Washington state’s U.S. Sen. Patty Murray says she’s girding to fight Trump administration Cabinet nominees, citing their plans to repeal Obamacare and restrict abortion. But Democrats’ own action limiting filibusters means they’ll have little power to block the nominations.
Washington state’s U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is sounding an alarm over how the Cabinet picks of President-elect Donald Trump could roll back health-care laws, restrict abortion and even privatize Medicare.
But Murray and other Senate Democrats may not be able to do much to obstruct Trump nominees — in part because of a change to filibuster rules Democrats themselves put in place three years ago.
In an interview, Murray, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, pointed with dismay to Trump’s choice of U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Price has a 100 percent anti-abortion voting record and has criticized mandated free birth control provided under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, which he has pushed to repeal.
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He also has recently said replacing Medicare with a system of private-insurance vouchers would be a priority for the GOP in the Trump administration.
“He is sort of on the wrong side of everything that to me makes sure our families are safe and secure,” Murray said, adding she’s had constituents back in Seattle coming to her “with tears in their eyes because they are so frightened.”
As health secretary, Price could accomplish some aims, such as repealing the ACA’s free-contraception mandate, by administrative rule without waiting for Congress to act, Murray noted.
In a statement announcing his intent to nominate Price, Trump praised the former orthopedic surgeon as “a tireless problem solver” who is “exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible health care to every American.”
Murray, ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, vowed to scrutinize Price and other Trump nominees aggressively as they head to the Senate for confirmation hearings.
She and other Democratic senators held a news conference this week calling for all Cabinet and other high-level nominees to provide tax returns to Senate committees before their confirmation hearings.
They cited concerns over financial interests of wealthy nominees such as Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education. (Currently, only a few Senate committees have the authority to demand those tax documents.)
One tactic that won’t be available to Democrats when it comes to Trump’s Cabinet is the filibuster.
In 2013, Democrats, then in the majority, voted to change Senate rules to require a simple majority of 51 votes — instead of the previous 60-vote threshold — to move ahead on confirmations for most executive-office and judicial appointments, with the exception of U.S. Supreme Court nominees.
Democrats made the change, nicknamed the “nuclear option” because it blew up longstanding Senate traditions, over bitter objections from Republicans. But Democrats said the GOP forced their hand by abusing the filibuster to unreasonably obstruct many of President Obama’s nominees.
Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, does Murray regret that decision?
“No,” she said Thursday, saying the new president and his party should be responsible for his Cabinet choices and the policies they represent.
“They are going to have to own up to their votes,” Murray said.
The filibuster option remains in place when it comes to actual legislation. Murray said she cannot predict whether Republicans will move to change that — or how often Democrats would seek to rely on the tactic.
“Look, the filibuster is really great when you are in the minority and it’s really crummy when you are in the majority,” Murray said. She voted in 1995 with Republicans to keep the filibuster in place, as a protection for the minority party.
Murray said while she’ll look to cooperate with Republicans on issues they can agree on, she’s digging in to oppose much of the GOP’s stated agenda for the next four years.
“If it is taking away a woman’s right to get health care, if it’s undoing the safety net people rely on, I absolutely will fight them,” she said.