Senators, the nominees are ready for your approval.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Waiting for 2015's First Confirmation

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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Is the Republican Senate finally starting to take care of business? Two cabinet nominees, Loretta Lynch for attorney general and Ashton Carter for defense secretary, have had their Senate committee hearings, and will now move to final confirmation.

It’s about time someone gets confirmed. So far we have a goose egg: “There have been no civilian nominations confirmed by the Senate during the current session.” Yes, it’s early -- a bit more than a month into the new Congress -- but not too early to pay attention to what our legislators are up to.

Compare now with 2007, after Democrats won a new Senate majority during the seventh year of George W. Bush’s presidency.

By Feb. 5, 2007, the Senate had already confirmed five of Bush’s federal district court nominees. By the end of the month, it had approved two more district court selections and one appeals-court nominee.  

Also by Feb. 5 of that year, the Democratic Senate had confirmed three nominees for minor executive-branch posts. It would confirm an important one, Mike McConnell as new director of national intelligence, on Feb. 7.  McConnell had been nominated on Jan. 5, so the Senate was moving fairly rapidly. Yet it's going to take a little longer for this Senate to confirm Lynch and Carter, who are both holdover nominees from the previous Congress.  

True, the comparison only goes so far. Rapid action at the close of the last Congress in 2014 left a relatively small group of judicial nominees still in the pipeline. Still, the White House lists 60 nominations (judges and executive-branch selections) sent over in early January, most of them rolled over from the previous Congress. None have been confirmed yet. 

I’ll defend Republicans if they choose to target some judicial nominees they feel are beyond the mainstream. I'll defend senators from either party who use executive-branch nominations to bargain with the administration over specific policies affecting their states. But it’s important for the government to function smoothly, and that means filling vacancies. And with the executive branch especially, the president has traditionally been entitled to name the people he wants, barring unusual circumstances.

Six executive-branch nominees have cleared committee and are ready for the full Senate to act. Carter and Lynch should join them soon. Let's get going. 

  1. Republicans objected to confirming them in the lame-duck session, and Democrats agreed to the delay. Under the rules of that Congress, Democrats would have had the votes to defeat a filibuster, but even a defeated filibuster on cabinet-level posts would have chewed up a lot of Senate floor time that could be used to confirm several lower-level nominations.

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