WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday confirmed the Pentagon's new No. 2, Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan, 92-7, but Democrats say they will continue to delay Trump administration nominees.
Shanahan advanced as the White House and Senate Republicans are voicing ever louder complaints about Senate Democrats obstructing President Donald Trump's nominees to run the federal government.
In spite of the apparent collapse of Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which seemed to be motivating Democratic dilatory tactics, Democrats plan to stay the course, according to the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, Sen. Richard Durbin.
"This notion of reconciliation all the way, take it or leave it, creates a very poisonous atmosphere," Durbin, of Illinois, said Tuesday of Senate Republican leadership. "We are looking for a demonstration from the Republican leadership that they want to go back to the regular order of the Senate.
There are 40 Trump administration nominees in the queue for a Senate vote, four of which are named to DoD.
On Tuesday, six of the "no" votes were Democrats — Sens. Corey Booker, D-N.J.; Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both D-Mass. — plus Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Tuesday's Senate vote was largely bipartisan and non-controversial, but it followed form. Democrats are slowing down the Republican-led Senate by insisting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., request a formal "cloture" vote to move forward.
If that vote is successful, an interval of 30 hours must pass before an actual vote, in order to allow debate. By Republican math, it would take more than 11 years to fill all the Trump administration's vacancies.
To be clear, the White House has moved slowly in the nomination process. But Republicans would prefer Democrats could allow nominations once they arrive at the Senate to proceed faster by agreeing to "unanimous consent." The Senate has required 30 cloture votes for 51 of the presidential nominees the Senate has confirmed.
"The level of obstruction exhibited by Senate Democrats on these nominees is simply breathtaking," McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday. "It's often leaving key departments without the senior leadership needed to guide our country through the various challenges that we face. It needs to stop."
When Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to advance Shanahan last week, Schumer rejected the request, albeit cordially, with a nod to the partisan impasse on health care.
"Maybe once things change a little bit on health care, with the consent of my colleagues on this side of the aisle, we can move a lot of things quickly," Schumer said.
McCain told Schumer the military needs its chief operating officer and other senior leaders to navigate it out of a budget crisis, advance modernization plans and face America's national security threats. Shanahan would replace Bob Work, who has agreed to stay on until his replacement is sworn in.
Work, one of the few holdovers from the Obama administration, has been managing almost a dozen major reviews that will need to be handed off to Shanahan.
In the months since he was nominated, Shanahan has taken a whirlwind tour of the Pentagon, sitting down with multiple offices from the department in an unclassified setting in order to better understand how they operate.
He has also met with his counterpart on the joint staff, Gen. Paul Selva, the vice-chairman of the joint chiefs. At a hearing earlier Tuesday, Selva said the two men have spent "several hours" discussing how to achieve auditability for the department, specifically the issue of how to properly value property controlled by DoD.
Aaron Mehta in Washington contributed to this report.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.