The Senate confirmed over five dozen of President Trump’s executive branch nominations on Thursday before breaking for August recess, more than doubling the number of the president’s picks in place to implement his agenda.
More than 1,200 of the 4,100 presidential appointees in the federal government are what constitutional law refers to as “principal officers”: senior administration officials that the president nominates but who cannot wield the powers of their office until they have been confirmed by the Senate. (The remaining majority of those 4,100 are “inferior officers,” which are either Schedule PA positions that are directly appointed by the president or Schedule C positions that are directly appointed by department heads or similar top officers.)
Ever since Senate Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” in 2014 to abolish filibusters for all presidential nominees except those to the Supreme Court, many assumed that confirmations for a new president’s senior administration officials would be a piece of cake if the president’s party also commanded a Senate majority.
Instead, the opposite proved true. Before this week’s flurry of activity, the Senate had approved only 50 of President Trump’s nominees, less than one-third of the average number from the past four presidential administrations at this point on the calendar after Inauguration Day.
The White House had grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of Senate confirmations. Although the pace of presidential nominations increased rapidly in recent months, Senate confirmations did not follow suit. Democrats demanded extensive vetting regarding personal finances and other issues of nominees, slowing the approval process.
They also demanded extended debate and discussion, including requiring cloture votes on some nominees, then taking up to the full 30 extra hours of debate permitted under Senate rules before allowing a final vote.