- - Thursday, May 25, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Trump administration is coming together slowly, with many important positions still without bodies after almost six months gone by since the inauguration, and the pace is not likely to quicken soon. The Democrats have no interest in helping, since the bureaucracy is mostly staffed with Democrats. Without strong Republican leadership in place at the top the mice can play and wreak partisan mischief.

So far President Trump has sent over 94 key nominees, and the Senate has confirmed only 35. More than 550 positions require Senate confirmation.

At this point of the calendar in Barack Obama’s first term, the Senate, then controlled by Democrats, had confirmed 130 of 219 nominees. At the same point in George W. Bush’s first term 60 of 177 nominations had been confirmed, and 101 of 201 nominees of Bill Clinton were approved.

The Republicans in the Senate, which they control, are grumbling that they need more work. When a U.S. senator complains that he doesn’t have enough to do, that may be historic. “There’s some discussion about going ahead and putting in temporary [appointments] and just running it with the guys you stick in there as an acting position,” Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a member of the Armed Services and Environment and Public Works committees, tells the Hill, the Capitol Hill daily.

“We need to get more names up here so we can work on them,” says Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the party whip and second-ranking in the Republican leadership. “We need to pick up the pace,” says Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking in the party leadership.

Mr. Inhofe thinks temporaries at the top might be more willing to put the Trump agenda in place. Some of the permanent nominees, many of whom are chosen to get them through the Senate, might be timid, fearful and intimidated by the permanent bureaucracy dedicated to the status quo.

Temporary appointees could, under U.S. law, serve without Senate approval for 210 days, and under certain circumstances, 420 days. Some senators, who themselves put personal survival above all else, complain that the president and his administration are to blame because they spend so much time “putting out fires and fighting with the hostile press and media and haven’t concentrated on governing.

The White House, with its own shortage of experienced hands, has taken its time sending the names of the nominees through the Office of Government Ethics.

“We’re not getting the mid-level nominees,” Mr. Inhofe tells The Hill newspaper. “That’s really what we need to be getting, to run through the system.

The slowdown in the Senate is largely the work of Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, who has promised to do what he can to strangle the new administration. And he has done at lot. An average of 41 days has been required to confirm Trump nominees, nine days longer than for the Obama nominees, according to a running tally kept by The Washington Post. Mr. Schumer has forced 23 votes to end filibusters of some of the nominees. Such votes, even if unsuccessful, consume work days. The stall is the name of the Schumer game.

Such a stall delayed a vote on the nomination of Dan Coats as director of national intelligence, though he retired from the Senate to take the position and was widely respected by his friends, such as friendship is measured in Washington. Nevertheless, a vote was required to end “debate” on the nomination of Terry Branstad, the governor of Iowa, as ambassador to China. When the vote was finally taken he was confirmed by a vote of 82 to 13. Molasses works.

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