By: the Editorial Board – wsj.com – January 9, 2019
The U.S. Senate is back in session, and therefore so is the Democratic nominations blockade. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded Wednesday that President Trump withdraw his nomination of Bill Barr as Attorney General, even though Mr. Barr served with distinction as President George H.W. Bush’s AG. The question is whether Senate Republicans are going to do anything more to overcome this deliberate political obstruction than they did in the last two years.
The Senate confirmed 77 stalled nominees—a collection of ambassadors, U.S. attorneys or other non-controversial picks—by voice vote on Jan. 2. But thanks mostly to Democratic objections, the upper chamber returned to the White House 384 nominees it failed to confirm in the 115th Congress. That includes some 70 judicial nominees.
The White House will now have to renominate these men and women, assuming they haven’t given up in frustration. Mark Greenblatt was nominated to be inspector general of the Ex-Im Bank in September 2017, 16 months ago. The Banking Committee approved him three months later; he’s still waiting for a floor vote. Burlington Stores exec Janet Dhillon, the nominee to lead the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has been waiting 18 months.
The Partnership for Public Service reports that 543 of President Trump’s 934 nominations had been confirmed by Dec. 19, 2018. At the same point in Barack Obama’s presidency, 809 of his 1,003 picks had Senate approval.
The White House was rightly criticized for its slow start with executive-branch nominations, but the main problem long ago became the systematic Democratic effort to prevent President Trump from filling out the government. First, Democrats take as much time as possible tying up nominees in committee. Once even non-controversial nominees get to the floor, Democrats then object to a quick voice-vote confirmation and demand a cloture vote that requires 30 hours of floor debate.
In the 115th Congress, there were 128 cloture votes for Trump judicial and executive nominees, compared with 12 for Mr. Obama’s nominees in his first two years. Mr. Trump’s six most recent predecessors combined faced no more than two dozen cloture votes in their first two years.
Consider David Schenker, who was nominated last April to be assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs. A fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mr. Schenker speaks Arabic and held a high-ranking Pentagon job in the George W. Bush Administration.
Yet Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine has held Mr. Schenker hostage, demanding that the Trump Administration turn over the memo that authorized U.S. air strikes against the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. Mr. Schenker’s nomination was returned to the White House last week.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made confirming judicial nominees a priority given their lifetime tenure, and the upper chamber confirmed 85 judges in the last Congress. Yet there are still 145 judicial vacancies, and Democrats will try to delay the nominations for every one in hopes of leaving many for what they expect to be a Democratic President in 2021.
Mr. McConnell had his best success on nominees last Congress when he threatened to keep Senators in town over weekends and recesses until certain nominations received a floor vote. He should do that again starting in the first weeks. Republicans also should negotiate a change in the cloture rule for non-controversial nominees to eight hours of debate from 30. The GOP granted that to Democrats from 2013-15. If Mr. Schumer won’t do the same, Republicans should unilaterally change the rule at least for the executive branch.
The Beltway press corps is full of stories about the trouble caused for civil servants by the current partial government shutdown. Yet the media don’t report that an elected American President can’t put a government in place even after half his term is over. This gives the permanent bureaucracy far more power than America’s Founders intended.
This affront to democratic self-rule is more damaging to effective government than temporary furloughs, and don’t be surprised if Republicans return the favor the next time there’s a Democratic President.
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