The Trump White House is blaming Congress for “slow walking” the president’s nominees to fill out his Cabinet.
But some area lawmakers are placing the blame on the White House.
Around this point in Barack Obama’s first term, the Senate had received 454 nominees from the White House. President Donald Trump has sent just 216 nominees to the Senate. That frustrates Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“I think we have way too many vacancies still,” he said. “There’s probably some responsibility to go around for that.”
The Trump administration accuses Senate Democrats of needlessly tying up about 130 nominees it has sent to the Senate. Fewer than 50 have been approved. To help address that backlog, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s delaying his chamber’s August break for two weeks.
Does it really matter that hundreds of key posts are unfilled? Absolutely, said U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey.
“Those people who assist the Cabinet members — the secretaries, the administrators — are valuable. They’re there for a reason. So, listen, if you got a weak bench, it’s going to show on the field,” he said. “And it’s showing on the field.”
Pascrell worries that Trump officials may be trying to cut the federal workforce by not filling the 382 empty positions in the administration that have yet to see a nominee. The White House may also be leaving key positions empty to exert more control over federal departments, he said.
“And he cannot resuscitate this, if it’s his pattern and this is what he wants to do. Maybe to save a few dollars. Maybe not to have the involvement of too many people in the inner sanctum. The inner sanctum is killing them,” Pascrell said. “The inner sanctum is literally killing his agenda, which has been total discombobulated.”
A continuing pattern of reluctance
Each week, it seems, nominees drop out of consideration or pull their name out of the ring before they’re even formally announced. And the more that happens, Pascrell said, the tougher it is to recruit new nominees.
“So I could see a lot of people wanting to keep an arm’s distance. And you’re going to see a lot of them more and more,” he said.
But the White House is pushing back and laying the blame at Democrats’ feet. U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, a South Jersey Republican, said he’s heard Obama-era appointees are deliberately slowing down the process.
“You know, I’ve talked to a number of people at the White House, and they’ve said that their ability to fill these positions, it’s not only being jammed by the Senate, but they have holdover departments from the last administration that are going through all the ethics forms that you have to file for all these people,” he said. “And they’re dragging their feet. So, they’re making it very hard for this administration to fill out positions.”
That “clogged nominee pipeline” is preventing the president from getting his agenda through Congress, MacArthur continued.
“Obviously, they want to fill these positions as quickly as they can. They can’t, they’re having a hard time moving their agenda without the right people in place,” he said.
For his part, MacArthur said, his job in the House is to keep moving on Trump’s priorities while the Senate fights over nominees.
“I think what we can do is keep the legislative agenda moving. The Senate will not initiate legislation on any of the big issues — health care or tax reform or financial service reform or entitlement reform — because they don’t have the bandwidth for it.
“I think they’re being consumed by appointments, and so I think the House can keep the agenda moving legislatively,” MacArthur said. “That’s the best thing we can do.”
Blocking legislation, not nominees
Democrats bristle at hearing that the president is trying to paint their party as obstructionists in all quarters. They gladly wear that mantle as they try to block his legislative agenda, but not when it comes to nominees.
Democrats want the government to function better, even if that means filling it with more conservatives, said U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia.
Trump will “attempt to blame Democrats, he’ll attempt to blame Congress. The reality is this administration has been slower than any other to even make nominations to these very important positions,” Boyle said.
Boyle, who serves on foreign policy committees, said he opposes much of Trump’s agenda. But he wants the administration to quickly nominate people, he said, because the empty slots are hurting U.S. standing abroad.
“Well, from the foreign affairs perspective and the State Department, we’re talking about the people who are direct diplomatic links to other countries around the world — many of which are hot spots,” Boyle said. “So with these positions being vacant, we don’t have anyone on the ground who’s able to put the best face forward for the United States.”
The White House is trying to pressure Democrats into quickly bringing up the remaining nominees that the Senate has yet to consider. That still leaves more than 380 posts with no nominee of the 564 that require Senate confirmation.