The gloves are off: Carper, Coons take strong anti-Trump stances

DOVER — Delaware’s U.S. senators, both Democrats who say they’ve championed bipartisanship in the Senate, are breaking from that self-proclaimed tradition to vigorously oppose President Donald Trump, a Republican.

Like most of their colleagues in the Senate minority, Tom Carper and Chris Coons have voted against several of the president’s nominees for cabinet and cabinet-level posts.

They’ve also spoken out against the new president in stark personal terms.

Their opposition, they say, is based on both ideological and pragmatic grounds: President Trump is disliked by Democrats in huge numbers. A January pre-inauguration poll from Gallup claimed just 8 percent of Democrats nationwide had a positive view of the Republican.

President Trump received a majority of the votes in Sussex and Kent counties in November’s presidential election. But Delaware, thanks to the margins provided by its most populous county, New Castle, remains heavily Democratic overall.

Sen. Tom Carper and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, both D-Del., attended a protest at Philadelphia International Airport in opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order placing a temporary ban on some immigrants. (Twitter photo/SenatorCarper)

So, Sens. Carper and Coons are likely to receive strong approval from many of those north Delaware voters for pushing back against the Republican administration.

Sen. Coons supported President Trump’s cabinet picks only three times in nine votes thus far, with more votes against to come. He was one of just four senators to oppose the choice of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for ambassador to the United Nations, even breaking with his senior Delaware colleague on the vote.

That colleague, Sen. Carper, has also flexed his political muscles, voting against five nominees — exceedingly rare for a man whose Senate biography refers to him as a “moderate” whose “ability to work across party lines has earned him a reputation for consensus-building.”

Sen. Coons, who in September referred to the then-GOP nominee as “a thin-skinned reality TV star, a Cheeto-faced short-fingered vulgarian who is a serial developer of casinos and beauty pageants and whose knowledge of Russia and Putin and his crimes of invading his neighboring countries seems so shallow as to shock the conscience,” has been a staple of political talk shows over the past month with repeated appearances on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. While his criticism has been more measured than his September remark, he has fired several metaphorical shots at the president.

He has gone after the new administration for President Trump’s positive statements about Russia, his executive order temporarily banning entry into the country for people from nations that have sponsored terrorism and his choices to head several agencies.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., pictured on the right in the blue jacket, attended the Women’s March on Washington the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. (Twitter photo/ChrisCoons)

Though the senator said shortly before Thanksgiving that “in the immediate aftermath of the election we’ve seen and heard what we’d hope for,” he appears to have backed off that comment.

‘Politics of exclusion’

After the president signed an executive order preventing citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 90 days, Sen. Coons in a statement compared Trump’s actions to the United States barring Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany during the administration of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“I understand the real fears that Americans have about bad actors seeking to take advantage of our compassion, but we cannot allow fears of terrorism to undermine the values that have made us an example for the rest of the world,” said Sen. Coons, who was unavailable to comment directly due to the death of his father and scheduled Senate votes.

“The United States has in place thorough and detailed protocols to vet refugees seeking asylum. Instead of protecting us from terrorist attacks, the discriminatory standards for refugee admissions signed yesterday will more likely serve to fuel terrorist recruitment, further alienate Muslims in America and force our allies in Europe to bear an even greater burden of refugee resettlement.

“We are a nation of immigrants that has tried to lead by example. But today the world is seeing an America that is returning to a politics of exclusion based on religion or nationality. I’m angered and saddened by President Trump’s decision to sign an executive order that seems intended to make a point, not to make us safe. The executive orders by this president that exceed his authority can and should be challenged, as were the executive orders of previous presidents of both parties.”

While the senator’s criticism started well before the election, it has ramped up greatly over the past month as President Trump first began announcing his cabinet picks and then was sworn into office.

Sen. Coons attended the inauguration on Jan. 20 and the next day joined in on the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. More than 500,000 people rallied in the nation’s capital, among them Sen. Coons and his daughter, Maggie, who carried a sign that read “Girl power beats Trump Tower.”

Along with Delaware’s lone U.S. representative, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Sen. Carper took part in protests at the Philadelphia Airport two days after the executive order was signed.

Like Sen. Coons, Sen. Carper cast votes in opposition to Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, CIA Director nominee Mike Pompeo and Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. He also voted against Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who Sen. Coons opposed but did not cast a vote — because he was flying with the president to Dover Air Force Base for a solemn military ceremony.

In his “no” votes, Sen. Carper says he is confident the people of Delaware are behind him. Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 3, his office received a combined 4,981 letters, emails, call and faxes from Delawareans on the nominations of Ms. DeVos and Scott Pruitt, who was selected to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Of those messages, just 19 were in support.

“I talk to people all over the state,” the Democrat said earlier this month. “I think what people want me to do is when (Trump has) a good idea, that they would want me to be supportive, and when he is going out of the mainstream to select people for important agencies or to serve on high courts, they would like me to use some common sense and maybe Delaware values and my own values in making those decisions.”

Asked who he views as the most concerning picks by the president, Sen. Carper pointed to Mr. Pruitt and Ms. DeVos.

Mr. Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, “shut down the Environmental Protection Unit within the AG’s office and meanwhile raised millions of dollars in funding from fossil fuel companies … and he used the money he raised to file lawsuits, I think maybe 20 lawsuits, against the very agency he now says he wants to lead,” Sen. Carper said.

He was quick to note he has supported some of President Trump’s nominees, such as John Kelly, the pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, and James Mattis, who was selected to lead the Department of Defense. Mr. Kelly was confirmed 88 to 11, while Mr. Mattis received just one vote in opposition.

Sen. Carper said he hopes Mr. Mattis can be a “counterbalance” to the president, speaking up against bad ideas.

The president’s cabinet selections have received more opposition from senators than any in history, by far. No nominee thus far has caused as much controversy as Ms. DeVos, who was confirmed Wednesday after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote in favor.

Sen. Coons told CNN he was a “no way” on Ms. DeVos, a noted advocate of charter schools and a significant Republican Party donor, while Sen. Carper referred to her understanding of the country’s education system as “very disappointing — and that’s being kind.” She drew the active and vocal opposition of teachers’ unions throughout the nation.

Unlike Sen. Coons, Sen. Carper supported Gov. Haley for U.N. ambassador, saying he was impressed with her answers before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But Sen. Coons said in a statement she lacked the necessary experience and commitment to American principles.

As for Sen. Sessions, who served in the Senate until being confirmed last week, Sen. Coons doubted he will “stand up for the vulnerable, promote civil rights or advance justice.”

The state’s two senators have also criticized their Republican colleagues, although less frequently.

Like the other members of the state’s congressional delegation, Rep. Blunt Rochester, a Democrat, has spoken out against the Republican president. However, as a freshman in the minority in Congress’ lower chamber, she has less of a stage than Sens. Carper and Coons.

‘Outrageous’

The two senators say they have not yet decided whether to support or oppose Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

President Barack Obama last year nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge for U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, but Republicans, who controlled the Senate, declined to hold a hearing.

“For the president to nominate in a timely manner someone of Merrick Garland’s intellect, his honesty, his integrity and his ability to develop consensus, to have somebody that good and let that person slip away in a way that I think was insulting and demeaning to him and I think to the president, is outrageous,” Sen. Carper complained.

Both senators have said they will not seek to deny Judge Gorsuch a hearing — “two wrongs do not make a right,” Sen. Carper said — although whether they end up voting for him remains very much up in the air.

Sen. Carper declined to speculate as to what could cause him to oppose Judge Gorsuch’s nomination.

Sen. Coons, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Fox Business last week he is “in the beginning stages of reading into his record, his decisions, his opinions and the work he did both as an attorney and now as a Circuit Court judge.”

‘Trying to heal’

More “no” votes are slated from Delaware’s senators. Sen. Carper has announced he opposes Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director nominee Mick Mulvaney, while Sen. Coons has expressed skepticism about Dr. Ben Carson, the nominee for secretary of housing and urban development.

Sen. Carper said he is dismayed at the level of turnover from President Obama’s administration to President Trump’s.

“I think if you’re trying to heal, whether it’s a state or a nation, the idea of looking to the cabinet of your predecessor to find good talent” is important, said the senator, who served as governor from 1993 to 2000 and kept several of the members from Republican Gov. Mike Castle’s cabinet when he took over.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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