Washington (AP) — The Senate’s willingness to identify presidential candidates turned downwards in Donald Trump’s first year in office. And that only got worse for President Joe Biden.
About 36% of Biden’s candidates have been identified in the Senate, which has been evenly divided so far. This is a deterioration from the slight success rate of 38% that Trump saw at the same stage of his presidency. Their predecessors, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, saw about two-thirds of the candidates confirmed by October 21, according to a follow-up by the Civil Service Partnership.
This trend warns good government supporters that Washington’s ability to cope with growing challenges is undermined by leadership gaps. However, walking slowly shows no sign of giving up, as Senators hold a wide range of candidates to gain leverage and attract public attention.
Some of the most notable examples are:
-Sen. R-Texas’ Ted Cruz has detained several state and Treasury candidates via a pipeline that transports natural gas from Russia to Germany. He wants the Biden administration to impose sanctions to prevent it.
-Sen. Rick Scott, Florida, had detained all Homeland Security candidates until Vice President Kamala Harris visited the US-Mexico border.
-Sen. Republican Josh Hawley said he would not agree to nominate a State Department candidate until the State Department secretary resigned from the troubled withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The hold does not prevent the candidate from being confirmed, but it does force an additional step in the Senate, which is already moving at a slow pace. Backups burn out over time on the Senate calendar, forcing Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer to make harsh choices about what to vote for.
Gridlock isn’t new, but the struggle for staff management is getting worse. During the first nine months of the Bush and Obama administrations, the Senate needed less than 10% of candidates to proceed with time-consuming cloture voting aimed at limiting debate. But the Democrats have increased it to 40% under Trump. According to White House data, Republicans responded in kind, increasing by more than 50% under Biden.
White House spokesman Jen Psaki said there were “unprecedented delays, obstructions, and detention of qualified personnel from Senate Republicans.” And she said it hindered confirmation from the ambassador and economic and national security authorities.
“The responsibility is clear,” Pusaki said. “It’s frustrating.”
However, the hold only tells part of the story. The number of positions requiring Senate confirmation continues to grow, from less than 800 when Dwight Eisenhower was president to more than 1,200 today. That means more competition for Senate time and attention.
“Our system is broken,” said Max Stier, CEO of Partnership for Public Service. “We have a Senate designed for another era. It’s equivalent to a country road, and the world around it has become the center of a major city, managing the traffic that is currently going down it. You can not.”
Stier’s organization provides information and training aimed at making civil servants more effective. He said delays in filling major government posts would make it difficult to respond to issues such as pandemics, the resulting economic collapse, climate change, and foreign threats such as China, Russia and North Korea.
“We face an extraordinary set of challenges, and our government is our only tool as a society to address these major issues,” said Stier.
His organization recommends that Congress reduce the number of positions that require Senate confirmation and give candidates a quick vote.
“There is good reason for the Senate to reject candidates,” Stier said. “But the point here is not what they are doing right now, but that they should be given up and down votes quickly.”
Senators are unlikely to forgive. Detaining a candidate is a rare opportunity to get the administration’s attention and perhaps change its course of action. At other times, it gives them the opportunity to make statements that resonate with voters in their party.
Cruz is a long-time opponent of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, he says, increasing Europe’s reliance on Russia for energy. The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on Russian companies and ships for their work on the project, but has chosen not to punish the German company that oversees it.
Cruz’s office said Senator is committed to using all the leverage he has to enforce “compulsory sanctions.”
“He believes that these sanctions could still prevent Nord Stream 2 from going online, and he can be confident that the Biden administration will implement them,” Cruz’s office said.
Meanwhile, Hurley demanded that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin resign on the grounds of “failure to withdraw from Afghanistan.”
“Until accountability is fulfilled, what we can do is actually vote for candidates for leadership positions in the Department of State and the Pentagon,” Hurley said in a statement.
Without a hold, the candidate could be confirmed by voice vote. This process is complete in just a few minutes, which is available unless the Senator disagrees. In this way, more than 90% of the candidates were identified at similar stages by Presidents Bush and Obama.
Biden has one bright spot. When it comes to identifying judicial candidates, he outperforms other presidents. The Senate confirmed 16 district and circuit court judges as of October 2013, and by that date matched the sum of Bush, Obama, and Trump.
Catherine Dan Tempas of the Brookings Institution said Obama had been criticized by the judge for not moving fast enough. “It’s clear to me that the Biden people have learned from that mistake,” she said.
“That is, do you rather want to get over lifelong people, or perhaps have people who stay on average for 18 to 24 months in these jobs?” Tempas said.
During President Trump’s time, it was Republicans who complained about Democratic tactics to delay the confirmation process. Republican leader Mitch McConnell, then a majority leader, led a change in the chamber’s rules to reduce the amount of time lawmakers could discuss candidates.
In recent weeks, McConnell has repeatedly criticized Democrats for devoting much of his Senate time to what he described as a “mid-level nomination.” Senate majority Whip Dick Durbin, Illinois, ridiculed the criticism.
“The reason we have to go through every step, score every I, cross every T, and hear a tremendous speech unrelated to the candidate is that he slows down this process. Is the decision of the caucuses, “Durbin said.
Republican Senator John Cornyn said the confirmation process was a problem for both parties, which make up the majority, “if everything is very polarized around here.”
“I hope this is just an ugly stage,” he said.
The Associated Press writer, Alexandra Jaffe, contributed to this report.
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