Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Almost One Year In: Biden’s Track Record on Nominations and Confirmations

The process underscores the challenges with so many positions needing Senate confirmation, the Partnership for Public Service said in a new report. 

The process to get President Biden’s appointees in place during his first year in office underscores the challenges with so many positions needing Senate confirmation, according to a new report. 

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition released a report on Monday about Biden’s nominations and confirmations from January 20, 2021 (Inauguration Day) to December 31, 2021. Early on, the Senate got off to a slow start in taking up Biden’s nominations due to the Senate runoff elections in Georgia in January 2021, impeachment proceedings and prioritization of the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Another obstacle was Republican senators placing holds on certain nominees. 

“Our analysis of Biden’s progress with nominations and confirmations in his first year indicates that the current number of positions needing Senate confirmation continues to lead to a confirmation logjam that grows each year,” said the report. “The holdup has limited the ability of administrations to fill critical roles and undermines the effectiveness of the American government.” From 1960 to 2016 the number of Senate-confirmed positions increased by 59%, which has been coupled with “challenges in the confirmation process.” 

By December 31, 2021, Biden had nominated 644 individuals for presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions, which was more than President Trump had (555) and slightly fewer than President Obama (653) and President George W. Bush (677). This encompasses all civilian nominations submitted to the Senate including judges, marshals and U.S. attorneys. 

“Despite nominating roughly the same number of appointees as Bush and Obama, far fewer of Biden’s nominees were confirmed in the same time frame,” said the report. “Congress has confirmed 355 of Biden’s nominees. At a comparable time, Congress had confirmed 505 of Bush’s and 450 of Obama’s. Trump, by contrast, had slightly fewer with 317.” 

After nearly one year in office, it took an average of 103 days for Biden’s nominees to get confirmed, which was longer than the average for nominees in the past six administrations and about three times as long as that of President Reagan’s first year. 

Meanwhile, there are “historic levels of gender and racial/ethnic diversity among the Biden confirmed appointees,” said a report by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, nonresident senior fellow for governance studies at the Brookings Institution, on the administration’s 300-day mark, which came in November.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki opened her December 20 briefing by saying, “President Biden has nominated, and the Senate has confirmed the most diverse class of federal judges in history at a rate not seen since President Reagan.” 

Across the Cabinet, the departments with the highest percentage of Senate-confirmed officials in place by the end of 2021 were: Veterans Affairs (85% of nominees) and Homeland Security (65% of nominees). Meanwhile, the ones with the lowest percentage were Transportation (33%) and Housing and Urban Development (38%). 

As for the 173 key Senate-confirmed positions in the national security arena, Biden nominated 126 (85 of whom were confirmed and 41 of whom were awaiting Senate action) as of December 31; 31 of the positions had no nominees and 16 were filled by holdovers.

This past year was the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, after which “the bipartisan 9/11 Commission suggested delays in confirmations could undermine the country’s safety since a lack of appointments could significantly disrupt national security policymaking,” the report noted. 

“From the more than 160 key Senate-confirmed ambassadorships to countries and multilateral organizations, Biden made 88 nominations, outpacing Trump’s 63 nominations but falling behind Obama’s 107 nominations and Bush’s 115,” said the report. “In 2021, the Senate confirmed only 55 ambassadors nominated by Biden (63%), the lowest confirmation rate in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, 90% of Bush’s first-year ambassadorial nominations were confirmed during the same period, and 85% of Obama’s and 75% of Trump’s nominations were confirmed.”

Per Senate rules, nominations are returned to the president when they haven’t been confirmed or were rejected when the Senate adjourns for the end of a congressional session, which is about the end of a calendar year, or if the Senate adjourns for more than 30 days. However, nominations can be held over if the Senate agrees by unanimous consent to suspend the rules, and the president can submit the nominees during the new session, the report said. 

The Senate returned 118 nominations to the White House on January 3, which included the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and controller at the Office of Management and Budget, both of which haven’t had a confirmed leader in about five years. They have both been renominated, among many others. 

The Partnership has been bringing a critical eye to the increasing number of Senate-confirmed positions for years now.

In 2011, it supported the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, which decreased the number of Senate-confirmed positions by 163. Then the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition published a report in August 2021 that recommended seven possible reforms to the Senate’s approach to confirmed positions. 

During the White House briefing on January 4, a reporter asked about Biden’s confirmations during his first year, which reflected the Partnership and Washington Post’s tracker for executive branch civilian positions requiring Senate confirmation except for judges, marshals and U.S. attorneys. At the time, Biden had 266 of those individuals confirmed, which was about on par with Trump during that point in his first year, but about 100 fewer than what Obama and George W. Bush each had, the reporter noted. 

Psaki said that by the end of 2021, over 300 of Biden’s nominees were pending in the Senate and about half were on the Senate’s executive calendar awaiting a vote. There was “overwhelming support and majorities from Democrats and Republicans,” for many nominees, but there were “lengthy debates” in the Senate for many when “there could have been unanimous consent votes,” she said. 

“Obviously, there are career employees ensuring effectively that agencies are running,” Psaki continued. “But, of course, [Biden] wants to have his team in place—his people leading these agencies to continue to move his agenda forward.

When asked if the president thinks the Senate should spend more time taking up his nominations, Psaki said, “I think there's a way to move them forward without consuming hours and hours and days of floor time.” The White House was “encouraged by the agreement that happened right before the winter holiday to move a number of nominees forward. And we're hopeful we can push more forward in the weeks ahead.”

On the 141 positions for which Biden had not put forth a nominee by the holidays, Psaki said he “is eager to have these nominees he has nominated confirmed” and “wants to find the right person” to fill them.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.