Appointment Neglect or Confirmation Obstruction

I watched the morning news shows the other morning where pundits blamed any and everyone else for all.  My aggravation at the “simple” partisan excuses led me to some quick thoughts about this Donald Trump tweet.

First some numbers for context.

The last time I looked up this information, the President had 1,212 appointments to make that require Senate confirmation. The President has 353 appointments that do not require Senate confirmation. Exact numbers may be different today, but I’m confident that mine here are in the ballpark.

The responsibilities of these appointments vary obviously. You’ll often see people cite numbers in the 550 range as “Key” positions that require confirmation. I think that number is subjective for a reason I’ll type in a moment, but I wanted to clarify why my appointment number is approximately triple what one might see or hear from other sources.

The number is subjective in my opinion because while the general public sees Cabinet Members, Ambassadors, and others with tremendous responsibility on television and at events, most of us don’t see the people who actually do the work behind the scenes. In practically any occupation or endeavor there are folks who never receive recognition but without them nothing would be possible. Our own lives, work, and experience  illustrate that one does not have to be in the limelight to be “key.”

The US Senate confirms nominees, and the Democratic majority at the time under leader Harry Reid changed chamber rules to make most confirmations a simple majority instead of a 3/5 vote. During the current 115th, the GOP majority under leader Mitch McConnell furthered that change so that a simple majority applies to all confirmations.

Technically, the filibuster for confirmations no longer exists. I say technically because procedurally it is possible to require one to invoke cloture although that is more or less pro forma in the modern Senate.

There are several ways, however, for the minority party to obstruct and delay a confirmation. One which FOX news harked on the other day was to boycott committee hearings and thus prevent a quorum. The Democrats did this with 3 Cabinet nominees, Price, Sessions, and Mnuchin. All, however, would be confirmed and statistically within similar timeframes to Cabinet appointees of previous presidents. For other appointments, this tactic has not been used and if it were used the changes to chamber rules by both parties in recent years allows the majority party to force a vote. In the past, such boycotts meant something; today, they are akin to a pufferfish. Outside the posturing with these Cabinet appointments, Schumer has not tried this tactic again.  I’m not trying to read his thoughts, but the tactic doesn’t work and sadly has become a normal procedure of both parties.

The President’s tweet and the outrage of his supporters’ neglects that:

  1. The Senate cannot confirm anyone if nobody has even been nominated and;
  2. Once nominated, a number of forms must be completed by the nominee and nominator (the President). Among these forms are financial disclosures, certifications about any potential conflicts, committee questionnaires, and so on.

It’s paperwork which is a pain, but much of it has been SOP in various forms since the days of George Washington. One of the reasons for the boycotts of the Price and Mnuchin hearings was that the potential conflicts of interest were incomplete and under investigation. Suspected, but not known at the time, was that Sessions neglected to disclose information. Again, the boycotts did nothing to stop the nominations, but they saved us from silly bickering because the nominations could not move to the Floor and that fact had zero to do with any committee vote.

[I can’t be alone with despise of going to meetings where nothing can be done because the needed materials or such aren’t available yet. Such meetings or hearings in this case have to be repeated, so why waste everyone’s time]?

The Partnership for Public Service which is a non-profit established in the year 2001 maintains a tracker of “key” positions that in recent years WAPO became connected.

From the graphic, it’s obvious that Trump has far fewer confirmations than his predecessors by this point in his presidency. It’s also obvious that the average wait time is 7 days longer than that of an Obama nominee. I do point out, however, that the average wait time for an Obama nominee was 8 days longer than that for George W. Bush.

My feeling is that wait times will continue to increase for future presidents. It’s partisanship but also with technology, social media, and such, there is more paperwork to fill out and review with a greater chance of neglecting areas by honest mistake.

The Senate has made 46 confirmations for these “key” positions. An additional 130 individuals have been nominated. Of that 130, only 4 await confirmation. We do not know how many of the remaining 126 have not submitted all required paperwork. We know that 4 have, and we can figure out how long it took from formal nomination to submitting all required paperwork necessary to proceed to a hearing that will then lead to a vote.

If any of the remaining 126 have submitted all required paperwork, the power rests entirely with the majority party to schedule a hearing (to move into the awaiting confirmation column).

The numbers show that 384 of these “key” positions have no nominee.

If the President, current Members of Congress, talking head pundits, and regular ole folks don’t like the confirmation process, place the blame where it starts. Blame George Washington and the Congresses under his administration.

If anyone wants to blame Democrats for obstruction, do so, but at least point out that no matter how much they might desire there just ain’t nothing to obstruct in terms of confirmations.

In common speak, they may have this big ole levee, but if the flood water is still 20 miles away that levee ain’t obstructing the flow. If the levee fails when the water gets there, then the minority who constructed the levee has failed. If the levee holds with water pushing against it, the levee has obstructed the path of the water. That could be good; that could be bad; as y’all know some depends upon whether there is a spillway and if it’s opened which side your property is on.

To give another perspective without the “key” question, the American Foreign Service Association tracks US ambassadors. Just glance at this list, and you’ll see a few of the 1,212 positions I typed in the initial post. Look at how many of these positions still lack an appointment.

There’s just more to the story than some are wanting to accept.

A Non-related aside:

I have never sought or accepted any payment or donations for this blog.  My position hasn’t changed, but I wanted share some good news.

After 10 years of marriage, my wife and I are in the final stages of adopting a son from an international orphanage.  We would most appreciate your thoughts and prayers for our son and us as soon-to-be parents to more than fur babies.  I hope that people read and follow because you either gather some information or at least see something that causes you to think.

We’re not conducting any fundraising with crowd sourcing sites or other means.

Nobody goes into the education field to become wealthy, but it’s a valuable reward when former students remain in communication or drop in unexpectedly to say that you made them think, believe, or made a difference.  Students, colleagues, peers, readers, and others have inquired so if anyone would like to make a monetary donation to help us with airfare primarily or other expenses associated with adoption, below is a link to a PayPal donation account that I have set up.  It would be appreciated, but it is certainly not necessary to continue whatever connection we share.