Two weeks into his administration, President Donald Trump has had only five of his cabinet nominees confirmed by the Senate.
Retired USMC Gen. John Kelly was confirmed by the Senate in an 88-11 vote as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security on Jan. 20, the same day President Trump was inaugurated. Compared to several nominees to come, Kelly was relatively uncontroversial, as attested to by his robust bipartisan seal of approval.
Retired USMC Gen. James Mattis was also confirmed by the Senate the same day in another bipartisan 98-1 vote as Secretary of Defense. Democrat Sen. Kirsten Giilibrand voted against him, as she did against Kelly. Since Mattis had not been “out of uniform for seven years,” he needed a waiver to serve. That waiver was quickly granted by Congress.
Nikki Haley was the next Trump nominee to be confirmed, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. A highly respected politician, she had served as senator and governor, but lacked any real foreign policy experience. Even so, Haley was confirmed by Senate 96-4 on Jan. 24.
Elaine Chao was confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 31 as Secretary of Transportation. Unlike many of Trump’s other cabinet nominees, Chao has previous White House experience, serving as Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush. Facing little opposition from Democrats, she was confirmed 93-6.
Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, was confirmed on Feb. 1, but it was a close call. He had been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 23. After the Senate voted to end a Democratic filibuster delaying a vote on Tillerson, the Senate confirmed him, 56-43. Most of the controversy surrounding Tillerson was over his business dealings with Russia. He faced criticism and scrutiny from Democrats and a few Republicans, most notably Sen Marco Rubio, who expressed doubt about him, but ultimately voted for him.
With just five Trump nominees confirmed as of this writing, the process has been unusually slow, especially compared to former President Obama’s nominees. Unfortunately, several disgruntled Democrat Senators have discarded their sworn duty to “advise and consent.” Instead, they prefer to block, delay, or outright boycott Senate committee hearings on Trump’s nominees for key Executive Department positions.
In order for Trump’s nominees to be confirmed by the full Senate, they must first appear before the relevant committee to testify on their views, and answer committee members' questions. After that, committee members cast their vote, for against the nominee. If the person is approved by a majority of the committee, the full Senate votes to confirm or reject their nomination.
Senate confirmation requires only a simple majority of 51 votes. Republicans currently hold 52 Senate seats so the process should be “smooth sailing” for Trump’s nominees.However, some of them, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, have tumbled into troubled waters.
Meanwhile, the bigger battle brewing between President Trump and the Senate is over his nominee for the Supreme Court. More on that later.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at email@example.com.