When the Senate confirmed the nomination of Elaine Duke on Tuesday for deputy secretary of homeland security, it marked a rare success for President Trump at getting his top people installed in the hundreds of vacant posts waiting to be filled across the federal government.
Mr. Trump still has three of his Cabinet posts unfilled, and he is lagging far behind the pace of President Obama in filling other senior positions at the Pentagon, Justice Department, State Department and other agencies.
The president has blasted Senate Democrats for slowing down the confirmation process, and Democrats have dragged their feet in many cases. But Mr. Trump has been slower than his predecessors in sending nominations to the Senate.
As of Sunday, Mr. Trump had submitted nominations to the Senate for 74 civilians to various posts, including Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Courtney Elwood for general counsel of the CIA. But 24 of those nominations have been withdrawn, leaving 50. The Senate has confirmed 26 of them.
By the same point in 2009, Mr. Obama had nominated 130 civilians for Senate-confirmable positions and 40 had been confirmed, according to Senate records.
In 2001, President George W. Bush had submitted 275 nominations by March 31, of which only 27 had been confirmed by the Senate.
By the end of March, the Trump administration had submitted 53 percent fewer nominations than the average of previous administrations, according to the White House Transition Project, which is funded by the Moody Foundation in cooperation with Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Confirmations are running 35 percent behind the average of previous administrations.
It means the Trump administration is more than three weeks behind previous administrations in getting its key people installed to carry out the president’s agenda.
The project said vetting of candidates by the executive branch is running more than two weeks behind the average of previous administrations.
Mr. Trump also has submitted less than half as many military nominations for promotions in the armed service branches as did Mr. Obama in the same time frame.
Some observers view the president’s slower pace of nominations as a result of his “outsider” status when he arrived in Washington.
“A traditional politician has an army of people who have experienced battles together and know each other and like and hate each other but all have connections,” said presidential historian and author Doug Wead. “They can help vet personnel. So, is this a handicap? Yes. But this is the price we pay for getting someone outside of the corrupt system, someone who will overthrow the tables and break the dishes.”
The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment about the reasons for Mr. Trump’s slower pace of nominations. White House officials have said that delays in the confirmation of Cabinet secretaries have led, in turn, to delays in department heads’ hirings of deputy secretaries, undersecretaries and others.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer noted last week that many Democratic lawmakers “made hay” several years ago with a comment by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, that he wanted to make Mr. Obama a one-term president.
“I’ve seen a similar tactic from Democrats now about how they want to defeat him, they want to stop his agenda,” Mr. Spicer said. “And there’s no sense of them wanting to work with this president. I think we have shown a willingness to bring them together.”
Senate Democrats have delayed confirmation votes for several of Mr. Trump’s nominees, such as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Trump is still awaiting confirmation for Cabinet-level positions for agriculture secretary (Sonny Perdue), U.S. trade representative (Robert Lighthizer) and labor secretary (Alex Acosta, nominated after Andrew Puzder withdrew).
By contrast, President George W. Bush had his full Cabinet confirmed by the first week of February 2001. Mr. Obama’s final Cabinet nominee was confirmed on his 10th week in office.
In addition to Mr. Puzder’s failed nomination, two other Trump nominees have backed out. Vincent Viola withdrew from consideration for secretary of the Army, and Philip Bilden pulled out as nominee for secretary of the Navy, both because of business entanglements.
Mr. Mattis, who has 52 appointed positions to fill at the Pentagon, also has clashed with the White House over potential appointees. The defense secretary last month withdrew the name of retired diplomat Anne Patterson as his choice for undersecretary for policy after the White House balked at looming opposition in the Senate. Two Republican lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, opposed her nomination because she served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt when the Obama administration supported an elected government with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the State Department, former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams was rejected by Mr. Trump for the No. 2 post after the president learned that Mr. Abrams had criticized him during the campaign.
More than 480 other senior positions remain without nominations, including deputy secretaries to undersecretaries whose duties normally include greater responsibility for day-to-day operations in the federal bureaucracy. Overall, Mr. Trump has about 1,900 vacancies still to fill with political appointees, most of which do not require Senate confirmation.
In so-called critical government leadership positions, Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans have completed only about 9 percent of the total “necessary to ‘stand up’ the government” as of March 31, the White House Transition Project said.
“The Trump nominations for these time-sensitive positions (at 33) falls considerably below the expectation (53), while the Senate majority has confirmed a bit more than half of the Trump administration’s nominees (19) while in the typical experience, previous Senates would have confirmed more than double that number or three-quarters of the administration’s nominees (40 of 53),” the group said. “The current pace of nominations and confirmations continues to put the Trump administration more than 50 percent behind the average pace for filling these critical jobs.”