Just don’t read too much into their pushback.
As is often the case, such mini rebellions tend to be driven at least as much by concerns over pet issues, institutional prerogatives, and personal pique as by concerns over the actual quality of Trump’s choices. “Anybody who’s saying, ‘Oh, there is a concerted effort behind the scenes’ is probably going out of their way to make themselves seem good,” cautioned a Republican aide. “Like everything in politics, this all comes down to people and personalities.”
Already, Trump has had nominees fail for a wide range of posts, including cabinet seats (Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor), agency chiefs (Scott Garrett at the Export-Import Bank; Tom Marino for drug czar), agency sub-chiefs (Michael Dourson to head the EPA’s chemical safety division), chief scientists (Sam Clovis at USDA), general counsels (Ryan Newman for the Army; David Ehrhart for the Air Force), and, of course, judges (Brett Talley, Jeff Mateer, and Matthew Petersen for federal district court seats). Jim Bridenstine’s bid to head NASA is technically alive but widely expected to remain, as a Republican aide put it, “on ice.”
Lawmakers’ reasons for opposing a nominee vary widely, as does the degree to which members opt to make their objections known. “This is all on a case-by-case basis,” stressed the GOP aide.
John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was not shy about his displeasure that David Ehrhart, Trump’s pick for Air Force general counsel, came from the defense giant Lockheed Martin. McCain felt that the Pentagon was being stacked with too many industry players. Ehrhart’s nomination never made it out of committee.
Similarly, McCain wasn’t high on Ryan Newman to serve as Army general counsel. Newman does not favor requiring women to register for the draft; McCain does. Newman’s nomination also stalled in committee.
Labor Secretary-wannabe Puzder didn’t rub any one Senator the wrong way so much as multiple Republicans balked at the accusations of spousal abuse swirling around him, as well as his having employed an undocumented immigrant as his housekeeper.
Representative Tom Marino’s shot at drug czar was derailed by revelations that legislation he shepherded in 2016 had knee-capped the DEA’s fight against opioid abuse.
Michael Dourson will not be overseeing chemical safety at EPA thanks to Richard Burr’s and Thom Tillis’s concerns about his consulting work for the chemical industry. In explaining their objections, the North Carolina Senators cited water-contamination crises in their home state.
Scott Garrett will not head the Ex-Im bank because of his assaults on the institution during his time in Congress. Garrett’s antipathy did not sit well with manufacturing and business interests, which in turn did not sit well with some Republicans. Tim Scott and Mike Rounds cast the “No” votes to stop the nomination from clearing the Banking Committee.