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Schumer reaffirms rejection of Trump nominees

The protest outside Sen. Charles E. Schumer's Elmwood Avenue office Tuesday could not have been any more different than the one that unfolded outside his Brooklyn home three days earlier.

In Buffalo, protesters carried signs that said: "Thank you, Chuck."

In Brooklyn, they had carried fake skeletons and chanted: "Get a spine, Chuck."

One thing happened between Saturday and Tuesday that changed the minds of protesters who had been targeting the new Democratic minority leader of the U.S. Senate.

After voting for Trump's nominees for defense and homeland security secretary and for CIA director, Schumer made clear on Monday that he would oppose many of Trump's remaining cabinet choices.

"I will vote against nominees who will be the very worst of this anti-immigrant, anti-middle-class, billionaires’ club cabinet," Schumer said on Facebook.

In contrast, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand -- a New York Democrat seen by some as a possible 2020 presidential contender -- has opposed all but one of the Trump cabinet appointments, including the three key national security nominees that Schumer supported.

That being the case, the WNY Peace Center -- which helped organize three protests at Schumer's Buffalo office so far this year -- has not done the same at Gillibrand's office.

"If anything, we would like to go and bring her flowers," said Victoria Ross, the group's executive director.

Schumer -- long a traditional politician who has been willing to work with Republicans when he could -- said he decided to vote against the remaining Trump nominees because, unlike the president's national security team, each posed a disqualifying concern.

"So many of them are riddled with conflicts of interest," Schumer said in an interview Tuesday. "And worst of all, many of them have positions on issues so far away from the average Western New Yorker."

In opposing most of Trump's remaining nominees, Schumer -- wittingly or unwittingly -- adapted to the hyperpartisan Trump-era reality, where any sign of accommodation with Trump can cause an outcry among Democrats.

That outcry resulted in protests at Schumer's offices, across the state as well as his home -- even though Schumer has been calling Trump's team "a swamp cabinet" for weeks, a reference to Trump's promise to drain Washington's swamp.

Schumer has been especially outspoken against Betsy DeVos, Trump's choice for education secretary, Rex Tillerson, the Exxon/Mobil chief chosen to serve as secretary of state, and Rep. Tom Price, the Georgia Republican nominated to be health and human services secretary.

And he's lambasted Republicans for trying to rush Trump's choices through the confirmation process.

"Republicans have made a mockery of the Cabinet hearing process, trying to jam through nominees in truncated hearings -- nominees with serious conflicts of interest and ethical issues unresolved -- without giving senators and the American people a fair chance to question and hear from these nominees," he said on Jan. 20.

At the same time, Schumer voted for Gen. James Mattis to be defense secretary, for Gen. John Kelly to be homeland security secretary, and for former Rep. Mike Pompeo to run the CIA.

Schumer said he was impressed with the generals' experience and figured the inexperienced Trump team could use the kind of military know-how the two generals provide.

"I thought it was important to approve the security nominees and not leave those positions vacant," Schumer said Tuesday.

But for some observers, that's not a good enough rationale.

"We were disappointed he didn't stand up sooner," said Ross, at the Peace Center.

Brooklyn Paper, a blog, reported that after Schumer voted for Trump's national security nominees, protests started targeting the senator's Park Slope home. In addition to the protesters with fake skeletons, the protests featured one man with a sign that said: "Don't cut deals with the devil!"

Concern about Schumer's early votes prompted interest in the Buffalo protests to grow.

A protest last week attracted only seven or eight people, but Tuesday's event attracted about 100, said Russell Brown, 70, who attended both events.

The mood of Tuesday's protest was different for one reason. Schumer said he would oppose the bulk of Trump's remaining nominees, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the nominee for attorney general, Rep Mick Mulvaney for budget director, Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary, Scott Pruitt for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Andy Puzder for labor secretary.

Those nominees "have repeatedly shown they will not put the American people or the laws of our nation first, and I will vote against their confirmations," Schumer said in the Facebook post from Monday.

Given Schumer's opposition to other Trump nominees, "people were really hopeful" at Tuesday's protest, Brown said. "It was a very positive crowd."

But the anti-Trump activists on the left have been happy with Gillibrand throughout the confirmation process.

She was one of 11 to oppose Kelly, and the only senator to vote against Mattis -- who, as a retired general, was barred by law from serving as defense secretary until Congress approved a waiver allowing him to do so.

Gillibrand stood firm against the waiver.

"Our American democracy was built around the concept of civilian control of the military," she wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. "Now is not the time to undermine this critical constitutional tenet. Some argue that President-elect Trump's military and foreign policy inexperience warrant changing the law. Instead, now, as much as ever, we must protect this core foundation on which our country was built, and which has served us well."

Gillibrand, like Schumer, has been especially outspoken against Trump nominees such as DeVos and Price. But her willingness to oppose Trump's security team has drawn the notice of top Democrats and the political press.

"The only person who voted "no" on every Trump appointment was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand," Democratic activist Rachel Gonzalez tweeted. "Remember that in 2020."

Gillibrand has since broken that streak, voting for Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador.

None of Gillibrand's votes were driven by any national political aspirations, said her spokesman Marc Brumer.

“She feels very honored to represent New Yorkers and the only job she’s running for is re-election to the Senate in 2018," he said. "The only things she considers when deciding how to vote on cabinet nominees are their record, qualifications and if New Yorkers will be well served.”

Still, there's no doubt Gillibrand's votes could resonate in her favor if she chooses to run in the wide-open race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, wrote Washington Post political blogger Aaaron Blake.

"Democrats hate Trump in much the same way Republicans hated President Obama, and as there was a premium on anti-Obama purity for Republicans in 2012, there will be a premium on anti-Trump purity for Democrats in 2020," he wrote recently. "Every vote that could be construed as being supportive of Trump will be one that could be used against you in the Democratic primary, and Gillibrand and her fellow aspirants know that."

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