Democrats delay committee votes for Trump nominees

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," January 31, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Our obligation constitutionally, advise and consent, is to thoroughly vet these nominees. And if it takes longer, they could be in office up to four years, and it makes eminent sense to get their views out.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These highly qualified nominees who have the votes for their nominations to be endorsed out of committee and get a full vote are being stalled because Democrats are boycotting the committee votes. It's outrageous. The mere idea that they are not even showing up to hearings is truly outrageous.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: It is time to get over the fact that they lost the election. The president is entitled to have his Cabinet appointments considered.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: That was the big news today is Democrats stepped out and did not show up for two committee votes to move cabinet nominees forward. This as you take a look at the cabinet confirmations in January after the inauguration of this president and previous presidents, how many they have had approved and confirmed. You see Donald Trump is officially at three.

The committee votes delayed today for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Tom Price, HHS, and Jeff Sessions as attorney general. We are getting word that Rex Tillerson will not come for up for vote for secretary of state until Wednesday afternoon at the earliest.

So let's bring in our panel tonight, editor in chief of Lifezette, Laura Ingraham, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today.

Susan, what about this? Some of this comes in the fallout of the firing of Susan Yates at the Justice Department. And Democrats seem to feel emboldened, but they are stepping away from these votes.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: That's right, although they have no expectation of defeating so far any of the cabinet nominations, only of delaying them some. The statistics are actually worse than your chart even shows. It is the worst showing for the number of nominations confirmed by this point since 1933, which is the year of the date of the inauguration was moved back to January. So it is a historically slow rate of confirmation. But so far you have to say you don't see a nominee that is really poised to be defeated.

BAIER: Laura, your thoughts?

LAURA INGRAHAM, LIFEZETTE.COM: The word "impotent" comes to mind when I think of what the Democrats are doing. The idea that they are going to somehow prove their relevance or their ability to govern better by pulling this stunt is just ludicrous. They know, as Susan said, all of these nominees are going to be confirmed. And they must know that this is actually harming the interests of the United States. We don't have a U.S. trade representative. We have big trade stuff coming up. Obviously Tillerson, we need him in place.

So when they complain about chaos and disorder and Trump is this chaotic, disruptive guy, OK, but what is your role in all of this? Are you acting as a ballast for normalcy and common sense when you proceed this may? So to me it's a desperate stunt, but it's more of a sign of impotence than anything else.

BAIER: I was talking to Susan. I think I said Susan Yates. I meant Sally Yates at the Department of Justice, the acting attorney general. Here is Senator Schumer and Sean Spicer today on what happened.


SCHUMER: We had a Monday night massacre. Sally Yates, a person of great integrity who follows the law, was fired by the president. She was fired because she would not enact, pursue the executive order on the belief that it was illegal.

SPICER: The Department of Justice's Office of Legal Compliance vetted the executive order, sent it back to us saying it was completely compliant. Then the acting attorney general goes out and says I'm not going to enforce it? You tell me how that jives.


BAIER: And the White House statement goes further, saying "The acting attorney general Sally Yates has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States. Miss Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration," it continues on. Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: She will have now her 15 minutes as the new star for liberal America. It's not going to last that much longer.

But this is exactly the same as the Schumer stunts, the walking out on the nomination hearings and the delaying of the cabinet appointments. It's just a way to play to the base. Ask anyone who is defending her and saying how principled was Sally Yates' action, ask her what was illegal about the executive order? I've heard a lot of constitutional lawyers from Alan Dershowitz on down who vehemently opposed the Trump policy but say that she was absolutely wrong in what she did. She has no leg to stand on. Her only option, if she really thought it was either unconstitutional or unlawful, would have been to resign. And Trump was entirely within his rights to fire an insubordinate cabinet member.

It's a very simple story, and this is the Democrats playing to the base. They had this huge demonstration. They feel they have to satisfy the anger of their supporters. They have to show zeal. They have no chance of stopping these nominations, no chance of overturning the order, so they have to pretend. It's Kabuki.

BAIER: She said in her statement that she was convinced that the executive order was not lawful. This is what -- this made the rounds today. This is Senator Sessions asking Sally Yates this question from March, 2015.


SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general or the deputy attorney general say no?

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator, I believe the attorney general or the deputy attorney general has an obligation to follow the law and the constitution and to give their independent legal advice to the president.


BAIER: Obviously that got a lot of attention today, Susan.

PAGE: Yes, it seems appropriate, right. Thank goodness for video clips.

I would just say a lot of this seems to be a self-inflicted wound on the part of the Trump administration by not spending enough time vetting, consulting, working on the language of the executive order on immigration. He got criticized today even by Paul Ryan, the House speaker, who has been positive in terms of the content in the effort to tighten vetting, saying it has created problems it didn't need to cause. This out to be seen as a little bit of a warning for the Trump administration that maybe in the quest for speed and drama and action, it is costing them when it comes to actually implementing the policies in kind of a smooth way.

BAIER: I will say, though, the homeland security secretary today said his people were in on the drafting process. They knew it was coming. They knew that the executive order was coming and they were part of the drafting. So all of the hyperventilating about who knew what when seemed to be put down, did it not?

INGRAHAM: I think somewhat. He did say he was watching TV I think when he saw that it was being announced on Friday. So I think that might have been a surprise, the timing. But nonetheless, the idea that the Democrats were not going to pull something like, I think it's contextual, that they are saying it's because the new Sandra Fluke or Wendy Davis -- Yates is the new poster child for leftwing activism.

Joe DiGenova on my radio show today said that it was an odd choice for the Trump transition team to pick her to be acting attorney general because she was well known in the department to be an activist and was actually talking to a lot of lawyers in the department, telling them we are basically going to resist this. So that wasn't a good choice. There are other people they could have selected. So I'd say that was a mistake, selecting her in the first place.

BAIER: Criticism about the rollout, fair probably, but as far as the substance of what was in it, here is Senator Schumer then and now on refugees.


SCHUMER: Every refugee has to be vetted and have to make sure there is no connection whatsoever with terrorism. If there is even a doubt, they should not be admitted.

This executive order was mean-spirited and un-American.


BAIER: The substance of it, Charles?

KRAUTHAMMER: What I was, the principle is quite defensible. You want the best vetting you can have. A new president comes in and he wants to declare some kind of moratorium so they can reexamine the vetting, I think that's all fine.

The way they carried it out, you do in advance -- I don't care how many people looked at it or not. That's not the problem. The problem is that on the day it was announced, the Homeland Security was told it includes holders of green cards, which is absurd, and it was rescinded and then un- rescinded, then nobody knew. Green card people have been vetted left and right, up and down. And that's unnecessary, creates hardship, and particularly I think the worst is the ones who have the special visas, the ones who risk their lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, elsewhere to help us in wartime and are subject to being killed and their families -- you have to exclude them from day one from the beginning.

BAIER: And now Homeland Security is saying we've got it.

KRAUTHAMMER: Yes, but you get it three days later, you have hung up a lot of folks. It's not as if we have condemned them to death, but it's not the way to do it. And remember, there's a president who ran on competency, among other things. All the people in Washington, they are stupid, they are idiots, they can't negotiate. I'm going to bring in the best and the brightest. That was not what you do when you are the best and the brightest.

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