Partisan fighting over Cabinet nominees heats up

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," February 1, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we end up with that gridlock, I would say, if you can, Mitch, go nuclear.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: The answer should not be to change the rules of the Senate but to change the nominee to someone who can earn 60 votes.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIF.: I don't want to see the Senate of the United States bow down to an executive demand like this.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-W.VA.: Do I think that they might go ahead and pull the nuclear option? Sure, I think they might because they're going to say, hey, you all lead the way. Why don't we just follow along?

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: There is nothing wrong with having a fight, but we intend to win the fight because we've got outstanding nominees.


JAMES ROSEN, GUEST ANCHOR: So there was a number of key players, the first of them, of course, President Trump, meeting with activist groups on his Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch at the White House this morning and urging the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to push the button, to use the so called nuclear option and rewrite Senate rules so the judge can win confirmation from the Senate with a simple majority vote. Will it happen? With the Republicans even need it?

Let's bring in our panel: Byron York, chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, first-class minds and friends all.

To you, first, Charles. Do we see the nuclear option shaping up as a likely scenario?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: If you listen carefully to McConnell, he never answers the question about whether he'll do it. He simply says we will do what it takes and we're going to get the candidate through, we're going to get the nominee through. Everybody understands what that means. It means that if he has to he will do it. But he'd prefer not to do it. He's a traditionalist. He doesn't want to have to blow up the system, and he doesn't want to be a new Harry Reid on this.

But I don't think it helps -- and I supported blowing up the process and eliminating the filibuster if necessary. But I don't think it helps if the president keeps saying it.

ROSEN: Why not?

KRAUTHAMMER: Because it looks like it's pressure from another branch, and it polarizes a debate over Gorsuch into a sort of a conflict between the Trump White House and the Democrats. That is unnecessary. This is such a strong candidate that if you leave it as an issue between the candidate on his merits against obstructionist Democrats who are demagoguing him -- we have already heard the accusations today, completely wild, completely out of control, calling him extremist and going through a list of things which have no relation to reality. If it's a fight like that, I think in the court of public opinion, Gorsuch wins hands down.

So let him do it. Let him carry the fight with the organizations who are behind him, with the Senate being behind him, and I think in that kind of fight, he wins. And the Democrats I would guess won't even threaten to filibuster.

ROSEN: It is an extraordinary moment that we have come a Supreme Court nomination pending at the same time at the very beginning, the outset of an administration with all of these nominees for cabinet posts still pending.

As we reported earlier, Rex Tillerson was confirmed by the United States Senate today to serve as secretary of state. But the vote there was 56-43. And our research shows that the highest number of nay votes, 43, for any secretary of state in history. You can see some of the recent votes for secretary of state nominees. John Kerry almost unanimous. Hillary Clinton, almost unanimous. Condoleezza Rice getting 13 nay votes. But 43 against Rex Tillerson. This brings the total number of Trump cabinet nominees who been confirmed to six. That is still, we can put up that list for you, that is still one shy of the number of nominees that new president Barack Obama had confirmed on his first day in office.

Byron York, is Betsy DeVos, the education secretary nominee, in trouble?

BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yes, she is in trouble. You had two Republicans come out today, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and say they are not going to support her. You have got 52 to Republicans, which means she's got 50 right now, and the vice president can break the tie. So she can get in if nothing changes. But it's going to be as close as it absolutely physically possibly can be, so much so that there is talk about trying to get her through the Senate quickly by the end of this week while Jeff Sessions is still a Republican senator and can vote for her because they are going to need every single vote they've got to.

ROSEN: Right. In fact that's been an objective of the White House legislative office, to stagger these votes such that Jeff Sessions can still be in a position to vote because his vote is very needed for Betsy DeVos.

YORK: But he is now out of committee and he can actually be voted on pretty soon if the majority leader wants to do that.

ROSEN: The rancor on Capitol Hill in this political climate, as we all know, is excessive. Here's a little sample of two senators from each party talking about this nomination process and how it's going.


SEN. PATTY MURRAY, D-WASH.: Republicans are doing everything they can to rush these nominees through, even if it means bending the rules and cutting off scrutiny and debate. Democrats are going to keep fighting back.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: When the shoe was on the other foot, we confirmed seven of President Obama's cabinet nominees on the day he was inaugurated, January the 20th, 2009. But apparently this is the new normal, and I just hope our Democratic colleagues realize that this is not serving the public interest.


ROSEN: A.B. Stoddard, we say in committee action that the Democrats were actually boycotting the committee hearings on these nominees. And finally Senator Hatch on the Senate finance committee convened the committee without the Democrats present and they voted on two of the presidents nominees. Have you ever seen anything like that before?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: No, but these are different times. And I think the Democrats realize all they have left in their arsenal is these sort of stalling tactics. They don't have the power to stop Trumps nominees unless -- without Republicans breaking like they are on DeVos. And they really see now this Colgate smile, picture-perfect Supreme Court justice nominee who they are going to be hearing from their constituents about with probably a very good Republican and conservative campaign, lobbying campaign on his behalf, obviously in the states that Trump won, and they are going to be under a lot of pressure on that debate.

So it's almost as if they have this really ill-advised strategy to flood the zone and get mad about every single cabinet pick. That wasn't effective. But now that they see Neil Gorsuch, they have decided they really have to slow things down. In the end no one will remember in the elections of 2018 or 2020 the stalling tactics that they used on these nominees who are likely to make it through anyway.

ROSEN: And the White House which is beset by these charges that they are causing chaos with their executive orders and in other ways, is fighting back by saying it's the Democrats causing chaos by slow walking nominations for top Cabinet officials and vital agencies.

Content and Programming Copyright 2017 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.