Determined to hold around two dozen Senate seats in 2018, Democrats will use the coming series of confirmation hearings to try to distinguish themselves from President-elect Donald Trump’s billionaire nominees and convince working-class voters who elected him that he’s not on their side.
While Democrats have little leverage to stop the Republican’s picks in the Senate, they still plan a fight. To highlight what they say is the hypocrisy of Trump’s campaign promise to be a champion for the economically struggling little guy, they’ll focus on the nominees’ wealth, ties to Wall Street and willingness to privatize Medicare, among other issues. In some cases, they’ll seek to drag out the process by demanding more information and ensuring a full airing of potential conflicts of interest.
“We’re going to give each of them a thorough examination to determine whether they’ll actually stand up for workers against the special interests or rig the system even more,” said incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, echoing some of Trump’s own campaign rhetoric.
Democrats gave up their ability to block Trump’s nominees in 2013, when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid changed Senate rules and reduced the number of votes needed to end filibusters. Now in the majority, Republicans can confirm the nominees along partisan lines.
The limits of the Democratic minority have already been tested, as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who will be the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee in the new session, has repeatedly asked Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley for more time to review documents ahead of Jan. 10-11 hearings for Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general. Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has declined to delay the hearings.
Still, Democrats are hoping a populist message will resonate outside of Washington, where in the 2018 elections the party faces multiple tough races in deep red states full of white, working-class voters who overwhelmingly supported Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton this year. Democrats are defending 23 seats, including in states such as North Dakota, Montana, Indiana and West Virginia that went overwhelmingly for Trump and also in once traditional Democratic states that flipped, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.