WASHINGTON, DC – Wednesday marked one year since President Trump nominated Navy Captain Charles “Cully” Stimson to be general counsel for the Department of the Navy, highlighting why the Senate’s August recess needed to be canceled. Over 300 Senate-confirmed positions are still vacant 18 months into the administration. People expect the president’s administration to be fully staffed, with dozens of new federal judges as well.
The Department of the Navy includes the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps. It is a component of the Defense of Defense (DOD), as are the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force. The general counsel is the No. 3 position in the Department of the Navy, and commands roughly 1,000 lawyers the in the Navy’s Office of General Counsel, yet despite its importance President Trump’s pick is still not in place.
No one is questioning Stimson’s credentials for the job. A captain in the reserve component of Navy JAG where he serves as a prosecutor and supervises appeals when on military duty, Stimson served in the Pentagon as a deputy assistant secretary of defense under Bush 43, and deputy chief judge of the Navy-Marine Corps Trial Judiciary. He currently works at the Heritage Foundation, where he is an expert on military, national security, and legal affairs, and also served as chief of staff to the president of the prestigious foundation.
Yet a full year after the president picked him to lead the Office of General Counsel, the full Senate has yet to vote on him.
Nor is Stimson alone. As President Trump explained in his weekly address on June 2, over 300 nominations are pending in the Senate. The president is calling on Democrats to “stop resisting the will of the American people.”
As a result of this obstruction, entire federal departments are hobbled in terms of implementing the Make America Great Again agenda Donald Trump ran on as a candidate. At the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for example, the four largest litigation divisions – Civil, Civil Rights, Criminal, and Environmental – are still vacant, even though Jody Hunt, Eric Dreiband, Brian Benczkowski, and Jeff Clark have all been waiting since 2017, just like Stimson.
The delays are so prolonged that some of the first appointees are now leaving, such as Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, who held the No. 3 post at DOJ. She left for the private sector.
Other nominees have been forced to withdraw from consideration for financial reasons. At least Stimson can keep doing his job at Heritage until he is finally confirmed. Others, like the first nominee for general counsel at the U.S. Department of Energy, passed through committee with bipartisan support in July 2017, but eventually had to withdraw in January 2018 because there was still no confirmation date in sight, yet as a partner at a law firm he could not take on new cases to generate revenue at his firm. Potential clients naturally go elsewhere once told that the lawyer they want will be leaving the firm sometime soon.
There is no reason for Stimson or hundreds of other nominees to be held hostage. Democrats have deliberately held up Stimson because he helped oversee terrorist detainee matters for the U.S. military during his previous service in the Pentagon, and because he works at the flagship think tank for the conservative movement. That has never been a reason to deny a qualified nominee an up-or-down vote.
The reality is that Democrats know that personnel is policy, so the more political appointments they can stop or slow-walk, the less of President Trump’s agenda will be enacted. The fewer conservatives in the Trump administration, the less change in policy from the Obama administration. A federal workforce of over 2 million employees will continue on autopilot without politically appointed managers to steer each office and team in a new direction.
The sky-high number of over 300 vacancies includes a record-high number of judicial nominations. Judicial appointments have been one of President Trump’s most successful issues, thrilling the GOP base while also being a positive to moderate voters. This president set an all-time record for first-year presidents confirming federal appellate judges, and now the White House wants to press into record territory again.
Democrats want to slow the pace of judicial confirmations to a crawl, using unprecedented procedural tricks to stall confirmations, such as insisting on “blue slip” approvals from home-state senators and burning up to 30 hours of extra debate time on the Senate floor.
As a consequence, even with a record number of appellate confirmations in 2017, there is a historic high of 142 judicial vacancies today, more than the day President Trump took the oath of office. The reason is that judgeships are opening up more quickly than the Senate is filling them, giving this president a potentially unique opportunity to reshape the courts. It is an opportunities Democrats seek to deny him.
This is why the Senate recess had to be canceled. Hours after Breitbart News published an editorial calling upon President Trump to exercise his constitutional power to force the Senate back into session in August, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he was canceling most of it.
Senators will therefore have additional weeks to confirm President Trump’s nominees, staffing up his administration and the federal bench. Details have not yet been released on how many confirmations the Senate should complete during that time.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.