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Republican resistance looms in the Senate

By Carl Hulse

© The New York Times Co.

WASHINGTON » Sen. Bernie Sanders, the progressive Vermont independent, has emerged as a contender for labor secretary in President- elect Joe Biden’s administration, a prospect that would suit his ambitions of being a warrior for working Americans — and one that makes some Senate Republicans very uneasy.

“I think that is somebody who we know is an ideologue and, well, it would be very unlikely he would be confirmed in a Republicanheld Senate,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, one of multiple Republicans who said Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, would be unlikely to win the chamber’s approval.

It is a testament to the deterioration of the Senate confirmation process that a longtime colleague — even one they vehemently oppose on policy — would face such a Republican roadblock.

In the not-too-distant past, fellow senators got considerable leeway from the opposing party if they were selected to join the executive branch.

“The truth is, to the best of my knowledge, there has been a courtesy within the Senate that when a president nominates senators, they have been approved,” Sanders said.

Should Republicans hold on to their Senate majority next year, Biden would be the first president since George Bush in 1989 to enter office without his party controlling the chamber and managing the confirmation process. And that process has grown much more toxic, to the point where senators routinely engage in near-blanket opposition to the picks of a president from the opposite party — if they allow consideration at all.

“It is sort of uncharted waters,” said Lindsay M.

Chervinsky, a presidential historian and author of a book on George Washington’s Cabinet. “For most of history, the Senate has given presidents, especially first-term presidents, wide berth. They usually give the president who they want.”

That is no certainty today. Some Republicans, who need to win at least one of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 to hold their slim majority, have made clear that they are not eager to grant much latitude to Biden when it comes to nominees. They note efforts by Democrats over the past four years to block President Donald Trump’s picks and to force Republicans to clear every time-consuming procedural hurdle even when the final outcome was inevitable.

“I can assure you that there will not be one set of rules for Donald Trump and, should Joe Biden take office, another set of rules for him,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said this week on the radio show of Hugh Hewitt, a conservative host. “What the Democrats have done for the last four years, if it is good for the goose, it is going to be good for the gander as well.”

Other Republicans — including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have indicated they would be willing to back Biden’s picks as long as they were considered mainstream, acknowledging that a Democratic president is entitled to selections that comport with his views.

They and other Republicans say potential candidates who could meet that test include Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who lost his reelection bid this month; Anthony Blinken, a longtime Biden foreign policy adviser; and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Biden confidant.

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