It’s February and the Biden Administration is assiduously attempting to to build it’s Executive Cabinet. Tom Vilsack was recently confirmed and sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris, Merrick Garland is facing the Senate in his confirmation process for Attorney General, and Neera Tanden’s nomination to Director of the Office of Management and Budget is very close to being lost. So far, Biden has 7 confirmed appointees. At this time in 2017 Trump had 9, and in 2009 Obama had 12.
When looking at the historical trends we see a growing polarization. The nominations of the cabinets of Bush and Clinton, for example, show very little opposition but the gap only widens from there. While, in theory, testing and debating whether a nominee is qualified is undoubtedly a good, the whole of the previous administration showed how very important it was to prevent, or at the very least highlight, how completely unsuited some nominees can be for their roles. It does impact the agenda of the incoming administration. Assuming of course future Presidential administrations don’t just ignore the Senate altogether and seat “Acting” Heads and never bother with confirmation, but that’s beside the point.
Confirmation votes are likely to be used as a political cudgel for or against any given Senator in a future election, sure. So I can see party whips pressuring individuals into going along to get along. But I think what bugs me is that the whole process inevitably falls into this false dichotomy. Ted Cruz confirmed Ben Carson, a surgeon, to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs but not 4 years later he’s grilling the Health and Human Services nominee, a former Congressmen and Attorney General, for not having a science background. Genuine opposition is just viewed as not being bipartisan and blatant partisan hackery is shrugged off with a “both sides”. So it goes.
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