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Trump's Cabinet Nominees Slog Through Messy Confirmation Process

Democrats have had at least a modicum of success in stalling Trump from getting his personnel in place, and now even some Republicans are impeding the process.
Image: Betsy DeVos speaks during her confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education
Betsy DeVos speaks during her confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill January 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty ImagesBrendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Donald Trump’s administration came into office with Republicans in firm control of Congress and an ambitious agenda ready to be executed on by his like-minded cabinet nominees. But with just four cabinet heads confirmed in the two weeks since the inauguration, Democrats have had at least a modicum of success in stalling Trump from getting his personnel in place, and now even some Republicans are impeding the process.

This week, the confirmation process was stalled after two key Republicans announced they would not support billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos’ nomination to head the Department of Education. Both senators expressed reservations about DeVos’ work to promote charter schools and vouchers and her lack of experience working with public schools.

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With full Democratic opposition to DeVos, two nays from Republican senators means the vote will be locked 50-50, leaving Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie. The close vote also means a delay in the final confirmation vote for Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee to become the next attorney.

And Andy Puzder, Trump’s pick for labor secretary, does not even have a hearing date set because he has yet to submit the required paperwork.

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice to head the State Department, was originally thought to have the toughest road to confirmation after Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio questioned his readiness for the job. But Tillerson is now one of the four Trump cabinet members who has been confirmed, along with the vital non-cabinet positions of CIA Director Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Though no president in decades has had all of his initial cabinet picks approved, Trump has started his new administration with fewer nominees in place than any president in three decades. President Barack Obama’s administration had 11 new cabinet nominees sworn in by Feb. 2, 2009, President George W. Bush had seven on inauguration day, and President Bill Clinton had more than ten members by his second day in the White House.

Here’s where the confirmation process stands:

Education nominee Betsy DeVos: Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday announced they would not support DeVos in the final confirmation vote. With full Democratic opposition, that means the vote currently stands at a 50-50 tie, giving Vice President Mike Pence the deciding vote. A cabinet nomination has never before required a tie-breaking vote from the vice president, according to Senate historians. The White House remains confident DeVos will be confirmed, though if one Republican defects her nomination is essentially over. The close vote also means Sessions cannot be confirmed until after the DeVos vote, since his support will be critical to her passage.

A procedural vote on DeVos is expected Friday, with a final confirmation vote being held either either Monday or Tuesday of next week.

Labor nominee Andy Puzder: The food executive’s confirmation hearing has been delayed four times because he has yet to submit any of the paperwork required for cabinet nominees. “This fourth delay in his nomination hearing—without any sign of the required paperwork—only raises further questions,” Sen. Patty Murray, the highest ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, wrote.

Even before the missing paperwork, Puzder faced tough opposition from Democrats for alleged labor violations at CKE Restaurant Holdings Inc., the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s.

Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions: The Alabama senator was advanced out of committee in a straight party-line vote on Wednesday after strong Democratic opposition centered on Trump’s firing of the acting head of the Justice Department. A final Sessions vote is expected after the vote on DeVos.

Health nominee Tom Price: Price faced Democratic opposition during his confirmation hearings from senators concerned about his personal finances and investments in health care companies. Democrats boycotted the committee vote on Price, prompting Republicans to change the rules to advance his nomination.

Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin: Like Price, Democrats boycotted Mnuchin’s committee vote and asserted the nominee has failed to give the committee full information about his finances. And like Price, he advanced out of committee with a 14-0 vote with no Democrats present.

Housing nominee Ben Carson: The 2016 presidential nominee was approved in a committee vote and is awaiting a full vote in the Senate. He advanced with a voice vote and is expected to be easily confirmed.

Commerce nominee Wilbur Ross: The billionaire who made his fortune as a turnaround specialist easily passed out of committee last week and is awaiting a full Senate vote.

Energy nominee Rick Perry: The former Texas governor and two-time presidential candidatepassed through committee with 16-7 vote. He is expected to comfortably pass a full confirmation vote to head the department he once advocated for eliminating.

Interior nominee Ryan Zinke: The Montana senator advanced out of committee with some Democratic support and is expected to be confirmed.

Veterans Affairs nominee David Shulkin: The undersecretary for health at the VA had a committee meeting on Wednesday and is awaiting a committee vote.

Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue: The two-term Georgia governor was Trump’s last cabinet selection and is awaiting a committee hearing. He is well known on Capitol Hill and his cousin is a U.S. senator representing Georgia.


Jan. 20:

  • Secretary ofDefense James Mattis
  • Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security John Kelly

Jan. 31:

  • Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao

Feb. 1:

  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson