For a while, Donald Trump argued that many of the vacancies in key posts throughout his administration were part of a deliberate strategy. “[I]n many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs,” the president said in February. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have…. Many of those jobs, I don’t want to fill.”
By April, Trump decided to take the opposite position, saying the problem has “nothing to do with” him and everything to do with Democratic “obstructionists” in the Senate.
The Republican president, apparently referencing something he saw on Fox News, continued to push this line earlier today:
“Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals.”
We may need to consider the possibility that Trump doesn’t know what “obstructionist” means.
I appreciate the fact that the amateur president is new to government, and may not fully grasp how the process works, but the details aren’t especially complicated:
1. Democrats are in the minority, and don’t control the Senate calendar.
2. Filibusters on executive-branch nominees have been eliminated. Senate Dems can slow the process down a bit when they want to, delaying votes by a couple of weeks in some instances, but they don’t have the power to block any of Trump’s nominees on their own. It’s simply not possible as a procedural matter.
3. In order for nominees to be confirmed, they have to be sent. Of the 559 key positions in the administration requiring Senate confirmation, Trump has not yet nominated anyone for 442 of the posts. This is especially true when it comes to ambassadors: for the vast majority of these diplomatic positions, the White House hasn’t yet nominated anyone. Josh Barro noted that only five countries currently have U.S. nominees awaiting Senate confirmation: Bahamas, Ethiopia, Holy See, Japan, and New Zealand (and the Vatican doesn’t really count as a country, per se).
All of this is of particular interest right now because there is no current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, which affects our response to the two recent British terrorist attacks. Trump chose Woody Johnson for the post months ago, but the administration never formally nominated Johnson, so the Senate hasn’t been able to even consider acting.
Trump apparently wants to blame Democrats for this. Even by his standards, that’s completely bonkers.