The elections of 2018 and 2020 are critical. The key question is whether progressives and the Democratic Party will be able to draw a clean contrast with Trump and the Republicans’ harmful agenda.

Senate Republicans have made it clear whose side they are on. They rammed through Trump’s unvetted, unqualified, and unacceptable nominees on unprecedentedly narrow margins. With these nearly party-line votes, Senate Republicans are now co-owners of the harmful policies that come from the Trump Justice Department, Education Department, or Treasury Department.

How We’ve Campaigned Against Trump’s Cabinet

Just 50 days into the Trump administration, the fight against Trump’s appointees has already found dramatic success.

BlockTrumpsCabinet.com

After Trump began naming his cabinet picks, Demand Progress reached out to our allies and organized a diverse set of 29 organizations on the petition at BlockTrumpsCabinet.com.

Hailing from labor, the environmental movement, the progressive netroots, and groups fighting for the rights of women, Muslims, and Asian Americans, these groups unified behind a message of resisting Trump’s “cabinet of hate and Wall Street greed.”

Our members sent more than 615,000 petition signatures and made more than 150,000 phone calls to the Senate urging them to “Fight to block and resist every Trump nominee who embraces racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, climate denial, and Wall Street greed.”

Many Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate credited their “no” votes to an overwhelming volume of constituent phone calls opposing Trump’s nominees.

A Grassroots Uprising Against Democrats Selling Out

Democrats didn’t start with the strategy of standing strong against Trump’s outrageous cabinet picks.

Take Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, from safe blue Rhode Island, who joined 13 other Democrats to vote for Mike Pompeo—a torture-supporting, anti-Muslim authoritarian—to be CIA Director. We knew this couldn’t stand.

By the end of the night, Whitehouse had walked outside, grabbed a bullhorn, and committed to vote against 6 separate nominations, among chants of “just say no!” from his constituents.

Demand Progress, the Rhode Island Working Families Party, and Resist Hate RI organized an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 constituents at town hall for Sen. Whitehouse, demanding he answer for his vote. By the end of the night, Whitehouse had walked outside, grabbed a bullhorn, and committed to vote against 6 separate nominations, among chants of “just say no!” from his constituents.

The action had a huge impact — in Rhode Island and across the country. It featured prominently on The Rachel Maddow Show and the New York Times reported that the clip rocketed between Democratic senators. The action made Democrats realize their voters would not accept them accommodating Trump’s terrifying priorities.

As a former Senate aide said: “it made clear that the base is not going to let them off the hook.”

“Foreclosure King” Steve Mnuchin (Treasury Secretary)

Trump’s pick of Steve Mnuchin for Treasury Secretary made clear that his campaign trail rhetoric about taking on the big banks is another broken promise.

We helped lead the charge against Mnuchin, working with both outside groups and Senate offices to successfully brand Mnuchin as a foreclosure profiteer and stiffen Democratic backbones to oppose him.

Elizabeth Warren calls Mnuchin the “ultimate Wall Street insider” for good reason. Mnuchin made a fortune during the foreclosure crisis at the expense of ordinary Americans, running a bank known as a “foreclosure machine.” He tossed aside both the law and common decency in the rush to kick people out of their homes—then got caught red-handed lying to the Senate about it.

With our allies, we drove in more than 50,000 phone calls against Mnuchin’s nomination through BlockTrumpsCabinet.com/mnuchin, then we worked with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Allied Progress to fund a 6-figure TV ad that ran in 8 states, featuring the devastating story of a widow foreclosed on by Mnuchin’s bank.

Rachel Maddow called our ad the “most effective one we’ve seen since the election.”

Our campaigning helped embolden Democrats. After Mnuchin’s lies to the Senate were revealed, Democrats boycotted the committee vote and demanded truthful answers. On the Senate floor, Democrats forced a narrow 53–47 margin, unprecedentedly weak for a Treasury Secretary.

Enemy of civil rights and women’s rights Jeff Sessions (Attorney General)

Jeff Sessions is an authoritarian, corporatist, racist, and sexist unsuited to be the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Progressives activists get this. And they made sure their senators did too.

Through our Stop Sessions call tool, our members and those of our allies made a stunning 65,000 phone calls to Senate offices urging them to oppose Jeff Sessions’s nomination.

By the time his nomination came to a floor vote, every Democrat in the Senate save Joe Manchin opposed Sessions, in a nearly party-line 52–47 vote

Outrageously unqualified Betsy DeVos (Education Secretary)

Betsy DeVos’s shockingly undeserved nomination to be Education Secretary created a firestorm of public opposition that shocked Washington, D.C.

Our money-in-politics Rootstrikers project partnered with our friends at Every Voice to highlight why someone so lacking in qualifications might have gotten this appointment: the enormous amount of money DeVos and her family have given to Republicans.

Our petition called on the 21 U.S. Senators who have taken nearly $1 million from DeVos and her family to recuse themselves from her confirmation vote. The petition took off online, with more than 125,000 activists signing.

The press took up the question, pushing senators on whether they would recuse. The money DeVos gave became a central talking point in the debate. And one of those 21 senators, Lisa Murkowski, flipped her vote to a “no” under heavy pressure.

With two Republicans joining unified Democratic opposition, Vice President Mike Pence was forced to cast a tie-breaking vote to bail out Senate Republicans. It had never happened before on a confirmation vote in all of U.S. history.

So many more

Groups across the spectrum have done terrific work against Trump’s unvetted, unqualified, and unacceptable nominations.

Already, six of Trump’s prominent appointees have already gone down in flames. Senior communications adviser Monica Crowley (plagiarism), Communications Director Jason Miller (scandal), Secretary of the Army pick Vincent Viola (conflicts of interest), national security adviser Mike Flynn (Russia ties), Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder (personal and business scandals), and Secretary of the Navy choice Philip Bilden (more conflicts of interest).

Even more recently, Trump’s leading candidate for Federal Reserve vice chairman David Nason pulled out of the running. Half a dozen of Trump’s White House staff were also abruptly dismissed after failing FBI background checks.

Not all of these failed Trump appointments were to Senate confirmable positions. But an engaged activist base and attentive press corps have exposed Trump’s unvetted, unqualified, and unacceptable appointments, and the effort has already borne fruit.

What Now?

553 Positions Face Senate Confirmation

The fight over Trump’s nominees is far from over.

As of today, the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service showed that Trump has only even made nominations for 41 of the 553 key positions requiring Senate confirmation — 7 percent! There will be more appointees prioritizing Trump’s agenda of hate and Wall Street greed who must be opposed, with openings for SEC Chair, Secretary of Labor, Federal Reserve vice-chair, and many more.

There are also Democratic picks for many commissions like the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) that have limits on how many of their members can be from one party.

Presidents by tradition defer to Senate leaders of the opposite party for these picks, and Democrats will face a choice between choosing corporate insiders and elevating bold voices that can call out the pro-corporate overreach of Trump’s picks and marshal the opposition.

Forcing Republicans to Own Their Confirmation Votes — and Looking Forward

But even where nominees have managed to squeak through confirmation, progressives have an enormous opportunity.

Senate Republicans rammed through Trump’s picks on unprecedentedly narrow margins. When Trump’s executive agencies target vulnerable communities or hurt working families to transfer wealth to the super-rich, these unpopular policies are co-owned by Trump and Senate Republicans. Progressives must make that clear.

As we move forward, progressives can continue to identify areas where congressional Democrats and Republicans have power to constrain Trump — and must answer to their constituents.

By progressives and other patriots focusing their energy toward the areas where we have the most leverage to drive opposition to Trump’s agenda, activists can help limit the impact of the Trump administration to “damaging,” rather than “catastrophic.”