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Who’s to Blame for Slow Confirmations?

President Donald Trump says Democratic obstruction is the reason far fewer of his political nominees have been confirmed compared with his predecessors. But a group tracking the nominations says Trump is partly to blame for the lower numbers.

“You look at Clinton: 357 versus 182. You look at President Obama: 364 versus 182,” Trump said.

Data show Trump has simply nominated fewer people — something he said a week before was by design to reduce government waste.

Data also show, to Trump’s point, that his nominees are taking longer to get approval — on average 62 days compared with 46 days for President Barack Obama and 32 days for President George W. Bush.

Experts say that while Democrats bear some of the blame for putting up procedural speed bumps, the Trump administration also bears some responsibility because many of Trump’s early nominees were put forward without the necessary paperwork, such as security clearances and financial disclosures.

The issue of nominees came up during a joint press conference with Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Oct. 16, when a reporter asked Trump about his past criticism of Obama complaining about Republicans stopping his agenda. Trump said the difference is that Democrats are “holding up every single nomination” Trump has put forth.

Here’s the exchange:

Reporter, Oct. 16: Mr. President, in 2012 you tweeted that Obama’s complaints about Republicans stopping his agenda are “B.S.,” in your words, since he had full control for two years. You wrote, “He can never take responsibility.”

But today, you said about some of the challenges right now in Congress and in Washington, “I’m not going to blame myself. I’ll be honest. They’re not getting the job done.”

So what’s different then than now?

Trump: Well, let me just explain what’s different.

We have nominations pending right now, and we have 182 approve — if you look at this, the number that he had approved was 65 percent and 70 percent, and we have 39 percent.

They’re holding up every single nomination. Schumer and the group are holding up every single nomination. They are obstructing. They’re doing — it’s really what — I’m telling you, they’re not good politicians, but they’re very good at obstruction.

They are holding up every single nomination. And I will tell you, Peter, it’s not right. It’s really not right. They’ll bring them right out to the end, that last minute. What they’re doing is unfair. So you look at even Bush, you look at Obama, you look at Clinton and you look at Bush original: you have 389 versus 182. These are approvals. You look at Clinton: 357 versus 182. You look at President Obama: 364 versus 182. These are nominations approved, and what they’re doing to us.

We have unbelievable people and they’re waiting to be approved. They’ve been waiting for a long period of time.

Trump’s numbers are roughly accurate. A joint project of The Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post tracks roughly 600 “key executive branch nominations through the confirmation process” (out of the roughly 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation). According to the project’s data, on the day Trump made his comment, the Senate had confirmed 174 of his 416 nominations. By comparison, his predecessors had far more confirmed by this stage — Obama had 359; George W. Bush, 375; Bill Clinton, 340; and George H.W. Bush, 293.

But the data also show that Trump’s immediate predecessors had nominated a larger number of people by this point as well. While Trump has nominated 416, Obama at this point had nominated 534. George W. Bush had nominated 510 and Clinton, 450. (To see a graphic representation of the slower pace of Trump’s nominations since his inauguration compared with past presidents, see this Washington Post analysis.)

During the summer, some Republicans expressed frustration with the slower pace of formal nominations coming from the administration.

In an interview with Forbes published on Oct. 10, Trump said the lower number of nominees submitted for Senate approval was by design because many of the positions are “unnecessary.”

Trump, Forbes interview, Oct. 10: I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be—because you don’t need them. I mean, you look at some of these agencies, how massive they are, and it’s totally unnecessary. They have hundreds of thousands of people.

Trump is correct that among the nominees he has put forth, the time it has taken to get them confirmed is longer than for past presidents. On average, The Partnership for Public Service reports, it is taking 62 days to get Trump’s nominees confirmed. That’s longer than the 46 days it took on average for Obama’s nominees to get confirmed, and nearly double the time it took for George W. Bush’s nominees (32 days) and Clinton’s (34 days).

Democrats and Republicans have blamed each other for the longer confirmation times. Mallory Barg-Bulman, vice president of research and evaluation at The Partnership for Public Service, told us both sides have contributed to the delays.

Although Democrats have few tools available to them as the minority party — a 2013 rules change took away the ability to filibuster nominees — they are able to call for floor debate on nominees. Democrats have invoked “cloture” — which triggers 30 hours of debate prior to final action — on 40 of Trump’s nominees so far. That has added delays, said Barg-Bulman.

But the Trump administration also bears some responsibility for the longer lag time, she said. An inordinate number of Trump’s nominees — particularly early in his presidency — were put forward without proper paperwork, she said. That includes security clearances and financial background statements to ensure there are no financial conflicts of interest with the job for which the person was nominated.

In recent months, Trump has ramped up the number of his nominations, but the total is still lower than previous presidents.

Trump has a legitimate gripe that confirmations have taken longer on average than they did for his predecessors, but the lower number of confirmations is partly due to his administration’s slower pace in putting people forward.

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Not the Whole Story

Democratic obstruction is the reason why President Trump has had far fewer nominees confirmed compared with his predecessors.

Press conference
Monday, October 16, 2017