Key Cabinet Spots Linger As Senate Showdown Looms 

By: Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs

In late March, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pension (HELP) Committee held a party-line vote to approve Alexander Acosta, the accomplished law school dean that President Trump has selected as his nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor. Despite the party-line vote, Democrats voiced concerns, but found little evidence to hold up the nomination. The widely-respected former U.S. attorney from Florida was on track to get Trump’s Cabinet on schedule, following the debacle of Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, who withdrew his name from consideration for Labor Secretary after several damaging reports surfaced regarding his personal life and business practices.

With Acosta’s confirmation headed to the full Senate for a vote, Senate Republicans on the Judiciary Committee simultaneously fired up the confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump has nominated to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Those two paths collided this week as Senate Democrats derailed the fast-moving Republican plan. While Acosta’s confirmation vote only requires a simple majority of 51 Senators, Supreme Court nominees require a 60-vote threshold for confirmation, meaning several Democrats would be needed to join the 52-member Republican caucus.

After a party-line vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee, several Senate Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who had previously indicated support for Gorsuch, announced that they would not be supporting the nominee. The announcement left Gorsuch short of the 60-vote threshold, forcing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to begin the process of invoking the “nuclear option,” which would change the 60-vote threshold to a simple majority.

The procedural showdown will continue to unfold with a final vote on Gorsuch potentially occurring on Friday. Democrats have promised to filibuster the effort, and several Republicans have expressed concern regarding the public perception of the nuclear option. As the process unfolds, the Senate heads toward a two-week Easter break, meaning Acosta’s confirmation vote won’t be held until late April at best.