GOP Senate warns Biden on Cabinet choices as some Democrats push for more liberal choices

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Which could further delay deliberations: President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede, coupled with Republicans’ reluctance to say Biden is the winner, meaning few are ready to discuss the president-elect’s choices or to hold courtesy meetings like the Democrats are starting to do.

As Biden moves swiftly to fill key positions – ranging from healthcare to education to defense – lawmakers are warning who they would accept and who they would not.

“I think he made some very good choices,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, told CNN on Wednesday. “I would like to see strong progressives on the team. ”

Others have clarified that Biden would have to make bolder choices if their party wins both Georgia Senate races in January and takes control of the chamber.

“If we win the Senate, then I think the administration should be open to more aggressive appointments or rather appointments that would support a more aggressive agenda to help working families,” said Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, warning Biden not to nominate candidates. with “an austerity mentality”.

“I think that’s one of the most damaging things that could happen to the Democratic Party that would absolutely put us in jeopardy in 2022 is if we had a bunch of people of austerity, or a strategy of austerity and an austerity mindset, ”the New York Democrat told CNN. .

Biden has a complicated balance in seeking to appease the left while dealing with Republicans in the Senate who are likely to resist many of his candidates – like Neera Tanden, head of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, who was chosen by Biden to become the next White House budget manager. Her nomination sparked the ire of Republicans, many of whom she attacked on Twitter over the years, warning Biden not to nominate future candidates for positions with a similar ideological bent.

South Dakota Senator John Thune, the Senate Majority Whip, said the GOP’s comeback on Tanden’s pick should be “a warning signal” for Biden – especially if Republicans win the day. one of two second-round races in Georgia that would ensure they hold a majority in the new Congress.

“If things go like us in Georgia and we have a majority, I would expect a pretty high level of consultation,” Thune said. When asked if they would commit to holding votes on all of Biden’s nominees, Thune finally said, “We’ll take them on a case-by-case basis, if and when they come. ”

Some Republicans say Biden should consult with GOP leaders now, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – even though they haven’t even acknowledged Biden won the election.

“I think the new administration would be wise to contact the leader,” said Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas who, like McConnell, has yet to call Biden “president-elect.” “It’s not their job, it’s their job to advocate and coordinate the confirmation process. He said the processing of the Tanden appointment “seems like an amateur hour.”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who is expected to chair the GOP majority Senate Judiciary Committee, also issued a warning to Biden on Wednesday as he prepared to appoint an attorney general. He told CNN that Biden should choose a candidate who would receive “better treatment than what Sessions received,” referring to Trump’s first Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was confirmed according to the party in 2017 after a murderous confirmation battle.

” It seems to me [it should be someone who has] has garnered bipartisan support, ”Grassley said of Biden’s next choice to lead the Justice Department. And that was not how the sessions were treated. ”

Typically, on the first day of a new presidency, the Senate has confirmed some key Cabinet appointments. Trump saw his Secretary of Defense and Homeland Security confirmed on day one, although it was less than his immediate predecessors.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN he had urged the committee’s GOP chairman Jim Risch of Idaho to hold hearings early January for the nominees under the jurisdiction of their panel: Tony Blinken as head of the State Department and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US Ambassador to the United Nations.

“I told him whatever happens in Georgia, we have to do it early,” Menendez said Wednesday night. “He said, ‘I don’t disagree with you, and I agree with you that these are national security posts.’ So I didn’t get a definitive answer: “Yes, we will do it as soon as possible. But I have a feeling he is well disposed at this point. We will see. ”

Main lines of the unveiling of Biden's top national security and foreign policy teamMain lines of the unveiling of Biden's top national security and foreign policy team

While Menendez said “I’d love to see” the nominees confirmed on Jan.20 after Biden’s nomination, Risch declined to make any commitments about the nominees. When asked twice about the nominees this week, Risch waved to a CNN reporter and did not answer questions.

Many Republicans have so far shown little resistance to some other key choices, including Janet Yellen to head the Treasury Department and Alejandro Mayorkas to head the Department of Homeland Security. And when asked about Avril Haines’ choice of Biden as director of national intelligence, the acting Senate intelligence president, Marco Rubio, had little opinion on his choice.

“I don’t know much about it – so I haven’t had a chance to work on it,” Rubio said Wednesday of Haines’ appointment. “We’ll wait for the paperwork to arrive. ”

Privately, Democrats are pressuring Biden’s team to make key choices. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the most senior black leader in Congress, urges Biden to choose Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio to serve as agriculture secretary as he and others seek to add more Afro- Americans in Cabinet.

But Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, told CNN he urged Biden’s top adviser Ted Kaufman to choose former Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp for the job.

“She didn’t ask me to do it,” Tester said of her lobbying for Heitkamp. “But I think she would be good. ”

Some potential Biden candidates are already attracting opposition from leading congressional liberals.

“It’s a tough no,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN about the possibility of Biden appointing former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to head the transportation department. “I hope the administration would know better. ”

In addition, some currently in Congress are in the mix for key positions. Sen. Tom Udall, who is retiring at the end of the year, is in the running to lead the Home Department, along with Representative Deb Haaland, a Democratic colleague from New Mexico.

Main lines of the unveiling of Biden's new economic teamMain lines of the unveiling of Biden's new economic team

“I got my name for Inside,” Udall told CNN Wednesday. “We need a good westerner in this. ”

Biden signaled his reluctance to pick a Congressional candidate, given the narrow margins in both the House and Senate over the next two years. Asked about this reluctance, Warren – herself considered at one point to be a possible Cabinet choice – did not appear to oppose it.

“The president-elect faces many very difficult decisions,” Warren said Wednesday. “I understand that. What matters most to me is that he is able to do the job that the American people need. ”

If Democrats sweep Georgia’s two seats in the Jan.5 runoff election, they will control the Senate majority under a 50-50 Senate, meaning they could afford not to lose a Democrat if the GOP unites against a candidate. But if Republicans hold a majority, Biden would need GOP support and hope Republican presidents hold votes and hearings on key nominations.

Tanden, for his part, could face a difficult road to confirmation. His appointment to head the White House Office of Management and Budget goes through two committees, including the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, which Ohio Senator Rob Portman is on line to chair. majority of the GOP.

Hispanic lawmakers urge Biden to choose Lujan Grisham for HHSHispanic lawmakers urge Biden to choose Lujan Grisham for HHS

Portman told CNN he would hold a hearing for Tanden to be the next White House budget manager, but he urged Biden to withdraw his choice.

“They should reconsider his appointment given his partisan track record and his very liberal track record for this particular position,” Portman said.

When asked why his choice was different given that the GOP-led Senate had confirmed Mick Mulvaney – a former member of the Conservative House Freedom Caucus – to the same post under Trump, Portman said, “This might not have been the case if there had been democratic control. of the Senate. ”

Portman’s panel has joint jurisdiction over the nomination with the Senate Budget Committee, which is expected to be chaired by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham with a GOP majority. Graham has not made a commitment to move forward with a hearing on Tanden.

“Let’s see what happens with the Electoral College,” he said, referring to the moment when voters gather in their state capitals on December 14 to make Biden the official winner.

CNN’s Lauren Koenig contributed to this story.

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