Rahm Emanuel’s nomination recently advanced through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee despite opposition from two Democrats: Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ed Markey (D-MA). Members of the party’s progressive wing have voiced opposition to Emanuel’s nomination to serve as ambassador to Japan because of his handling of the shooting of Laquan McDonald, a young Black man, by a Chicago police officer while Emmanuel served as the city’s mayor. Even without Merkley and Markey, the nomination was advanced by voice vote and will be considered by the full Senate. Two Republicans, Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and Jim Risch (R-ID), stated their support for Emmanuel, offsetting the loss of the two Democratic committee members.
This is not the first time that a Biden pick has been advanced over opposition from within the Democratic Party. One notable instance of this was Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) vote against Thomas Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack’s nomination, similarly to Emanuel’s, had raised alarm bells among progressives (and Black farmers) because of his record on civil rights. Vilsack’s history has also raised concerns over his past connections to and support for large agricultural corporations. Sanders cited similar concerns, saying “I think we need somebody a little bit more vigorous in terms of protecting family farms and taking on corporate agriculture”. Vilsack still was confirmed with a hefty majority in a 92-7 vote.
Only two close confirmation votes required bipartisan support because of opposition from a Democrat. The first instance was opposition from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) over the appointment of Janet Garvin McCabe as Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The second was an objection by Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) to the nomination of Elizabeth Prelogar for Solicitor General because of Prelogar’s position on New Hampshire’s standing to sue Massachusetts over an income tax on remote workers. There were an additional 3 times that confirmations passed with less than 50 votes, due to a large number of senators who were absent and did not vote.
To examine how often Republican votes have been used in confirming Biden nominees, I compiled a spreadsheet of every confirmation that passed in close votes- which I defined as passing with less than 60 yea votes. Out of around 230 confirmations, there were 64 close confirmations. Of those, Republican support was required in exactly half (32) to be able to clear 50 votes and reach a majority, though 30 of those were due to Democratic absences (we are assuming that virtually all instances of Democrats not voting are due to absence).
Of the Republicans breaking ranks to affirm Biden’s nominees, the most frequent to join their Democratic peers was the trio of Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Others that provided fairly frequent support for the confirmations were Senators Burr (R-NC), Capito (R-WV), Grassley (R-IA), and Portman (R-OH).
PHOTO CREDIT: “Rahm Emanuel, Pointing, With Chicago Flag in Background” by danxoneil is licensed under CC BY 2.0