“There was a time in the Senate when we acted on nominees pending on the Senate Executive calendar before a long recess,” Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary said less than two weeks after President Barack Obama took office. “Certainly at the beginning of a presidential term, it makes sense to have the President’s nominees in place earlier, rather than engage in needless delay, especially when there is no controversy.”
Democrats complained that President Obama’s nominees couldn’t be confirmed within weeks of his taking office, meanwhile President Trump—whose party controls the Senate—has been waiting years for Democrats to pick up the pace.
Thus far, only 387 of President Trump’s appointees has been confirmed. By comparison, 548 of President Obama’s appointees, 615 of President George W. Bush’s appointees, and 619 of President Clinton’s appointees had been confirmed at the same point in their respective presidencies. The average time to confirm President Trump’s nominees is 84 days, far higher than the 65 days under Obama, 43 under Bush, and 50 under Clinton.
Democrats have wielded all sorts of arcane procedural rules in an attempt to slow the confirmation process down to a trickle. Under Senate rules, a cloture vote is required to end dilatory debate on a nominee and proceed to a confirmation vote. But even if there is a successful cloture vote, 30 hours must be allowed to elapse before voting to confirm the nomination. In the last four administrations combined the Senate has held 17 cloture votes on presidential nominees, but there have been 79 in the first 14 months of the Trump administration.
This unprecedented tactic of obstruction has made the confirmation process literally impossible.
“If this trend continues, it will take us more than 11 years to confirm the remaining presidential appointments,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Let me repeat that. More than 11 years. A presidential term lasts four.”
“The level of obstruction exhibited by Senate Democrats on these nominees is simply breathtaking. It’s often leaving key departments without the senior leadership needed to guide our country through the various challenges we face. And it needs to stop,” McConnell continued.
Take NASA as an example. The agency has been without an administrator for 14 months, the longest it has gone without a permanent chief in history. Prior to this, the longest stretch was less than six months after President Bush’s chief stepped down and President Obama’s appointee was sworn in. The Atlantic’s Marina Koren reports on the challenge this poses for the agency:
The lack of a permanent leader has left NASA in a state of limbo. It’s difficult for interim leaders to advocate for the agency on long-term matters, including the budget, simply because they don’t expect to stick around for that long. “Fundamentally, an acting administrator is not empowered to make big changes at nasa,” said Casey Dreier, the director of space policy at the Planetary Society in California. “He’s there just to keep the ship running steady.”
Another problematic example is America’s dramatically depleted diplomatic core. The Senate has not confirmed ambassadors to 25 “critical nations” including South Korea and South Africa, which is frustrating members on both sides of the aisle.
Sen. Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it was a “significant problem” that has “dragged on for far too long.”
“When I’ve traveled to countries where we don’t have an ambassador, it makes a real difference in terms of the level of our relationship and their ability to effectively represent us,” Coons said.
One prominent vacancy is in Germany, a key European ally and trade partner. The State Department announced Richard Grenell’s nomination in September, and since then his nomination has passed through the Foreign Relations Committee twice, but he has yet to make it to the floor for a vote. It’s not for lack of qualifications. Grenell was the longest-serving American spokesman at the United Nations, working with four United States ambassadors, including John Bolton. Grenell is also an openly gay appointee, which the left-leaning Harvey Milk Foundation says would “send an important message” about the gay community’s place in the Trump administration.
This obstruction has gone too far for too long. Democrats’ are desperate to slow the progress of the Trump administration by any means necessary. But withholding or slowing the nominations process leaves the government deprived of leadership, which only serves to hurt the constituents Democrats claim to want to help, and endangers our place in the world. If Democrats want to control the direction of government they should stop with the parliamentary games and win some elections.