Ben Carson confirmed by Senate as HUD secretary

Sen. Elizabeth Warren failed to block Ben Carson from serving as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but her vote Thursday against the retired neurosurgeon provided assurance to progressive activists that she is listening to them.

Votes on President Trump’s Cabinet picks have evolved into purity tests for grass-roots activists on the left, who are calling on Democrats to lead the opposition against Mr. Trump on Capitol Hill and threatening to sink lawmakers who don’t fall in line.

So progressives were pleased to see Ms. Warren’s opposition to Mr. Carson, which came a little over a month after she voted to advance his nomination out of a Senate committee and onto the Senate floor for a vote.

“As the Trump administration finds itself deeper and deeper in scandal, there’s a new rule for Democrats who want to win in 2018: Resist anywhere and everywhere,” said Christy Setzer, a Democratic strategist. “Warren may not have realized the rules had changed when she cast that initial vote for Carson, but she sure realizes it now.”

“Look, the Democratic grass roots wants scalps, and if they can’t get them from Republicans, they’ll take them from Democrats,” Ms. Setzer said.

The final 58-41 vote Thursday in favor of Mr. Carson’s confirmation largely fell along party lines, with seven members of the Democratic caucus — including some of the most vulnerable members up for re-election in 2018 — crossing party lines to support Mr. Trump’s nominee.

Mr. Carson is now charged with overseeing federal public housing and formulating policies related to homelessness. Democrats worry he does not have the experience for the job.

More evidence, meanwhile, emerged Thursday that the Democratic base is paying close attention to these nomination votes.

Progressive groups delivered a petition with 225,000 signatures to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s office on Thursday that called on the New York Democrat to oust Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia from his leadership team.

The groups highlighted how Mr. Manchin was the lone Democrat to support Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation last month as attorney general.

“The Democratic Party must stand in solidarity with the millions of Americans who have taken to the streets to resist Trump and defend our democracy,” said Yong Jung Cho, cofounder of #AllofUs, which recently launched WeWillReplaceYou.org.

“If Schumer wants to show that he’s with the resistance, he needs to remove Sen. Joe Manchin, a man who proudly gives Trump standing ovations, buddies up with Breitbart News and votes for the Republican Party’s agenda of hate and corporate cronyism, from party” leadership, he said.

Mr. Manchin’s office did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mr. Manchin has previously countered his critics by saying he prefers giving deference to presidents when it comes to their Cabinet picks. And he has played up his independent streak, arguing he is focused on doing what is best for West Virginians and building bridges in Congress — not getting bogged down in partisan battles.

When she came under fire over advancing Mr. Carson’s nomination in January, Ms. Warren responded by outlining her thinking in a 10-paragraph Facebook post.

“He is not the nominee I wanted,” Ms. Warren said. “But ‘the nominee I wanted’ is not the test.”

Neil Sroka, spokesman for Democracy for America, applauded Ms. Warren’s Thursday reversal of her earlier stance.

“It is proof of not just a lesson learned from Elizabeth Warren, but an important lesson for all Democrats in the Senate in how you listen and how you respond to the grass-roots resistance efforts,” Mr. Sroka said.

Ms. Warren has lined up against the Trump administration on 13 out of 15 confirmation votes since the unanimous committee vote on Mr. Carson, and also got a political boost from a high-profile dustup with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over criticism she aimed at Mr. Sessions.

Over that same time, Mr. Manchin voted to confirm 11 of Mr. Trump’s 15 Cabinet picks.

Thought to be considering a presidential run in 2020, Ms. Warren comes from a deep-blue state, while almost 70 percent of the voters in Mr. Manchin’s political backyard backed Mr. Trump in the November election.

Both of them are up for re-election in 2018. They fell on opposite sides of the Carson vote on Thursday.

“The contrast between what Joe Manchin is doing in the U.S. Senate and what Elizabeth Warren is doing could not be more clear,” Mr. Sroka said. “You cannot lead a resistance by trying to cheerleader for a president who is pursuing numerous reckless policies.”

 

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