Confirmation Congestion: 124 Down, More Than 1,000 to Go

By Peter Klensch

WasteWatcher, August 2017

President Donald Trump has the authority to fill more than 4,000 executive positions, of which 1,212 require Senate confirmation.  According to a joint study by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, as of August 22, 2017, the Senate has confirmed 124 Trump nominees, with 277 nominations pending.  By comparison, President George W. Bush had 294 confirmations, with 414 pending nominations by August 22, 2001; while President Obama reached 310 confirmations and 433 pending nominations by August 22, 2009.  The confirmation of less than half the number of Bush and Obama nominees has hindered the advancement of President Trump’s agenda.

While the administration has been slow to provide nominations, Senate Democrats have obstructed even the least controversial confirmations as part of a lengthy protest over Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.  In order to stall the Trump nominees, Democrats invoked cloture more than 30 times.  Since the use of this procedural tactic began in 1949, cloture has been invoked more than that only during the entire 113th Congress.  The Trump presidency is not even eight months old.

When Republican healthcare reform efforts failed, Democrats ended (at least temporarily) months of obstruction by confirming 65 nominees by voice vote on the day before the August recess.  Following the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted that “the Senate has confirmed more executive branch nominees this week than all of the executive branch nominees confirmed this year combined.  Moving forward, I hope this agreement represents a way forward on confirming nominees so our government can be fully staffed and working for the American people.”

Congress faces several major issues this fall:  the debt ceiling, tax reform, appropriations, and a potential government shutdown.  Perhaps the confirmation of 65 nominees by voice vote gives hope for a quicker appointment process moving forward; however, Democrats are equally likely to continue to use dilatory tactics for confirmations to stymie any action on any issue in the Senate.

Members of Congress have heard their constituents complain about their inability to get anything done.  Getting bogged down on relatively straightforward executive confirmations will certainly not fix the “do-nothing” stigma. 

Time is money on Capitol Hill; specifically, taxpayer money.  Both the Trump administration and Senate Democrats should accelerate the confirmation process in order to properly fulfill their responsibilities to the American people.

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