In basketball parlance, when the team on defense applies pressure to the offensive team the entire length of the court after an inbound pass, it’s called a “full court press.”
Some presses attempt to deny the initial in bounds pass and trap ball handlers either in back or mid court. In politics, it’s what the Democrats ought to be doing to stop Donald Trump and the Republicans from getting their appointees confirmed and their legislative program enacted.
On Feb. 7, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education.
This was followed by the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services, Steven Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury and Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
All of these individuals have one thing in common.
They are among the most controversial appointees ever named to these posts.
How was it possible that these individuals withstood the blistering questions posed by irate Democratic legislators?
I contend that the Republican Senators tactically outmaneuvered their Democratic counterparts.
This is an important lesson for the Democrats to learn if they hope to stall or prevent the Trump administration from achieving its goals.
So what was the Democratic strategy?
The best they could come up with was to run out the clock on procedural votes, thus prolonging the confirmation process.
This meant the Democrats held the floor all night in what amounted to a mini-filibuster called a “talkathon.”
While interesting and informative to watch, all it meant was that the Republicans had to wait until the next day to confirm.
They did and each of their candidates was approved. So, what was the Democrats alternative?
Many years ago when Lyndon B. Johnson was president, he got many a bill through the Senate and House through good old-fashioned political horse trading.
Simply put, he calculated how many votes he needed for passage of a bill. He then called in the requisite number of legislators to the White House and, in essence, asked them what they needed in their district or state? “Can you use a new V.A. hospital or an upgrade on the federal highway?”
He might ask.
Sadly, L.B.J. is no longer with us. Nor is his style of negotiating.
And to think — he didn’t even have “The Art of the Deal” to guide him through the process.
Still the idea of the quid pro quo is valid.
Returning to the DeVos nomination. Two Republican Senators voted against confirmation.
They were Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. This made the vote a tie — 50 for and 50 against.
A tie is broken by the Vice President and, of course, Vice President Pence cast his vote for DeVos.
What more could the Democrats have done?
What if Lily Garcia, president of the National Education Association and Randi Weingartner, head of the American Federation of Teachers, had selected a persuadable Republican, walked into her or his office and started horse trading. They could start by announcing that the N.E.A. represents almost 3 million teachers while membership in the A.F.T. is 1.6 million.
They might then say that these large unions had already spent 2.6 million trying to block DeVos and they could be helpful in providing boots on the ground and money in the coffers when that vulnerable Republican ran the next time.
One of my readers has expressed dismay that this is the way American politics works and I agree. But it is the way the game is played and always has been.
Even Abraham Lincoln whom historians agree is one of our greatest presidents resorted to arm-twisting when necessary.
In his film review of “Lincoln,” Roger Ebert wrote: “Lincoln is not above vote buying. He offers jobs, promotions, titles and pork barrel spending.”
We should not be proud of these methods, but they succeeded in getting the 13th amendment which freed the slaves ratified.
The Senate Democrats, under Chuck Schumer’s leadership, failed in this first test of stopping the Trump “blitzkrieg,” but there will be many more opportunities to thwart his right wing agenda.
Let us all rise to the occasion.
Dr. Hal Sobel