(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) Republican insiders have grumbled for nearly two months about the slow pace of Trump appointees getting placed in executive branch agencies, and now Republican senators are going public with their frustrations.
Media reports suggest that some of the slow pace is due to Trump administration disorganization, some due to Republican intra-party infighting, and some (or maybe a lot) due to Democratic obstructionism both in the Senate and in the agencies themselves.
James Arkin at Real Clear Politics gives a good overview:
Republican senators are growing impatient with the White House’s slow pace in filling out the administration and are pushing President Trump to speed the nomination process, concerned that the dearth of Cabinet deputies could hamper the executive branch’s ability to function.
The Senate has taken longer to confirm Trump’s nominees than it has those of past presidents, but Trump also has been slower than his predecessors to make nominations.
Of the more than 1,200 jobs that require Senate confirmation, 553 are considered “key” positions by the nonpartisan nonprofit, Partnership for Public Service. The vast majority of those 553, including deputy, assistant and associate secretary posts, remain unfilled.
The Senate had confirmed 22 Trump nominees as of Thursday, with no others – except Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch – likely before the Senate breaks Friday for a two-week recess. In the same time period, according to a tracker kept by The Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, Barack Obama had 54 nominees confirmed, George W. Bush had 32 confirmed, Bill Clinton had 44 confirmed, and George H.W. Bush had 27 confirmed. Only the first Bush faced a Senate of the opposite party.
Trump is likely to fall even further behind during the Easter recess. By April 23 – the date the Senate returns – Obama had an additional seven nominees confirmed, Clinton an additional two, and George H.W. Bush an additional 23.
Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Marco Rubio of Florida were among those who complained about the slow pace. Even Democrats Tim Kaine of Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio registered their grievances, albeit for different reasons, with Kaine wondering if the spots are being deliberately left empty in order to hobble the bureaucratic state.
Conservative media outlets have noticed the delays. National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote:
You might think that by late March, an administration that considers immigration enforcement such a priority would have named its own director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or its own commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or its own assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, or its own assistant secretary for population, refugees and migration at the State Department, or a new director of the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, or a special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices at the DOJ. Trump hasn’t named nominees for any of those slots.
Part of the problem is the result of Senate Democrats using parliamentary maneuvers at the beginning of the administration to slow down the confirmation of Cabinet secretaries. It’s hard to fill high sub-Cabinet spots if the Secretary is not in place. By February 11, for example, the Washington Free Beacon reported that “Democratic obstructionism” caused the “confirmation process [to be] moving slowest since George Washington’s administration.” As the publication explained, “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.”
Even for Trump’s “landing teams” – people, usually with prior government experience, hired on a temporary basis to help smooth the transition to a new administration – Democrats have been raising Cain. Consider two members of the Education Department transition team, Robert Eitel and Taylor Hansen, who were the subject of scathing challenges from liberal Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and a New York Times “news” story accused by some observers of being slanted against the transition team.
Moderate-conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post challenged the premise of the Times article and asked pertinent questions:
What, then, is a public-spirited official to do? If someone with relevant experience and the right background wants to serve and goes above and beyond ethics requirements, they will soon learn there is no way to be hired without being accused of impropriety. As a result, qualified and ethical people won’t serve.
On the other hand, some of the delay has nothing to do with Democrats. Reports are rampant of disputes between the Trump White House and their Cabinet appointments themselves about who should be appointed to lower-ranking political “slots” in those departments. This reporter has reliably been told of several such examples, with the White House nixing potential appointees for having no record of having worked for Trump during last year’s campaign.
As Politico reported (at a subscribers-only site), these disputes are particularly rampant at the Environmental Protection Agency, because some Trump loyalists are “deeply suspicious” of new EPA chief Scott Pruitt, “complaining he’s been too slow in implementing Trump’s campaign agenda and fearing he’s positioning himself for an Oklahoma Senate run.”
These power struggles over appointments have been acute at the Department of Defense, where as early as Jan. 6 – two weeks before Trump actually took office – the Washington Post had a story reporting that then-incoming Secretary James Mattis was “clashing with Trump team over transition staffing.” Likewise at the State Department, where Trump personally nixed the proposed appointment of longtime conservative foreign policy guru Elliott Abrams after being told that Abrams had harshly criticized Trump last year.
Veteran Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah offered a more nuanced view of all this to Real Clear Politics: “You’ve got the president, who hasn’t really been around Washington very much, who is brand new to the process, so it’s naturally going to take a little longer for him and his people to make all these determinations,” Hatch said. “They’re moving, but not as fast as I’d like.”