Ending the Nominations Blockade

Keep Democrats in D.C. until every pending nominee is confirmed.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., Oct. 7.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., Oct. 7. PHOTO: JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Anyone seeking a mid-career sabbatical should seek a presidential nomination to a position that requires Senate confirmation. GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is teeing up more votes this week, and the GOP needs to move fast because the glacial pace of staffing the government will slow to near-zero if Democrats retake the Senate.

Mr. McConnell has filed cloture on three nominees, including two assistant attorneys general who have been in a rubber room for more than a year. President Trump nominated Jeffrey Bossert Clark to run the environment and natural resources division in June 2017. Ditto for Eric Dreiband for civil-rights. The third is an assistant Pentagon secretary who would oversee manpower and reserve affairs.

Democrats file cloture on every nominee, which kicks off 30 hours of debate even if no Senator is opposed. They figure if they can’t defeat nominees they can delay and consume valuable time. Democrats have forced 117 cloture votes—versus 12 in Barack Obama’s first two years and four in George W. Bush’s.

The question this month is whether Senate Democrats will accept a deal to confirm more judges and nominees, which would allow vulnerable Members to return home to campaign. Let’s hope Republicans extract a high price for that privilege: Some 198 nominations are backed up awaiting confirmation, according to the Partnership for Public Service tracking.

The nominations range from State Department under secretaries to Labor Department spots. Charles Stimson was nominated in June 2017 to be general counsel of the Navy, which needs urgent legal direction to deal with the fallout from recent ship accidents, as well as lawsuits against bases in Guam and Maine. Democrats have also blocked Justin Muzinich for the No. 2 post at Treasury since his nomination in April. Treasury could use the former banker who has taught at Columbia Business School to shore up its financial-crisis management. Three appellate court and some 36 district court nominations are also awaiting a Senate floor vote.

It’s true that the White House has sometimes been slow to nominate folks quickly enough. Of about 700 important positions, the Partnership’s tracker says some 141 have no nominee, from ambassador to Singapore to the Agriculture Department post that oversees food stamps.

Still, the maddening confirmation process has meant that some nominees give up on a Senate vote and take positions as advisers or counselors to the agency. This weakens the accountability that the Founders established Senate advice and consent to provide. Democrats say President Trump is untutored but then deny the qualified personnel to advise him.

Some Trump nominees barely squeaked through the thin GOP majority, with tie-breaking votes for nominees like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and even for a deputy director job at the Office of Management and Budget (Russell Vought). Republicans need to muscle through as many nominees as possible now because if Democrats run Congress next year they’ll be busy impeaching people, not confirming them.

Appeared in the October 10, 2018, print edition.

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