When Donald Trump was elected president on November 8th, many Democrats who vehemently opposed him during the election said that they would give him a chance to prove them wrong. That chance ended when the president-elect announced that Steve Bannon, executive chairman of a website associated with the alt-right movement, would serve as his senior counselor. Now, over 160 Democratic congressman have signed a letter to Trump urging not to hire Bannon, the chairman of Breitbart News. So what is the process of appointing Bannon, and is there any actual way that opponents can block him from ascending to the White House?
The president’s cabinet appointments are all presented to the Senate, with members then voting on whether to approve or reject the choice; a simple majority is required. But this process doesn’t apply to Bannon, as his position isn’t actually a part of the cabinet. Rather, Bannon will be considered a member of Trump’s personal staff, and these picks do not require approval from the Senate. Trump, therefore, can appoint anyone he wants, and there’s little that can be done about it.
Technically, there is one option. As observed by Bloomberg, senators could place a hold on one of Trump’s cabinet appointees and use this as a negotiating tactic, refusing to remove it unless Bannon is fired. But it would be up to Mitch McConnell whether this hold should be honored, so he could just go ahead with the vote anyway. If members of the Senate were really passionate about keeping Bannon out of the White House, they could also vote down all of Trump’s other cabinet picks until he fires Bannon. But this would need to be a bipartisan effort, as Democrats don’t have a majority in the Senate and thus couldn’t block anything without some Republican support.
A MoveOn petition called “Stop Steve Bannon” is approaching 250,000 signatures, with the petition reading, “We need to build the collective force necessary to put members of Congress on notice that we expect them to vehemently oppose Bannon’s appointment, using all the tools at their disposal, including holds on all further Trump appointments.”
But seeing as few Republican Congressman have expressed any concern over Steve Bannon, this seems unlikely. When asked about Bannon, high-profile Republicans like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, and Paul Ryan have all urged Democrats to give him a chance. Those who were asked about Bannon’s extreme rhetoric and association with White Nationalism and antisemitism said they were not familiar with it. House Speaker Paul Ryan also cited the fact that Bannon is good at what he does.
“This is a person who helped [Trump] win an incredible victory and an incredible campaign,” Ryan said, according to The Guardian.
Barring a sudden reversal from Trump himself, then, it’s quite likely that Steve Bannon will be Donald Trump’s senior adviser in the White House.
There are some other appointments of Trump’s that could be blocked, though. For example, it has been rumored that John Bolton may be Trump’s pick for secretary of state, and due to his support of the Iraq war, Democrats and even many Republicans are against this. The secretary of state is a part of the president’s cabinet, and therefore 51 affirmative votes will be required to approve Bolton. If every Democrat in the Senate were to be opposed to a cabinet appointment, they would need five Republicans to vote down the appointment as well. And Republican Senator Rand Paul recently said that he will oppose the appointment of John Bolton.
“It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said this week. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.”
Rand Paul also said that he would oppose the appointment of Rudy Giuliani to secretary of state. And because Paul is on the Foreign Relations Committee, he gets to vote on whether to recommend the secretary of state nomination. The committee gives a “favorable” or an “unfavorable” vote, and while this does not actually have any impact on whether the nominee is put up for a Senate vote, appointments are traditionally not confirmed after an unfavorable vote from the committee.