The Senate is a famously cordial legislative body—a small country club with voting privileges, where pleasantries are exchanged, decorum is observed, and courtesies are extended even in the most partisan political environment.
One of those courtesies is that when the Senate majority leader’s wife is up for a Cabinet post, she’ll face little opposition from the minority party. So it drew plenty of notice on Tuesday when one of the six Democrats to vote against Elaine Chao’s nomination to be transportation secretary was the party’s leader, Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Schumer had voiced no objections to Chao—a former labor secretary who is married to Mitch McConnell—before the vote and notably omitted her from the eight Trump nominees that Democrats were planning to fight aggressively. She had won praise from other Democrats as perhaps the most qualified and least controversial of the president’s Cabinet picks.
Moreover, Schumer and McConnell are known to have a solid working relationship. When they aren’t battling over policy, the two party leaders must collaborate frequently on the Senate floor schedule, since almost any action McConnell takes is subject to unanimous consent from senators.
Schumer is under increasing pressure from liberal activists to fight Trump at every turn following the protests over the president’s executive order on immigration. The New York Democrat was asked on Tuesday if he was trying to send a message with his vote against Chao. Schumer said he wasn’t, but he laid down a new standard for any nominee to get his support: “My view,” he told reporters, “is that every nominee to the Cabinet should state their position on this executive order.” Schumer said Chao did not respond when Senator Bill Nelson of Florida asked for her opinion on Monday, and therefor he voted against her nomination on the floor.
Read more about the Senate’s busy day handling Trump’s nominees in our Cabinet Tracker.