Trump's pace only lags slightly behind that of former President Barack Obama
He's also already seeking replacements to candidates who have withdrawn
The administration of President Donald Trump remains largely unfilled four weeks into his presidency, with just 34 of nearly 700 key Senate-confirmed positions even having a candidate announced.
According to data from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service hosted by The Washington Post, Trump has 14 officials confirmed by the Senate and 20 others are awaiting a vote, out of 696 top leadership positions in the administration.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was the most recent, confirmed on Friday over Democratic opposition in the Senate.
Trump’s pace only lags slightly behind that of former President Barack Obama, at least in terms of selections. By February 17, 2009, Obama had nominated 38 members of his team. He added six more by the end of February.
Obama did have more nominees confirmed, however. Twenty-six members of Obama’s team had been confirmed by this date in 2009, a dozen more than Trump. Like the President, Obama’s party was in charge of the Senate at the time.
Trump has named every Cabinet and Cabinet-level official, as well as a handful of deputies and ambassadors. Obama had not named any ambassadors but had many agencies’ deputies selected and several board positions filled, including at the Federal Reserve, Council of Economic Advisers and the Council on Environmental Quality.
Unlike Obama, Trump also had a Supreme Court vacancy at the beginning of his term. He nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch, whose hearings are scheduled for next month.
But as Trump continues to search for more names to fill out his nascent administration, he’s also already seeking replacements.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn – a position that doesn’t require confirmation – was forced to resign this week after admitting that he misled Vice President Mike Pence on whether he discussed sanctions with Russian counterparts before the inauguration. Flynn is not expected to face charges but was asked to step down after losing the President’s trust.
Meanwhile, the former top candidate to replace Flynn, retired Vice Adm. Bob Harward, turned down the position. Harward and the White House cited family reasons, though sources close to Harward told CNN he was concerned about chaos at the White House and that he would not be able to select his own team.
Trump has already named a replacement to be secretary of labor after the first nominee, fast food executive Andrew Puzder, withdrew his nomination in the face Republican opposition. Florida International University School of Law Dean Alexander Acosta was named less than 24 hours after Puzder withdrew.
The nominee for secretary of the Army, Vincent Viola, also withdrew from consideration, citing trouble disengaging from his business ties. A replacement has yet to be named.
Trump also may have difficulty filling slots because of either concerns from Republicans who would otherwise serve a GOP administration and hard feelings from the Trump camp towards the DC establishment that fought him.
Some Republicans have quietly spoken of not wanting to take jobs in the administration, or of concern that they’re on blacklists for past criticism. Many were not fans of Trump during the campaign.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Elliott Abrams, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, was nixed by Trump for the No. 2 job at the State Department after he found out about criticism Abrams made of Trump during the campaign. Until then, he had been a leading contender for the still unfilled position.
After Harward’s withdrawal, Trump is renewing the search for a national security adviser, as retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg fills in the position for the interim.
Trump has blamed the slow pace of filling his Cabinet on Senate Democrats, who have used procedural measures to force the full length of time allowed for nearly all nominees, slowing down the process considerably.
Unable to stop any nominees without Republican support, given the move to a 51-vote threshold by former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid, two committees’ Democrats resorted to refusing to show up for a committee-level vote to deny a quorum, forcing Republicans to reconvene and pass the nominee by suspending the rules the following day.
“I think we’re setting a record or close to a record in the time of approval of a Cabinet,” Trump said during a wide-ranging press conference on Thursday. “I mean, the numbers are crazy. When I’m looking, some of them had them approved immediately. … That’s all they’re doing, is delaying. And you look at (Senate Minority Leader Chuck) Schumer and the mess that he’s got over there and they have nothing going. The only thing they can do is delay. And, you know, I think that they’d be better served by approving and making sure that they’re happy and everybody’s good.”
Democrats have countered that Trump’s nominees have had trouble getting their paperwork in and have instead blamed delays on the transition.