Trump Team Bare-Bones as Senate Nomination Work Trudges On

By Nancy Ognanovich

Almost two months after Inauguration Day, President Donald Trump’s administration is a bare-bones operation, with only a small slice of even top-tier jobs filled so far.

While most—but not all—of Trump’s Cabinet picks are at work after confirmation, the president has forwarded relatively few names for other top posts to the Senate. And many of those still are waiting for their formal hearings weeks after being nominated.

Senate Democrats endured heavy criticism for stretching out debates on some of Trump’s most controversial picks, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, amid ethical concerns. But ultimately they and all the others reported by committee were confirmed. Now attention is turning to the White House and to Senate Republicans for the slow pace in advancing the next members of Trump’s team, including the deputy secretaries that handle day-to-day operations at the agencies.

Trump formally nominated and the Senate quickly confirmed many members of the new president’s national security team after the Jan. 20 inauguration. But the president’s ability to develop his policy agenda is said to be hampered by the slow pace in filling many top posts at departments overseeing domestic programs.

After the Senate confirmed Rick Perry to serve as Energy Secretary on March 2, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) turned his attention back to processing regulatory bills. The nomination of Sonny Perdue to serve as Agriculture secretary still hasn’t been officially received by the Senate, even though Trump announced his choice in January. Meanwhile, the Senate still is waiting for Trump to transmit the nomination of Alexander Acosta, who Trump chose to head the Labor Department after Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination in mid-February amid a host of controversies.

The lone name on the Senate’s Executive Calendar ready for McConnell to pick up and schedule for floor action is Seema Verma, reported March 2 to the floor by the Finance Committee. Verma is Trump’s pick to be the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Perdue, Acosta Delayed

During the week of Feb. 27, the Senate confirmed four of Trump’s Cabinet picks in four days under a deal negotiated by McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). Those actions brought to 18 the number of Trump’s top picks, most of them Cabinet officers, confirmed since the inauguration.

Easily confirmed besides Perry were Wilbur Ross at Commerce, Ryan Zinke at Interior and Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development.

Trump still criticized Democrats via Twitter in early March 3. “It is so pathetic that the Dems have still not approved my full Cabinet,“ Trump said.

However, McConnell won’t be able to schedule more votes until the White House officially sends the nominations of Perdue and Acosta and the relevant committees hold hearings and report them to the floor.

“After the votes taken earlier this afternoon, the U.S. Senate has now confirmed all of the available Cabinet nominations,“ Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in his own March 2 tweet.

Minus official paperwork, neither the Agriculture Committee nor the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has gone ahead and scheduled hearings for Trump’s picks, spokeswomen at both panels told Bloomberg BNA.

“We can’t make any predictions. It’s not in our hands,“ said a spokeswoman for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

The White House acknowledged that the materials required for Perdue, who Trump announced was his choice for Agriculture on Jan. 18, haven’t been completed.

“Paperwork in backlog because others in front of him. No hold ups. Expecting package to be delivered to [c]ommittee within a week,“ a White House aide said via email.

A similar situation is at work with the Acosta nomination. He is the former U.S. attorney who Trump said he would nominate to head Labor after Puzder dropped out. While Acosta continues meeting one-on-one with senators, he still is working on meeting the requirements of the independent Office of Government Ethics, a spokeswoman said.

18 Nominees in Committee

Some of the same issues are said holding up work on the small group of Trump’s other nominees now in committee. In all, there are currently 18 other nominees awaiting committee votes before they can be taken up on the floor.

But those numbers—combined with the 18 already confirmed—amount to a small fraction of the more than 600 positions that require Senate confirmation.

Affected by the slow pace is Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s choice to be the U.S. trade representative, who hasn’t had a hearing at the Finance Committee. He was nominated Jan. 20.

Also delayed is action on the deputy secretaries at the federal agencies. So far, the Senate hasn’t considered any of them, and only two are pending in committee.

That includes Todd Ricketts, Trump’s nominee to be the deputy to Ross at Commerce. He was nominated Jan. 20 but still isn’t scheduled for a hearing.

“We have his completed questionnaire but not everything else yet,“ a spokeswoman for the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee said, declining to say when a hearing or vote will occur.

Elaine Duke, Trump’s nominee to be deputy secretary of Homeland Security, is moving faster. Her nomination was received Feb. 8 and she is scheduled for a hearing on March 8.

Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing March 7 on top Justice Department nominees Trump sent Feb. 1. A March 7 hearing is planned on Rod Rosenstein to serve as the deputy attorney general and Rachel Brand to serve as associate AG. The hearing will occur amid allegations that Sessions lied to the panel during his own nomination hearing about his contact with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. Sessions announced he would recuse himself while the matter is investigated.

The Senate is expected to expedite the nomination of Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who Trump nominated to serve as Trump’s director of national intelligence. The Select Committee on Intelligence had a hearing on Coats’s nomination Feb. 28 and is expected to report it to the floor soon. He said he will help the panel investigate whether Russia interfered in the U.S. election.

McConnell, meanwhile, is clearing the decks for the Senate to be able to consider the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court before the Senate departs for a two-week break April 7. Hearings on his nomination are scheduled for the week of March 20.

Twenty-Three Nominees Withdrawn

The official list of nominees withdrawn is growing faster than the list of those pending, however. Besides Puzder, there are 22 others whose nominations have been withdrawn. But it doesn’t include that of Vincent Viola, who said he will drop out of consideration to be Army secretary.

Among those withdrawn are many nominees put forward by President Barack Obama at the end of his term. They include nominees to serve as inspectors general at the Defense Department, the National Security Agency, the Office of Personnel Management and the Social Security Administration.

Many of the other nominees recently withdrawn are said to reflect an effort to circumvent long-standing Senate traditions calling for both Republicans and Democrats to be appointed to five-member boards at independent regulatory agencies. Recently, the White House withdrew two nominations at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and a nominee to the Export-Import Bank.

Democrats said they will fight Trump’s efforts to eliminate the party’s representation on the boards.

“We intend to assert our prerogative on nominees as has always been done,” a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “The administration has always deferred to congressional leaders and we fully expect that to continue.“

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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