At the end of last week, the Senate concluded voting on President Trump’s first round of cabinet nominations. His initial Labor Secretary nominee, Andy Puzder, dropped out because he couldn’t suppress the interview of his ex-wife describing how he beat her up (Trump hires the best people). The Senate haven’t held hearings on his next nominee Alexander Acosta (another prize). The Senate held votes on 18 nominees. Among Republicans, Trump’s nominees received 99.5% of the Yes votes available in the chamber (a few missed votes). Democrats only voted to approve Trump’s choices 37.7% of the time.
Joe Manchin from West Virginia voted for the most nominees. Kirsten Gillibrand from New York approved of the fewest.
Support for nominee varied widely. Shulkin, Mattis, Haley, Chao and Kelly at Homeland Security got strong support. Devos, Price, and Mulvaney got no Democratic votes. Carson, Tillerson, Pruitt, Mnuchin, and Sessions were widely opposed.
Looking beyond the percentages to see how the Democrats voted compared to each other to the correlations between senators, most voted with each other with Manchin as a clear outlier.
Looking at Senators who voted with each other most of the time (correlation coefficient >.8), clear groups emerge:
Tom Udall’s vote correlates to his fellow New Mexican Martin Heinrich, but with no other senator. Heinrich correlates with just Ron Wyden. They are close to Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Ed Markey who all voted the same.
Looking ahead to the vote to approve Neil Gorsuch to the US Supreme Court, the GOP need 8 Democratic votes to break a filibuster. If they can get the 7 members at the top of the graph above – Heitkamp (ND), Tester (MT), Donnelly (IN), King (ME), Warner (VA), McCaskill (MO), Kaine (VA) – along with Manchin are the most vulnerable to flip. Ironically, it would be Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential nominee who could decide to seat Neil Gorsuch in the chair stolen away from Merrick Garland.
Finally, many senators voted the exact same way on each nominee. The chart above tease them out. There are nine different clusters, with the largest containing six senators. Trump’s nominees divided the Democratic caucus but they allow us to see the different groups emerging. Advocates with limited time and staff should prioritize hitting 1–2 senators in each group to maximize reach.