EDITOR’S NOTE: This article and the accompanying charts have been updated to include the vote on the confirmation of Robert Lighthizer as U.S. Trade Representative.
Democrats are defending 10 Senate seats in states that President Donald Trump carried in 2016. These 10 incumbents – a.k.a. The Ten – will spend the cycle making some interesting decisions about whether to side with their party or vote with their more Republican-leaning constituents.
The Senate hasn’t taken all that many votes on issues of substance in the first four months of the 115th Congress, but they have cast votes for 22 of 23 Trump’s Cabinet nominees and one Supreme Court Justice. Those 23 votes do tell a story.
As the table below illustrates, seven of Trump’s nominees earned the support of all 10 Democratic incumbents. They were: James Mattis (Defense), John Kelly (Homeland Security), Nikki Haley (Ambassador to the U.N.), Elaine Chao (Transportation), David Shulkin (Veterans Affairs), Sonny Perdue (Agriculture), and Robert Lighthizer (USTR). Another three – Betsy DeVos (Education), Tom Price (Health and Human Services) and Mick Mulvaney (OMB) – were rejected by all 10 incumbents.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was the only member of The Ten who voted against Dan Coats’ nomination to be Director of National Intelligence. In fact, Baldwin voted against all four nominees who had served in Congress, including Coats and Jeff Sessions (Attorney General) with whom she served in the Senate.
U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia were the only two who voted for Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. By contrast, Baldwin and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio were the only votes against Linda McMahon (Small Business Administration).
Adding the vote on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court to the mix, only three of The Ten supported him – Manchin, Heitkamp and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana.
Manchin represents the state that Trump carried by the largest margin at 42 points. It’s not terribly surprising then that he voted against just three of the 22 the Cabinet nominees and Gorsuch, meaning that he has supported 79 percent of Trump’s nominees. Heitkamp placed second in overall support of nominees, supporting 67 percent of them. Trump carried North Dakota by 32 points.
At the other end of the scale, Baldwin only voted for seven – or 29 percent – of the nominees. U.S. Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan both supported 10, or 42 percent, of all nominees. Trump carried Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by a single point, while he won Michigan by two-tenths of a point. These very narrow margins give these incumbents more latitude in their votes.
The most interesting of The Ten are those in the middle of the pack – U.S. Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Jon Tester of Montana. Trump carried these states by 19 and 20 points, respectively. Tester supported 63 percent of the nominees. McCaskill and Donnelly each missed a vote; so Donnelly supported 15 of 21 nominees (65 percent) on which he cast votes while McCaskill voted for 13 of 21 (57 percent).
|Senator||Total Yes Votes||% Vote Yes||% Trump Win in State|
Web Editor Ally Flinn created the following interactive chart to compare the number of times a Democratic Senator voted yes on Trump's nominees and the percentage of Trump's victory in their state. For example, Manchin sits at the top right corner of the chart. He voted for Trump's nominees 79 percent of the time and represents a state that gave Trump his largest win margin in 2016.
Highlighted in red are The Ten, the 10 incumbents up in 2018 sitting in states that Trump carried. A significant majority of The Ten voted for Trump's nominees more and sometimes significantly more than the average Democratic Senator. The exception is Baldwin, who only voted for seven of Trump's nominees.
Yes Votes on Trump's Nominees Vs. Percentage of Trump Win in State
Votes on Trump’s nominees simply reinforce the reality that the higher Trump’s margin of victory was in a state, the more a Democratic incumbent will support the President’s choices. Incumbents like Baldwin, Casey, Nelson, and Stabenow have much more flexibility.
The more interesting incumbents to watch going forward are those in the middle of the pack like Donnelly, McCaskill and Tester. All struggled with some of the votes they cast on Trump’s nominees, but none more so than Gorsuch. Few issues get Republican voters more energized than the Supreme Court, making McCaskill’s and Tester’s votes against him risky propositions as they have handed their opponents a potent issue. Donnelly took a far safer route by supporting Gorsuch.
As this Congress progresses, it is these incumbents who will often confront difficult votes on a range of issues and must walk the fine line between the more conservative leanings of their constituents and their party’s leadership and base voters.