Let's hope Republicans use the new year to get moving on Trump's nominees

Let's hope Republicans use the new year to get moving on Trump's nominees
© Getty

The Republican-led Senate is stumbling out of 2017. Not with T.S. Eliot’s proverbial whimper, but with the breathless gasps of one unfamiliar with exerting any effort.

After a year that began with the promise of unified government control, this GOP-led Congress can only claim one credible legislative achievement — the first significant tax overhaul in 30 years.

However, Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic challenger to Joni Ernst releases ad depicting her as firing gun at him Senate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days The case for censuring, and not impeaching, Donald Trump MORE (R-Ky.) is also touting the Senate’s work on judicial nominations, bragging recently that his Senate has confirmed 12 circuit court judges, the most in any president’s first year.


While this is an accomplishment, to be sure, McConnell and Senate Republicans are claiming more credit than they actually deserve.


First, though the judges are (eventually) being confirmed, McConnell is still being pushed around by Democrat demands to run the full 30 hours post-cloture on each nomination. I’ve written in depth about that process — and how McConnell could overcome it — here.

Why hasn’t McConnell played hardball? Probably because it would make his conference work more than 2.5 days a week.

Second, while judges are important, the president has far more non-judicial nominees stacked in the queue. On that front, McConnell is doing almost nothing to confirm the high-ranking agency nominees that are actually needed to run the government.

McConnell can’t take all the blame. It turns out that his colleagues are just as invested in ensuring that the president doesn’t get his personnel. Sens. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSenate passes bipartisan bill to permanently fund historically black colleges Senate roundtable showcases importance and needs of women entrepreneurs Donald Trump does not understand manufacturing MORE (R-S.C.) and Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsSenate confirms eight Trump court picks in three days Senate approves stopgap bill to prevent shutdown Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars MORE (R-S.D.) recently helped defeat Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettBiz groups take victory lap on Ex-Im Bank Export-Import Bank back to full strength after Senate confirmations Manufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank MORE, Trump’s conservative nominee for the Export-Import Bank. This is the first time a majority has defeated one of its president’s nominees in committee since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGiffords, Demand Justice to pressure GOP senators to reject Trump judicial pick Push to investigate Bidens sets up potential for Senate turf war Pressure grows on House GOP leaders to hold line ahead of impeachment trial MORE (R-Texas) has a vice-grip on the nomination of Russ Vought to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Cornyn is conditioning his support of Vought on the White House agreeing to give him billions more in “emergency” funding. (Quotations used because the request is largely for future mitigation — not immediate relief.)

Pat Pizzella, Trump’s nominee as deputy secretary of Labor, formerly worked for Steven Law, who runs McConnell’s political action committee, and Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoLobbying world Democratic chairman presses Transportation secretary over transparency in Boeing 737 Max probe Lawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show MORE, McConnell’s wife. And still, Pizzella couldn’t even get members to show up for his confirmation hearing. He is still awaiting a final floor vote.

If these high level, non-judicial nominees aren’t being confirmed, then who is?

Ambassadors to countries such as Monaco, Cameroon and Denmark. Low-level legal advisors, general counsels, assistant administrators and undersecretaries for marketing and regulatory programs. 

These positions are important, but not critical to a fully functioning government, and certainly not worth prioritizing over deputy cabinet officials like Russ Vought and Pat Pizzella.

More concerning is the fact that poor nominees are being given Senate consideration while well-qualified conservatives are waiting in the wings.

McConnell recently sought unanimous consent to confirm three nominees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — two Republicans, paired with one Democrat.

Chai Feldblum, the Democrat and Obama-era appointee, opposes background checks on any employees, including at daycares and nursing homes. She continues to advance an argument, long rejected by the courts, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects gays and lesbians from employment discrimination. She has also stated that, in situations where religious liberty and sexual liberty are in conflict, sexual liberty should win.

The frustration among conservatives is heightened because, for most of the year, McConnell confirmed barely any nominees, judicial or otherwise. He only began confirming judges at a more rapid pace after bowing to pressure from conservatives and the president.

As the Senate leaves for the year, approximately 500 of the president’s nominees still await confirmation — and all must be renominated at the beginning of 2018.

Congress has a full plate when they return in January. But instead of voting to bail out health insurance companies or provide amnesty to illegal immigrants, perhaps McConnell should utilize the Senate floor to confirm the qualified conservative appointees who have been patiently waiting all year for the Senate to do its work.

Rachel Bovard (@RachelBovard) is the senior director of policy for The Conservative Partnership, a nonprofit group headed by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint aimed at promoting limited government.