In my opinion Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill wants to be a good person as well as a good politician. She’s a Democrat because of the former and a temporizing centrist because of the latter. It’s not her fault that a raging red river flooded Missouri after she (and the first black president) were elected. But she dropped her talk about “progressive” values and began to sing the praises of “bipartisanship” shortly after the Tea Party began mobbing her Town Halls. The choice between good person and good politician are not necessarily opposed, but McCaskill’s case is complicated by demographics.
With the election of Donald Trump, though, things have changed. We stand to lose almost a century of progress while the Great Kleptocrat loots the nation and GOPers, in the pay of the Dark Money boys, stand by silently and let it happen as long as their wealthy patrons get theirs. We have to hope that as a good person McCaskill understands that she cannot choose to go along to get along in the new environment, nor will it buy her much political capital if she decides that she has to be less of a good person in order to be a good politician. There are plenty of folks with a respectable veneer who are a little further right (like, perhaps, Ann Wagner) who can far more convincingly fill the niche into which McCaskill’s been trying to squeeze herself .
The first test will likely be Obamacare and Medicare. So far, McCaskill is saying the right things about Medicare without feeling compelled to add her thoughts about how to reform it in ways that hurt poor and middle class Missourians. The Obamacare test may be pushed further down the road if, as TPM’s Lauren Fox suggests, Republicans decide to repeal it, delay implementation of the repeal until after the midterms, and rely on compliant Democrats to pass a fifth-rate GOP replacement – and blame them for the repeal if they don’t. McCaskill’s been a sucker for this type of bait and switch in the past.
An even more immediate test, however, will be whether or not McCaskill is willing to go along with some of Donald Trump’s more unqualified and potentially destructive cabinet nominees. Democrats need to make it clear that Trump’s designated wrecking and looting crew will not waltz their way past the Senate. Although cabinet nominees only require fifty-one votes for confirmation, Democrats – and, who knows, maybe a few principled Republicans, if that isn’t an oxymoron – can make the confirmation process into what Politico calls a “slog” and tie up destructive policy moves on the part of the Trump Mafia.
We need McCaskill to stand with other Senate members who are now signaling that they aren’t going to roll over and confirm unqualified candidates who stand well outside even the conservative mainstream. According to Politico, “Democrats are likely to require roll call votes and possibly delay the nominations of Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education and Tom Price to to be Health and Human Services secretary, in addition to Mattis, Mnuchin and Sessions.” Early signs are that McCaskill is waiting for a little push to go either way. Politico quotes her as cautiously tending to support the emerging Democratic line:
“I’ve heard no conversations about the kind of obstruction that Mitch McConnell specialized in,” said another endangered Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri. “But there may be some where there are real questions about their qualifications and some of the things in their backgrounds.”
Damn straight there is, Claire.
It’s a good sign, though, that McCaskill is trying to point out that lots of the nominees are genuinely dreadful; she seems to be trying to anticipate accusations that slowing the more outrageous nominations down in order to thoroughly vet questionable candidates is simply tit-for-tat against GOPers who, for purely partisan reasons, denied confirmation to a Supreme Court candidate that all admitted to be more than qualified.
Standing up against nominations that will be bad for the country is not by any measure the same type of political game that Republicans played all through the Obama presidency. They routinely obstructed the nominations of qualified judicial and agency candidates and slow-rolled the nomination of perfectly qualified cabinet level candidates like Loretta Lynch. Expect qualified Trump nominees like Elaine Chao to be easily confirmed.
As Nancy LeTourneau writes in response to charges of what she calls “both-siderism” in the Politico article:
Barack Obama didn’t nominate an Attorney General who had been rejected for a federal judgeship because of his history of racism. Nor did he nominate a Defense Secretary who violated the restrictions on the time between military service and serving in that capacity. He also didn’t nominate a woman with no training or experience in education to be Secretary of Education. Nor did he nominate someone who had been involved in the most egregious practices leading up to the Great Recession to be Treasury Secretary. In other words, the Cabinet Trump is proposing is extremist in a way that is unprecedented. As such, both the Senate and the American public need to seriously consider their capacity to harm the institutions on which so many of our citizens depend.
So let’s just hope that Claire McCaskill can put the good of the country before political expediency. Democrats are going to have to play a long game, and it’s likely that there are some who will have to take one for the team.
*Spelling of Elaine Chao’s name corrected (12/6, 11:54 am)