Senate Blocks Trump Recess Appointments; Funding Battle in Fall

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By Nancy Ognanovich

The Senate moved to block President Donald Trump from making key appointments during its summer recess, after wrapping up action until September by confirming dozens of presidential nominees.

The Senate will hold nine “pro forma” sessions during its August recess, which would prevent the president from replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and officials in other positions without confirmation.

Before departing for their home states, lawmakers also passed a bill to continue the Food and Drug Administration’s oversight of drugs and medical devices, and confirmed dozens of Trump’s nominees for top federal positions.

Confirmation of those nominees—particularly a series of deputy secretaries—clears the deck for lawmakers to tend to other matters when they return Sept. 5.

The Senate still has a long list of unfinished business, including work on critical bills to cover federal spending, flood insurance programs and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as a plan to avoid defaulting on federal debt. Current federal government funds expire Sept. 30.

A deal between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) permitted the Senate to approve an initial batch of 65 Trump nominees who had been reported from committee as early as spring.

“The Senate has confirmed more executive branch nominees this week than all of the executive branch nominees confirmed this year—combined,” McConnell said.

FDA Bill, Nominations Passed

Passage of the FDA bill (H.R. 2430) was a top priority for McConnell as the agency’s authorization was due to expire Sept. 30. Action on the measure prevents any layoffs during the break. It was approved on a 94-1 vote.

But the Senate left until September action on bills to prevent similar disruptions at the FAA and the National Flood Insurance Program, whose authorizations expire at month’s end.

Instead, McConnell was able to move many nominees in the run-up to the recess, beginning with Christopher Wray to serve as FBI director and many top nominees at the Pentagon. Another focus was to finish confirming deputy secretaries, who often run the agencies on a day-to-day basis.

In one of the few roll call votes Aug. 3, the Senate confirmed Dan Brouillette to be deputy secretary of Energy. He was approved on a 79-17 vote.

After that, McConnell was able to confirm dozens of others without a vote. Under a unanimous consent agreement worked out with Schumer, the Senate approved six nominees for Veterans Affairs, including Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman. Also approved was Small Business Administration Deputy Secretary Althea Coetzee.

The package also included:

  •  18 officials for State;
  •  seven at the Transportation Department;
  •  six at the Justice Department;
  •  six at Commerce and Housing and Urban Development;
  •  three for Homeland Security;
  •  two for Housing and Urban Development; and
  •  many others throughout the government.
McConnell said he was particularly pleased that five top nominees at the Treasury Department were confirmed, including David Malpass to be an undersecretary, Brent McIntosh to be general counsel, Andrew Maloney to be deputy under secretary, and David Kautter and Christopher Campbell to be assistant secretaries. McConnell said they will be important to have on board as the effort to overhaul the tax code ramps up in the fall.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at nognanov@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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