Fast-approaching hearings prompt slew of pleas for CO senators to reject cabinet picks


With hearings for eight of President-elect Donald Trump’s 22 cabinet picks already scheduled for the coming week, concerned Coloradans are demanding the state’s U.S. Senators block nominees they say are troubling, dangerous and out of step with Colorado values.

In the afternoon, leaders from a range of progressive organizations decried various nominees while scores of grassroots activists took to the streets to demand that climate deniers be prohibited from serving in the incoming administration.

On Monday afternoon, union leaders and representatives from groups such as Conservation Colorado, Generation Latino, Planned Parenthood and NARAL joined a media conference call with ProgressNow Colorado to voice concerns about a slew of Trump’s cabinet choices.

Ian Silverii of ProgressNow recalled that Colorado did not vote for Trump, and that Republican Sen. Cory Gardner urged the president-elect to drop out of the race as late as last October. Blocking many of Trump’s cabinet picks would show that Gardner stands with Colorado, not with DC, he said.

Among the nominees who came under fire were Andrew Puzder for Labor Secretary, Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, Attorney General Scott Pruitt for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price and Jeff Sessions for Attorney General.  

Sam Gilchrist, the executive director of Colorado AFL-CIO, called the nomination of fast food giant Puzder to the position of Labor Secretary “an insult to the dignity of working families everywhere.” He referred to Puzder’s “perpetuation of the myth” that the majority of minimum wage earners are teenagers with part-time jobs, when in fact most are adults working full time to support their families. Gilchrist also decried Puzder’s call for an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which he said was “a form of corporate welfare,” rather than raising the minimum wage. The credit supplements the earnings of low-wage workers.

Kerrie Dallman of the Colorado Education Association called on Gardner to vote against Secretary of Education nominee DeVos, claiming the billionaire pick’s support of school voucher programs will “leave communities with a two-tiered education system,” because, she argues, school choice schemes “typically offer less choice for the most vulnerable students,” typically students from low-income families and those with special needs.

Also on the call was Maria Handley of Generation Latino, who voiced her concerns about the effects Trump’s policies and cabinet choices could have on immigration and healthcare, particularly in Colorado’s Latino communities.

“When Trump talks about a wall on the border…he is denying his own background,” Handley said, noting this his story, like that of many Americans, is a story of immigrants. And Karen Middleton of NARAL urged Gardner to vote against Price and Sessions, whom she said are “way outside the mainstream” in terms of their beliefs about contraceptive access and would “take us backwards.”

But concerns about environmental protection and climate policy ruled the day. Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Conservation Colorado, urged Trump to reject Pruitt as head of the EPA and instead “nominate someone who is more trustworthy when it comes to protecting our environment.”

As Maysmith summarized his concerns about Pruitt — he’s a climate denier; he’s currently suing the EPA — more than 100 grassroots activists and community members stood outside Gardner’s office on 17th Street, singing, chanting and proclaiming their demand with signs: “No climate deniers in Trump’s cabinet.”

The activists, demonstrating as part of a national action called Day Against Denial, were organized by environmental advocacy group 350 Colorado and represented dozens of organizations. They marched to the offices of both Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet to deliver letters imploring the Colorado leaders to vote against not only Pruitt, who has sued the very agency he would lead, but also Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, proposed Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke. The letters were signed by more than 650 Coloradans and more than 45 businesses.

Tillerson, as former CEO of Exxon-Mobil, headed a company that funded climate denial research. Perry once called for the elimination of the Department of Energy. And though Zinke has been praised for opposing the privatization of public lands, a recent vote shows a willingness to vote with his party when it comes to land transfer issues.  

Noting that the groups on the media call could count hundreds of thousands of Coloradans among their members, ProgressNow’s Silverii said he and other leaders would continue to hold Gardner’s feet to the fire. “He ran under the promise that he was going to represent all Coloradans,” Silverii said. “We need to hold him accountable.”

Gardner’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment in time for publication. The senator has met with DeVos, Perry and Tillerson in the past week. In statements he praised Perry’s “all-of-the-above energy strategy” and called DeVos “a strong choice” to lead the Department of Education. After his meeting with Tillerson, he said in a statement, “I appreciate the opportunity to meet with Mr. Tillerson and learn more about his approach to serving as America’s top diplomat.”

Jonathan Davidson, a spokesperson for Bennet, told The Colorado Independent that the senator will follow protocol when deciding whether to reject or approve Trump’s cabinet nominations, choosing not to comment on any specific pick. But he did say, “Sen. Bennet has a very clear record of saying that climate change is real, and believes that people who don’t should be disqualified from serving in positions of authority in our government.”

That answer likely would have appeased the crowd of demonstrators. But when Rosemary Rodriguez, Bennet’s Colorado director, assured them that Bennet would “follow protocol” when it comes to Trump’s nominees, the crowd was unsatisfied, shouting “Grow a backbone!” One demonstrator yelled, “He can abide by the law and still vote no!”

The confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions began Tuesday morning at 7:30 a.m. MST. Rex Tillerson will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 7 a.m. Wednesday, MST.