I am totally new to how the U.S. government works but my question is based on the news that I am seeing on CNN.

It looks like everyone on the Democrats' side is opposing the Jeff Sessions nomination for Attorney General, but it also looks like he may still get confirmed. Does this mean that the Democrats have no power?

I think it's the same case with Betsy DeVos; she may be confirmed although all the Democratic Senators oppose it.

If this is because of the Republicans' majority, then can we assume Democrats have no power to oppose any nomination or any bill in the next 4 years?

  • 2
    Define "power". Are you specifically asking "power to stop nominations"?
    – user1530
    Feb 8, 2017 at 19:31
  • @blip Yes, that is correct.
    – javanoob
    Feb 8, 2017 at 19:33
  • If that's the case, I'd make the title more specific. That is a much more answerable question.
    – user1530
    Feb 8, 2017 at 19:34
  • 1
    You made your question too definitive, thus easy to answer - it ISS obvious that the democrats aren't so without power. A much better question would be what their options are for specific tasks, like cabinet assignments, court appointments, legislations, etc.
    – dannyf
    Feb 8, 2017 at 22:25
  • 1
    > I don't think I can come up with any more specific question than this. Not sure. Common sense would dictate that however powerless the democrats are, they aren't completely powerless. You don't need any intimate knowledge to come up with that.
    – dannyf
    Feb 8, 2017 at 23:14

3 Answers 3


If this is because of the Republicans' majority then can we assume Democrats have no power to oppose any nomination or any bill also in the next 4 years?

No. First, Supreme Court nominations and bills require sixty votes in the Senate. So Democrats have direct influence on those, at least until they frustrate Republicans to the point of changing those rules (which has since happened for Supreme Court nominations).

Second, while nominations tend to draw high support from partisans, bills have different political impact. Nominations are procedural. Most voters don't really see the difference one way or the other. The parties are less likely to be united on bills. Some bills won't have universal support from Republicans or universal opposition from Democrats. Particularly among voters as opposed to politicians.

As a practical matter, even if the rules are changed to a simple majority, successful bills will need some Democratic support. Otherwise, Republican politicians reliant on crossover support won't be able to support them.

If all else fails, there is a legislative election in two years (2018 elections; winners take office in January 2019). Not only will that concentrate politicians on things other than pure grandstanding, it is at least possible for the Democrats to win the House or cut down the Republicans' lead in the Senate. And if Democrats can't motivate their supporters to turn out, Republicans could build their leads in the Senate and House.

Democrats have twenty-three of the thirty-three Senate seats up for election in 2018. Plus two independents who caucus with the Democrats. Republicans only have eight Senate seats up for reelection, and only two of them are particularly vulnerable. Dean Heller of Nevada is the only Republican Senator in a state that Hillary Clinton won. Throw in Jeff Flake of Arizona as a vulnerable first-termer from a swing state.

Democrats have ten Senators from states that Trump won. Those ten are going to be looking for ways to convince their voters that they deserve reelection. Republicans are going to need them on some legislative votes. So those ten have influence even if other Democrats don't. Not a huge amount of influence but some.

  • 1
    Unless I'm mistaken Supreme court nominations only need 51, you just require 60 to break any potential filibuster, right? Feb 8, 2017 at 20:05
  • 1
    @DavidGrinberg yes you are correct however, the Democrats are trying to convince people that 60 votes are "required" in order to try to avoid having judges that would not give in to them nominated. Feb 8, 2017 at 20:40
  • @sabbahillel Are they really trying to convince people of that though? Or are people already convinced from when Republicans were in the minority and filibustered a record number of judges?
    – J Doe
    Feb 8, 2017 at 23:03
  • 4
    @JDoe Citation needed. Republicans didn't actually filibuster judges. Until the last year or so, the Republicans did not actually block any judges. And in the last year, they had a majority and didn't need to filibuster. They simply didn't vote anyone out of committee.
    – Brythan
    Feb 9, 2017 at 0:26
  • 3
    This answer is now out of date. Supreme Court nominations now only require a majority vote (51) in the senate.
    – Jontia
    Oct 23, 2018 at 12:48

Jeff Sessions nomination for Federal Judge


Does it mean Democrats have no power?

Yes. As my hero said famously, elections have consequences.

But seriously, they are not without power, but just not very influential. hopefully they are do better next time. Just how democracy works.

  • 5
    Probably worth mentioning the Reid nuclear option thing, as that is pretty relevant to their lack of power Feb 8, 2017 at 19:14
  • 1
    @DavidGrinberg I have been wondering about the nuclear option... if the Democrats hadn't invoked it in 2013, then couldn't the Republicans could just invoke it today?
    – stannius
    Feb 9, 2017 at 4:36
  • 1
    @stannius Yes, but there are many political reasons why you might not want to. Too many for a comment. You should ask this as a new quesiton :) Feb 9, 2017 at 4:52

The legislature has elections every two years. Everyone in the house and a third of the senate will have elections in 2018.

At least until then many things will be easier for the Republicans, but much of the legislative process uses smaller groups than the whole. In these committees long serving Democrats will still have important roles in shaping laws.

There is some disharmony among Republicans that may mean some of them will not always vote with the party, if the Democrats maintain better unity than the Republicans they may be able to block some votes.

The margin is not very large so each Republican may consider threatening to defect to gain some local or personal goal. Each time such a threat would require negotiation slowing down the process and making compromise with at least some Democrats more attractive.

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