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Obstruction or Slow Hiring? Who's to Blame for Sluggish Confirmations?

by Rebecca Choate /
Image: U.S. Capitol Building at sunset
The U.S. Capitol Building is seen at sunset on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 8, 2017.Michael Reynolds / EPA file

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To hear President Donald Trump tell it, the slow start in filling out his administration is entirely the fault of Democrats.

“The Senate Democrats have only confirmed 48 of 197 Presidential Nominees. They can’t win so all they do is slow things down and obstruct!” he tweeted on Tuesday.

The problem with argument: Trump has made far fewer nominations to fill out his administration than Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush did at this same point in their presidencies, according to numbers from the Partnership for Public Service.

“It’s important to recognize that no prior administration has run the [nomination] process well,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “It’s a low bar, and the Trump team has not even met that.”

Stier argues while there’s a lot of blame to go around, the lag is mostly a result of the Trump team failing to make nominations, not the Senate failing to confirm them.

Still, Trump does have a point that his nominees have taken longer, on average, to win confirmation than any of his predecessors’ picks — although it isn’t dramatically longer than what Barack Obama’s nominees faced in 2009.

And Trump’s rate of confirmation per nominee (just 24 percent of his nominees have won Senate confirmation) is far smaller than previous presidents enjoyed.

But there’s a hitch in that argument, too: It’s Republicans who control the Senate, and the minority is no longer able to wield filibusters against executive-branch nominees.

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