WASHINGTON—The Senate confirmed over five dozen of President Trump’s executive branch nominations on Thursday before breaking for August recess, more than doubling the number of the president’s picks in place to implement his agenda.
More than 1,200 of the 4,100 presidential appointees in the federal government are what constitutional law refers to as “principal officers”: senior administration officials that the president nominates but who cannot wield the powers of their office until they have been confirmed by the Senate. (The remaining majority of those 4,100 are “inferior officers,” which are either Schedule PA positions that are directly appointed by the president or Schedule C positions that are directly appointed by department heads or similar top officers.)
Ever since Senate Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” in 2014 to abolish filibusters for all presidential nominees except those to the Supreme Court, many assumed that confirmations for a new president’s senior administration officials would be a piece of cake if the president’s party also commanded a Senate majority.
Instead, the opposite proved true. Before this week’s flurry of activity, the Senate had approved only 50 of President Trump’s nominees, less than one-third of the average number from the past four presidential administrations at this point on the calendar after Inauguration Day.
The White House had grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of Senate confirmations. Although the pace of presidential nominations increased rapidly in recent months, Senate confirmations did not follow suit. Democrats demanded extensive vetting regarding personal finances and other issues of nominees, slowing the approval process.
They also demanded extended debate and discussion, including requiring cloture votes on some nominees, then taking up to the full 30 extra hours of debate permitted under Senate rules before allowing a final vote.
The Senate broke this logjam on August 3, confirming almost 70 political nominees. Almost all of those confirmations were on a unanimous voice vote, which shows that these nominees were never controversial to begin with and could have been confirmed much more quickly.
Moreover, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette was confirmed 79-17, showing that even some nominations that are not unanimous are nonetheless supported by bipartisan supermajorities.
Senators also confirmed seven generals and admirals during Thursday’s marathon session. Unlike most military officers, flag officers in the military must be individually confirmed by Congress.
But certain key administration posts remain unfilled. One of the most prominent examples of this is President Trump’s nomination of Noel Francisco to be solicitor general of the United States. That is the nation’s top lawyer before the U.S. Supreme Court, who also typically plays a major role in determining the administration’s legal position on controversial issues, and additionally is frequently consulted regarding judicial nominations. Francisco was nominated for that post on April 24 and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 8.
The Senate cleared many pending nominations before heading out of town on vacation, but senators will probably hear from their constituents that they still have a lot of work yet to do.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.