So far, the Senate has confirmed 14 of the 549 senior federal positions that President Trump needs to run the government and who need Senate confirmation—Cabinet secretaries and people who run the departments, bureaus, agencies and the rest of the government. The rest of the government is being run by career bureaucrats and a few Obama holdovers.
There are another 120 vacant federal judgeships and, of course, the Neil Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court. Each requires Senate approval.
White House staff is busily choosing and vetting candidates for the rest of the positions, and there undoubtedly will be many nominations sent to the Senate for confirmation in the next several weeks.
And where is the Senate now? On vacation.
We hear a lot of talk that Harry Reid gave away the store when he exercised the nuclear option, and that Republicans have the 51 votes needed to get the Trump team confirmed. That may be, but with the way Majority Leader Mitch McConnell runs the Senate, Democrats can—and probably will—make it impossible to confirm more than a handful of nominees.
The problem isn’t the votes. Republicans have those. The problem is time—floor time.
As a senior Senate staffer told me this week: “Regardless of how many votes it takes to confirm or approve anything in the Senate, if Democrats want to force the issue, they can require a minimum of 30 hours to debate any nomination or any bill. Let that sink in. 549 vacancies, at 30 hours each, equals 686 days. If you subtract weekends, and add a nice vacation every few months, you are looking at never finishing this job throughout the entirety of Donald Trump’s first term. And this assumes they are in session around the clock and do no other legislative business, which is also impossible.”
Under Senate rules, when debate is cut off, senators are entitled to another 30 hours of debate. Since the Senate is rarely in session for more than 25 to 30 hours a week, Democrats can tie things up indefinitely.
So you would think the Senate would be working long hours, forcing Democrats to talk until exhausted, so the President’s team gets confirmed, right?
Wrong. After doing virtually no work during most of January, and working at a leisurely pace in February, the Senate just left town for a 10-day recess. That means they went home to campaign—after being on the job for about six weeks. As my friend said: “The Democrats are shutting down the Senate’s business, and Mitch McConnell’s answer is to give everyone a big vacation. The message to Democrats is: keep up the great work, we have no intention of fighting back.”
The result? The government will be run by bureaucrats, Obama holdovers and temporary “acting” trump appointees. Neil Gorsuch won’t get confirmed for weeks and weeks, and other judicial vacancies will remain vacant. Not to mention letting President Trump’s program simply die on the vine—the crucial business of repealing Obamacare, tax reform, passing budgets and appropriations, and the rest of the things Donald Trump and taxpayers so badly need.
So what is to be done?
I spoke with a long-time staff member from the Senate Judiciary Committee (who must remain anonymous if he wants to keep his job), who told me that Republicans’ only remedy is to force Democrats to debate until they wear themselves out. Schedule Senate floor debates to go all day and night, on weekends and holidays until Democrats cry uncle.
“Is McConnell likely to do that?” I asked. Not a chance, said my friend.
“Are any Republican Senators demanding that they fight back?” I asked.
Not a one, I was told.
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington told the New York Times this week that [Democrats] “have to resist [Trump] every way and everywhere, every time we can… By undermining Mr. Trump across the board, Democrats hope to split Republicans away from a president of their own party.”
Unless Mitch McConnell gets down to business and gets the Senate back to work, he may help Democrats do exactly that.
Alfred S. Regnery serves as the Chairman of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.