Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate

Biden's Cabinet gradually confirmed by Senate
© Getty Images

Almost a week after being sworn in, President BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE is seeing his Cabinet start to come together.

The Senate confirmed Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenFive things to watch as Biden heads to the UN Poll: Biden, Trump statistically tied in favorability Majority of voters disapprove of execution of Afghanistan withdrawal: poll MORE, one of Biden’s longtime advisers, as secretary of State in a 78-22 vote Tuesday, making him the president’s fourth nominee to be approved by the upper chamber. 

The Senate has also confirmed Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — White House plans extreme heat workplace standard McConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill Democrats aim to suspend debt limit with bill to avoid government shutdown MORE, Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Rocky US alliances as Biden heads to UN assembly Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol Capitol Police swear in state, local law enforcement ahead of 'Justice for J6' rally MORE and Director of National Intelligence Avril HainesAvril HainesCIA chief team member reported Havana syndrome symptoms during trip to India: report Republican requesting data, notes, emails in intelligence report on COVID-19 origins After messy Afghanistan withdrawal, questions remain MORE over the past six days in broad bipartisan votes.

But Biden is still missing permanent officials to helm the key departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as the CIA — let alone deputy positions across government that also need Senate-confirmed officials.

Historically, presidents have seen their senior team confirmed more quickly than Biden. Former Presidents George W. Bush, Obama and Trump each had multiple secretaries confirmed on the day of their inauguration, while Biden had just one, Haines, who was confirmed last Wednesday evening.

“It’s lagging if you go back to the three previous administrations,” said Kathryn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks administration staffing and turnover rates.

The vacancies in Biden’s administration come at a time when the federal government is contending with multiple crises. Biden has installed acting officials across government in order to keep agencies running as the president waits for his personnel to be confirmed to permanent positions.

Tenpas said that there are some 4,000 political appointments across government, between 1,200 and 1,300 of which require Senate confirmation, meaning that Biden has been able to put many officials in place despite a lack of confirmed agency heads at this stage.

“There are Biden people in each of these departments now,” Tenpas said, but she noted that agencies are limited in what they can execute without a confirmed leader. “If there’s not a leader at the top, it’s harder to plan for the future.”  

Additional votes are expected in the coming days. The Senate Homeland Security Committee advanced the nomination of Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasHundreds of Haitians return to Mexico after expulsions from Texas begin A better way to reduce the backlog of asylum applications Biden administration prioritizing single adult Haitians, some families for deportation: report MORE for Homeland Security secretary on Tuesday despite a request by some Republicans to delay the nomination, meaning a full Senate vote on his nomination is likely later this week.

Former national security officials from Republican and Democratic administrations have called for Mayorkas’s swift confirmation, given the current security challenges facing the country.

Transportation Secretary nominee Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Blumenthal calls on Buttigieg to investigate American Airlines-JetBlue partnership LGBT film festival to premiere documentary about Pete Buttigieg MORE and Commerce Secretary nominee Gina RaimondoGina RaimondoThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden increases vaccine requirement for federal workers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats face headwinds on .5 trillion plan, debt ceiling White House rallies private industry in cyber battle MORE have sat for hearings, while Energy Secretary nominee Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmBiden administration launches new effort to help communities with energy transition Biden expresses confidence on climate in renewable energy visit Overnight Energy & Environment — Spotlight on solar MORE, Housing and Urban Development Secretary nominee Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeBiden administration launches new national initiative to fight homelessness Sanders goes back to 2016 playbook to sell .5T budget Activists detail legal fight against HUD for Philadelphia housing MORE, and Linda Thomas-GreenfieldLinda Thomas-GreenfieldBiden falters in pledge to strengthen US alliances Republicans press Biden administration to maintain sanctions against Taliban The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Biden travels west as Washington troubles mount MORE, nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, are each scheduled to appear before lawmakers this week.

The effort to install officials across government was likely impacted by the delay in ascertainment of Biden’s win by the General Services Administration (GSA) last year as Trump disputed the election results, experts say. The FBI began working with the incoming administration to process background checks after the GSA formally acknowledged Biden’s victory in late November, nearly three weeks after the election.
In some cases, the process is on hold over paperwork for nominees who were announced later than others. A Judiciary Committee aide said the panel is awaiting a response to paperwork from Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandTexas sues Biden administration over guidance on transgender worker rights Barr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event Grassley calls for federal prosecutor to probe botched FBI Nassar investigation MORE, Biden’s nominee for Attorney General, that was sent to him on Jan. 7, the day Biden announced he would be nominated.

A Senate Intelligence Committee aide similarly said lawmakers are awaiting paperwork from William BurnsWilliam BurnsCIA chief team member reported Havana syndrome symptoms during trip to India: report Overnight Hillicon Valley — Hacking goes global Rubio knocks CIA over consideration of TikTok presence MORE, Biden’s choice to helm CIA, and that a nomination hearing was likely to happen in early February. Biden announced Burns as his nominee for CIA director on Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, an aide to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions suggested that a hearing for Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all Biden administration announces federal support for patients, abortion providers in Texas Biden administration releases B in COVID-19 relief for providers MORE, Biden’s nominee to lead HHS, would not be scheduled until after the upper chamber came to an agreement on power-sharing in the 50-50 Senate.

“The committee is ready to go with an aggressive schedule of hearings once the Senate organizes, with nominations being a top priority,” the HELP committee aide said.

The organizing agreement had been held up as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE (R-Ky.) sought a protection for the legislative filibuster, though he relented Monday evening.

Until an agreement is reached, Republicans remain in control of the committees even though Democrats maintain a slim control of the chamber with Vice President Harris serving as a tie-breaking vote.

The nominations may move more quickly once Democrats assume control of various panels. While some of Biden’s nominees have received bipartisan support, others, including Becerra, have prompted pushback from Republicans.

In addition to balancing work on confirmations, the Senate is also poised to take up an impeachment trial for Trump in about two weeks which will take away time from work on Biden’s agenda. Biden is also negotiating with Congress over his $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell signals Senate GOP will oppose combined debt ceiling-funding bill Centrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary Biden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week MORE (D-N.Y.) has expressed confidence that the upper chamber can balance its work.

“As I have been saying all along, the Senate will deal with three things simultaneously: nominations — we’re working to confirm more nominees this week; a fair impeachment trial; and delivering emergency COVID relief,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Nathanial Weixel contributed reporting.