Murray and Cantwell: Senators are fierce, tenacious Trump foes

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: The Seattle Pi

Late night TV viewers, tuning in recently to C-SPAN, have had the opportunity to watch Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, D-Wash., pull all-nighters on the Senate floor opposing Trump Cabinet nominees.

The "Gentleladies from Washington" were at it in the daytime on Thursday, fighting against confirmation of Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and of ex-Texas Gov. ("Oops") Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy.

With Republican colleagues in lock-step with Trump, Murray and Cantwell made a cogent argument: Neither Cabinet nominee knows his portfolio, and both jobs are too important to be filled by an unqualified Cabinet secretary.

Cantwell discussed a famous gaffe that defined Perry, in which the then-candidate for President could not remember names of three Cabinet agencies he had pledged to abolish.

"While people may know Governor Perry, I'm certain the people of Washington remember the famous quip about wanting to get rid of an agency but then not remembering the name of the agency," said Cantwell. "And the agency he was talking about is the Department of Energy."

Not funny, she argued.  The DOE oversees the massive, troubled radioactive waste cleanup at Hanford, and the scientific research of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and scientists doing vital work in the field of renewable energy.

Murray zeroed in on the fact that Carson, a neurosurgeon, has said little about federal housing policy other than to utter bromides about dependence.

Working on a housing affordability crisis in her home state, said Murray, "I am concerned Dr. Carson does not have a strong commitment to the very federal programs he would oversee, nor the management experience to provide the strong leadership that is needed."

Murray has voted against 15 Cabinet and Cabinet-level appointments, supporting just five.  Cantwell has opposed 14 major trump nominees.

The two senators have disagreed just twice.

Cantwell voted to confirm former World Wrestling Federation boss Linda McMahon to head the Small Business Administration.  Murray voted no. 

Cantwell voted to give retired Gen. James Mattis a waiver so he could serve as Secretary of Defense.  Murray cast a no vote.  Both senators voted to confirm Mattis as Secretary of Defense, as well as retired Gen. John F. Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security.

The "Gentleladies" have, however, taken different tacks in their questioning of Cabinet nominees and all-nighters on the floor.

Murray, a member of the Senate  Democratic leadership, seeded a national grass-roots campaign against confirming Republican mega-donor Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.  She focused on DeVos' advocacy for school vouchers and charter schools.

Murray had only five minutes at a single hearing to question DeVos.  But she elicited answers that brought into question DeVos' commitment to public education, and exposed her ignorance of education rights of people with disabilities.

Murray and Cantwell pounced on the mysterious three-week disappearance of a one-stop Department of Education website that explains to families and educators their rights under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.  The site was later restored with DeVos pledging upgrades.

After winning Senate confirmation on a 51-50 vote -- Vice President Mike Pence broke the tie -- DeVos said opponents were out to make her life "a living hell."

Cantwell used precise arguments, specific to the West Coast economy,  in fighting the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt has served as an oil industry strumpet in suing to block EPA clean air and water regulations.

She spoke of ocean acidification and die offs of young oysters and juvenile shellfish in Washington waters -- a climate issue that threatens a $300 million industry.  Cantwell brought up the proposed Pebble Mine near Alaska's Bristol Bay, a project that EPA scientists found could cause catastrophe to its salmon fishery.

How could Pruitt threaten a $.5 billion commercial and sport salmon fishery, which supports 14,000 jobs?  Cantwell cited a "summit on federalism and the future of fossil fuels" hosted by Pruitt, adding:

"Imagine my concern when the Attorney General of Oklahoma . . .  holds a session trying to basically figure out ways to disrupt EPA's questioning and assertion about Bristol Bay, how far he's going to go as EPA Administrator to basically have a negative effect on our salmon economy."

O.K., it's complicated stuff, but 1,100 fisher folk in Washington have licenses to fish in Bristol Bay.  They have reason to fear a mine that could destroy as many as 94 miles of salmon spawning streams and create $10 billion in toxic mine waste.

The tenacious Murray has enjoyed the higher profile, her efforts lionized in a recent Huffington Post puff piece.

But Cantwell has zeroed in on how Trump policies could hit home, from the sockeye salmon catch in Bristol Bay to the cleanup near the Columbia River of America's largest concentration of high-level radioactive waste.

The nominations have gone through, except for an aborted Secretary of Labor nominee.  The nomination was withdrawn after Murray helped screen an Oprah broadcast in which the man's ex-wife (in disguise) spoke of spousal abuse.

The reaction back home? Positive, except for a Facebook post (later withdrawn) in which a doofus officer with the King County Democrats complained that the senators weren't out on the streets marching.

The vetting of Trump nominees has, however, exposed much, from Pruitt statements copied word-for-word from Big Oil to Perry initially being unsure what the U.S. Department of Energy actually does.

The nation is tuning in, the dissent is being heard, which may limit the damage that these people can do.