Confirmation process moving slowest since George Washington admin
Not since President George Washington’s initial formation of a cabinet in 1789 has an American president’s cabinet picks been approved as slowly as the Senate is approving President Donald Trump’s nominees.
Trump has now been president for a full three weeks, and the number of approved members in his cabinet stands at seven—a number that was boosted by three contested confirmations last week that were opposed by almost the entire Democratic caucus.
Senate Democrats, vowing to use “everything” they can to stop Trump’s nominees, have used procedural tricks like boycotting committee meetings to slow the confirmation process to a historically slow pace.
Recent administrations have had many more nominees approved at the three-week mark. Barack Obama had 12 out of 15 nominees approved, George W. Bush had his entire cabinet approved, and Bill Clinton had all but one approved in less than a day.
For most of history, approving cabinet nominees has been a non-issue. Presidents John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter had their entire cabinet approved in the first days of their presidency—a brisk pace that has been the norm for most of U.S. history.
As noted by historian Robert David Johnson, the only confirmation process at all comparable to the current situation was that of President George H.W. Bush, and even he had 10 of his 14 nominees confirmed by the three-week mark.
One difference between Trump and Bush, however, is that Bush was facing a Democratic-controlled Senate that actually had the power to stop his nominations.
With Republican control of 52 seats in the Senate and current rules mandating just a simple majority for approval, it seems likely that Trump’s prediction that his cabinet picks will be confirmed will eventually be correct.
Senate Democrats, however, continue to delay the inevitable.
Ben Carson (Department of Housing and Urban Development), Rick Perry (Department of Energy), Ryan Zinke (Department of the Interior), David Shulkin (Department of Veterans Affairs), Steve Mnuchin (Department of Treasury), and Wilbur Ross (Department of Commerce) have all been approved by the necessary committees and are awaiting votes in the full Senate.
So far, only Mnuchin and Shulkin have a vote scheduled, both for Monday.
The continuing obstruction of even uncontroversial cabinet choices is being driven by demands from the liberal base of the Democratic Party, which is demanding that Democratic lawmakers not cooperate with Trump on anything.
“Democrats, pushed by their base, are under pressure to not cooperate with the new president—on anything,” wrote the Wall Street Journal following reports that Democrats boycotted committee hearings for multiple nominees.
“Gone are the concerns about appearing overly obstructionist,” Politico reported. “Officeholders are now chasing a base that will not tolerate any sign of accommodation.”
The White House has complained that Democrats are “working overtime” to stop the administration from putting qualified nominees in place at agencies.
The Partnership for Public Progress, a nonpartisan group that promotes public service, has said the slow pace of confirmations is damaging the country.
“They are running the most important organization on the planet, and they don’t have their team on the field,” said the organizations CEO. “They don’t have their critical people in place and that’s vital to being able to do their jobs appropriately.”
The administration has had to make certain decisions without its top officials in place, such as enacting new sanctions against Iran while its nominee for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, awaits confirmation.
“President Trump has the fewest cabinet secretaries confirmed than any other president since George Washington,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). “The president deserves to have his cabinet in place.”