So far, however, the only complaints have come from Democrats. Republicans have stuck with Trump, treating the Democratic huffing-and-puffing with a collective eye roll. “Thank you for this anger management hearing,” Senator Pat Roberts quipped after one Democrat laid into Price at his hearing before the health committee on Wednesday. McConnell has suggested Democrats simply haven’t gotten over their election defeat.
The only nominee who has run into trouble with Republicans so far is Tillerson, who annoyed Senator Marco Rubio by refusing to call out Vladimir Putin and other regimes for human-rights violations. Rubio hasn’t said how he’ll vote on Tillerson’s nomination in the Foreign Relations Committee, and his opposition could jeopardize the former ExxonMobil’s confirmation. Other Republican senators, however, have predicted that all of Trump’s nominees would be confirmed.
That hasn’t happened at the beginning of a presidency since the Reagan years. While the Senate hasn’t rejected a nominee in a floor vote since 1989, each president in the last three decades has seen at least one of their original nominees withdraw under political pressure.
Would Democrats have been able to block a number of Trump’s nominees if the filibuster threshold were still 60 votes? “For a variety of different reasons, I think they would have been,” said Jim Manley, a former spokesman for Reid and Senate Democrats. Manley’s reasoning, however, rests as much on the Beltway changing norms as it does on the particular revelations Trump’s nominees are confronting. “In years past,” he said, “there had been some sort of an idea that presidents deserve to have their nominees in place absent some serious allegations of misconduct. But that was then, and this is now.”
Another ex-Reid aide, Adam Jentleson, argued that the rules change didn’t alter the dynamic as much as it might seem. Even though Cabinet appointees needed bipartisan support to overcome a filibuster, their nominations only imploded once members of the majority party started peeling away. “If those nominees could have gotten more than 50, they would have been put on the floor,” said Jentleson, who is now a senior strategic adviser for the political arm of the liberal Center for American Progress. “There’s a different set of considerations that go into Cabinet nominees. People believe the president deserves to eventually have his team in place.”
“If you're going to sink a Cabinet-level nominee,” he added, “you’ve got to sink them on a simple majority vote. That’s always been the case, and it still is today.”
A filibuster can’t defeat a nominee outright; it only postpones indefinitely an up-or-down vote. And over time, Jentleson said, Democrats would have to defend why they were preventing someone who had the support of a majority of the Senate from taking office. That political pressure, he noted, is what forced Republicans to eventually confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general in 2015 after a lengthy delay. “The public will stomach delay, especially when they are unanswered questions,” Jentleson said. “But they probably won’t stomach indefinite blocking.”