“This is our first Cabinet meeting with the entire Cabinet present. The confirmation process has been record-setting long — and I mean record-setting long — with some of the finest people in our country being delayed and delayed and delayed.”
— President Trump, remarks at Cabinet meeting, June 12, 2017
President Trump made a number of dubious claims when speaking to the media at a photo opportunity with his Cabinet, many of which we have covered before. For instance, he claimed he has accomplished more than any president at this point in time, with the possible exception of Franklin D. Roosevelt. We had earlier knocked him for suggesting he had bested FDR — perhaps he read our fact check — but he still has no major legislative achievement under his watch. He also once again claimed he had scored $350 billion in business deals in Saudi Arabia, a claim that falls apart under scrutiny.
But let’s not dwell on the negative. Here is something he said that’s correct.
Trump’s full Cabinet was filled on April 27. Technically, that’s one day sooner than Barack Obama in 2009. But that’s largely because Obama had to start over for two Cabinet posts, including two misfires for secretary of commerce.
What’s more interesting is that the median wait between nomination and Senate vote for Trump was 25 days, according to data collected by our colleagues Kevin Schaul and Kevin Uhrmacher. By contrast, Obama’s nominees faced a median wait of two days, George W. Bush had a median wait of zero days and Bill Clinton had a median wait of 1 day.
Those presidents were blessed with Senate control by their own party. George H.W. Bush, by contrast, faced a Senate run by Democrats — and his nominees faced a median wait of 13 days.
Trump, of course, also has a Senate controlled by his party. But he also nominated many very wealthy nominees with highly complex financial portfolios, leading the federal ethics watchdog to warn it could take months to probe some of the wealthier picks. Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, said in a letter on Jan. 6 that the incoming Trump administration had failed to follow the standard procedure and “preclear” nominees with the ethics office before nomination, thus leading to a delay in confirmation hearings. (Note: OGE says it completed its work on nominees’ financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements faster during this transition than during the last transition.)
But the Senate is also operating now in the post-“nuclear option” world. On Nov. 21, 2013, Senate Democrats changed the rules to allow nominations to proceed to a vote if a vote to end by debate passes with majority vote, rather than the previous standard of three-fifths of the Senate (60 votes.) While that change meant many previously stalled nominees would finally have a confirmation vote, that still doesn’t prevent the minority party from gumming up the works with arcane procedural delays.
Here’s a striking statistic: Fourteen of Trump’s Cabinet nominees faced a vote to end debate (known as a cloture motion), even though six ultimately achieved 60 or more votes. (Five nominees — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt — were confirmed with 52 or fewer votes, indicating they were controversial nominations.)
By contrast, only seven of Obama’s nominees over eight years faced a cloture vote. Three of those votes came after the Senate rules were changed in 2013.
George W. Bush’s nominees only faced three cloture votes, one of which failed — the nomination of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations. The only other Cabinet nominee who faced a cloture vote was Commerce Secretary C. William Verity in 1987, when Ronald Reagan was president.
In other words, 14 of Trump’s Cabinet nominees faced a cloture vote, compared to 11 for all previous presidents combined. (There were four instances, two under Obama and two under Bush, when a cloture vote was threatened but ultimately withdrawn.)
It is noteworthy that the cloture votes during previous presidencies all took place during the president’s second term. There was presumption in the Senate of letting a new president get his first-term team in place quickly that apparently has gone by the wayside.
The Pinocchio Test
We are not going to be nit-picky about the fact that Obama’s Cabinet took one more day to get in place than Trump’s Cabinet. Clearly, the delays faced by Trump’s Cabinet are historically long. Some of the delay may be due to the administration’s own handling of ethical vetting procedures, as well as his proclivity to name controversial choices. But Trump also faced unusually sustained opposition for a new president, including cloture votes demanded for 14 of his choices.