Senate confirmation hearings can be quite contentious, especially when the votes are likely to split along party lines. Adding to the tension, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer promised to lead his fellow Democrats in attempting to block a number of Trump’s nominees.
On Friday, members of Congress joined thousands of Americans as they watched the Inauguration. But afterward, when the Senate was scheduled to vote on Trump’s CIA Director nomination (Representative Mike Pompeo) things went a little sour.
Pompeo’s nomination had already been delayed one day — at Schumer’s request — mainly in deference to those who wanted to attend hearings for both Pompeo and Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions.
The Weekly Standard reported on the deal struck between Schumer, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr:
McConnell consulted Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, Intel committee member Tom Cotton, and the incoming Trump administration. Republicans agreed to delay Pompeo, whose team was happy to have an extra day to prepare.
But the Republicans had a condition. If we agree to push back Pompeo’s hearing for a day, they told Schumer, you must agree to include him in the group of national security officials who will be confirmed by a voice vote on Inauguration Day, January 20.
According to these sources, Schumer agreed, with alacrity, having secured the delay he’d sought.
But then, just one day prior to the Inauguration, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden threatened to push for further delays. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton was not thrilled with this development and blamed Schumer, who had backed out of his promise to push a voice vote on Friday afternoon.
The Weekly Standard noted:
The Senate reconvened after the inaugural ceremonies on Friday, with Pompeo’s nomination set to come up at 4:50pm. Cotton angrily confronted Schumer about his broken promise.
According to witnesses, Schumer told Cotton to lower his voice and asked him move off of the Senate floor to an adjacent hallway for a private discussion. “We need to take this out into the hallway,” Schumer said. Cotton walked with Schumer but loudly rejected his first request.
“Don’t tell me to lower my voice!” he shouted, with an additional salty admonition tacked on for emphasis. Burr and Cornyn were present, as was Senator Mark Warner, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and several aides.
Schumer tried to fend Cotton off by explaining that no CIA Director had ever been confirmed on Inauguration Day — and chastised Cotton for even bringing it up, noting that if he’d been present in the Senate eight years ago, he’d know that Obama wasn’t afforded that courtesy.
Cotton immediately fired back:
“Eight years ago, I was getting my ass shot at in Afghanistan. So don’t talk to me about where I was 8 years ago.”
Schumer then pointed out that he had only promised that he himself would not block Pompeo’s nomination, and that he couldn’t be expected to speak for the 47 other Democrats in the Senate.
Senator John Cornyn, who was present at the time, noted:
“[Schumer] started dissembling and said: ‘I don’t control my whole caucus.’ Either he’d lost control or he was trying to make excuses for an outcome he wanted.”
It may also be worth mentioning that delays on the nomination of Obama’s 2009 pick, Leon Panetta, may have made more sense. When Panetta was nominated, he had no experience in the intelligence community. Pompeo, in contrast, is a current member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.