Obama Finally Getting His Act Together on Nominations

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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It seems President Barack Obama is finally getting the hang of an important part of his job: nominations. He's moved (fairly) promptly during his second term to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board, including three new nominations today.

This is a major contrast to his first-term lack of urgency on Fed vacancies, which may have had serious policy consequences. And it wasn't just the Fed. Throughout his first term, Obama was far too slow to submit nominations for both executive branch and judicial openings. Yes, unprecedented Republican obstruction in the Senate was part of it (that will be less of a factor now that a simple majority is needed to defeat Republican filibusters). But in many cases there was no good excuse for White House inaction.

Today's Fed nominations are, well, better. New Fed vice-chairman Stanley Fischer will, if confirmed, replace the new chairman, Janet Yellen, who was confirmed earlier this week by the Senate. Jerome Powell has been nominated for a second term a few weeks before his current one expires. And Lael Brainard (Woo! Wesleyan and theCollege of Social Studies -- I was two years behind her in the program) has been picked to fill a seat vacant since August.

Obama still hasn't announced a replacement for board member Sarah Bloom Raskin, whom he nominated to become Deputy Treasury Secretary back in July. Still, it's a big improvement.

Remember, filibuster reform only helps Obama if Democrats retain their Senate majority. If Republicans win big in November, Obama can expect nothing but foot-dragging (or outright rejection) for most of his nominees until his term ends. There's not much he can do about the midterm elections, but he certainly can work hard to have as many posts as possible filled early this year. That means making nominations promptly, and keeping pressure on the Senate to confirm them. A good start would be announcing a nominee for that final Fed vacancy in the next few weeks.

As someone who has hit Obama hard and repeatedly over this issue, I do want to note that he's getting better. And it's about time.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net