Sluggish pace of confirmations vexes Biden White House

The Senate’s willingness to confirm a president’s nominees took a downward turn during Donald Trump’s first year in office. And it has only gotten worse for President Joe Biden

About 36% of Biden’s nominees have been confirmed so far in the evenly divided Senate a deterioration from the paltry 38% success rate that Trump saw at the same stage of his presidency. Their predecessors, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both saw about two-thirds of their nominees confirmed through Oct. 21, according to tracking by the Partnership for Public Service.

The trend is alarming to good government advocates, who say Washington’s ability to meet mounting challenges is being undermined by gaps in leadership. But the slow-walking shows no signs of letting up as senators place holds on a wide swath of nominees to gain leverage and attract public attention.

Among the most notable examples:

—Sen. Ted Cruz R-Texas, has placed holds on several State and Treasury nominees over a pipeline that will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany. He wants the Biden administration to implement sanctions to stop it.

—Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., had placed holds on all Department of Homeland Security nominees until Vice President Kamala Harris visited the U.S.-Mexico border.

—Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he will not consent to the nomination of any Defense or State Department nominees until the secretaries of those departments resign for the troubled withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The holds don’t prevent nominees from being confirmed, but they force extra steps in a Senate that already moves at a leisurely pace. The backup burns through time on the Senate calendar and forces Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to make tough choices about what will see a vote.

While gridlock isn’t new, the struggle to staff administrations is getting worse. During the first nine months of the Bush and Obama administrations, the Senate required fewer than 10% of their nominees to advance through time-hogging cloture votes aimed at limiting debate. But Democrats increased that to 40% under Trump. Republicans have responded in kind, ramping it up to more than 50% under Biden, according to White House data.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there have been “unprecedented delays, obstruction, holds on qualified individuals from Republicans in the Senate.” And that, she said, is thwarting the confirmation of ambassadors and economic and national security officials.

“The blame is clear,” Psaki said. “It is frustrating.”

Holds tell only part of the story, though. The number of positions requiring Senate confirmation keeps growing — from fewer than 800 when Dwight Eisenhower was president to more than 1,200 now. That means more competition for the Senate’s time and attention.

“Our system is broken,” said Max Stier, the CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “We have a Senate that was designed for a different era, the equivalent of the country road and the world around it has become a major urban center and it can’t manage the traffic that is now trying to go down it.”

Stier’s organization provides information and training aimed at making government employees…

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