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Everyone wants President Donald Trump to “get tough.” Tough with special counsel Robert Mueller. Tough with North Korea. Tough with Russia, and Syria, and trading partners around the globe. Even tough with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
On any given day, as the mood may move him, Trump does exactly that, whether on Twitter, or via an outside advocate, or on TV. But here is someone Trump absolutely needs to get tough with and not just on Twitter: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Why?
Trump’s presidency depends on how tough and successful he is against Schumer.
Today, almost 300 presidential nominees remain unconfirmed. Many are holdovers from 2017 and have been re-nominated after prior confirmation votes out of Senate committees. The media in general confirms this may well be the highest number of vacancies across a U.S. administration. Senior management positions—deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, deputy undersecretaries—remain unfilled in virtually every crucial cabinet department, with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Education, Health and Human Services being the most prominent.
And holding down the forts? Obama-era careerists or less experienced political appointees who have no business managing offices. The vast majority of these appointees are awaiting full Senate confirmation votes. While some are being held up by Republican Senators with some minor axe to grind against the president or the department to which these nominees would go, or perhaps even hold some grudge against the nominees themselves, the vast majority are being held up by Schumer. Why? Because he can—and because Democrats believe there is a pound of flesh to be collected from a president they dislike and who is in dire need of all hands on deck as he enters a crucial period in his administration.
Consider that President Trump has not had even close to a full team that is fully on board his foreign policy agenda at the State Department (never mind that former Secretary of State Tillerson may have fallen into that category). As the White House prepares for Trump’s engagement with North Korea, Israeli and Palestinian discussions, and the ongoing security and economic threats that are Russia and China, he needs a team focused on the priorities he wants to see emphasized at State. The same goes for trade policy. And the federal judiciary, and the rule of law, given that the Department of Justice still has Obama appointees as acting heads in some of the most important offices that set and enforce criminal and civil policies.
So how can Trump break the logjam? By playing the nomination game in a very non-Washingtonian manner.
Since Mitch McConnell has seemingly decided that Chuck Schumer is his joint majority leader, it’s time for Donald Trump to lay down the law with Schumer. Here’s how:
Later this week, the president should announce that for every day his nominees fail to be consolidated on an appropriate Senate bill and brought up for a vote, the executive office of the president, working with cabinet secretaries, will shut down department offices of importance to Senator Schumer and his Democratic leadership.
If the president can’t have his team, Schumer won’t have his. Period. Squeeze Schumer until he squeals.
For example, there are several offices in Treasury that help ensure Wall Street banks are able to safely and securely communicate and transfer funds. Those offices should be shut down, with staff reassigned immediately.
Offices at the Department of Transportation that may be sending federal funds up to New York or to Illinois for road work funding and whatever sweetheart deals Democrats there have cut with their union buddies? Shut down, with staff reassigned or furloughed.
All that staff detailed to work in Democrats’ Senate offices and on Democrat committee staff? Immediately recalled and reassigned.
If Schumer refuses to budge, hey, it’s not that big a deal. If nothing else, this shrinks the size of government. If people on Wall Street or in state transportation departments complain? Hey, call Schumer’s office; this is his problem.
Sure, it’s a high-risk game of chicken, but here’s the catch: Schumer has been playing and winning it for almost 18 months. McConnell is either inept or a willing enabler of Schumer’s obstruction. It’s time the president and his team did an end run around McConnell, identify the offices across the government important to Democrats and start shutting them down.
If Schumer wants to obstruct Trump, Trump can, and should, make it as painful for Schumer as possible and send a very loud and clear message: confirm my nominees or face the consequences.
Photo credit: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images