With the media spotlight shining on President Trump’s first 100 days, the White House chief of staff on Sunday pointed a finger at Senate Democrats for what good government groups say is this administration’s record-setting slow pace in nominating people to the most vital agency jobs.
In a testy exchange with moderator Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Reince Priebus was asked to explain why the White House personnel office has made only 45 key nominations, only 22 of which have been confirmed.
Senate Minority Leader “Chuck Schumer and the Democrats have done something that even many Democrats … have said is inexcusable, which is to hold up one nominee after the next to fill secretary positions,” Priebus said. “Even on [Veterans Affairs Secretary] David Shulkin, who passed 100 to zero in the Senate, Schumer still took up to 30 hours of debate,” Priebus said as Todd pressed him on why Trump wasn’t offering more names. “We have hundreds of people in the queue. Here's what happens when you slow down these nominations,” the chief of staff added.
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Priebus also linked delays to the long-standing process. “When you talk about who we have for assistant to the secretary --let's just throw assistant to the secretary” at the Housing and Urban Development Department “or in the State Department, those people have been chosen,’ he said. “However, when you choose one of those people, the process is you have to send that person to … [the] Office of Government Ethics [for] clearance. And they have to get an FBI background check. You can't get the clearance for 30 or 40 days after you choose the person. So, those people are in queue.”
Todd asked, “But you acknowledge you're behind?”
Priebus replied that the administration was behind, but “because of historical unbelievable obstruction from U.S. senators that are acting inappropriately.”
Asked to explain why Democrats prevent the White House from nominating people, he said, “You look at a guy like Rex Tillerson. The president said that the secretary of State is going to have direct authority over the people that he chooses to fill the positions within the Department of State. Well, Rex Tillerson gets submitted back in December. He doesn't get confirmed until later in the year. Or, for example, we've got a secretary of Commerce that was chosen in November, not confirmed.”
Trump’s nomination numbers, according to the latest from the joint tracking project by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post, remain far behind those of his recent predecessors. As of Monday, it showed that 473 of the top 554 key positions have no nominees. Of the remaining positions, 35 have a candidate awaiting nomination, 24 have a person formally nominated for the spot and 22 have an official confirmed for the job.
The Partnership, using the same 100-day mark, reported that Barack Obama’s White House had nominated 190 people (with 69 confirmed); George W. Bush had nominated 85 (with 35 confirmed); Bill Clinton had nominated 176 (with 49 confirmed); and George H.W. Bush had nominated 95 (with 50 confirmed.).
“In his first 100 days, President Donald Trump has set out to restructure the government to make it more effective,” Max Stier, the partnership’s president and CEO, told Government Executive. “This is a huge undertaking, yet he is trying to accomplish this task before naming or winning Senate confirmation of dozens of agency leaders, who are crucial in driving these changes. President Trump would do well to prioritize getting his team on the field first in order to optimize running the government in a way that best serves the American people.”
Using a slightly different methodology and tracking 970 appointed positions, the historically oriented White House Transition Project, as of April 18, said Trump is on pace to reach his first 100 days “on a path to fewest nominations, fewest confirmations in 40 years.”
Overall, the project academics wrote, Trump’s nominations trail previous administrations by five weeks and trail President Reagan’s nominations by six weeks. “At this point since the Inauguration, the average administration would have filled about 21 percent of those critical leadership positions in the government… necessary to lead the government,” the analysts said. “And though President Trump and the Senate majority have far fewer positions to stand up than previous administrations, they still have only completed around 10 percent of the total necessary to stand up the government.”
The Senate on Monday is expected to vote on former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s nomination to be Agriculture secretary.