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Transition Troubles: Why Trump Is Behind On His Appointments
01/04/2017 Cabinet Positions Andrew S
keywords: Cabinet

Transitioning between presidents is never easy, but some transfers happen more smoothly than others. President-Elect Donald Trump has been slow to nominate Federal officials, raising concerns that he may have trouble establishing himself as President.

Neglected Nominations

The President of the United States must appoint roughly 4,000 ambassadors, secretaries, agency directors, and other Federal officials. Of these, more than a thousand must receive Senate confirmation, and all must be vetted for conflicts of interest and other issues that could compromise their performance. Vetting is a complex process that takes hours or days for those with even minor assets; for CEOs and others with large financial holdings, it takes weeks or even months.

To get a jump on this difficult task, most presidents-elect try to have a hundred Senate-approved nominees by the time they take office. Trump, however, has only named about a dozen senior nominees. Moreover, many of his nominees are CEOs and business owners with enormous assets, meaning it will take weeks to vet them properly. As a result, Trump is unlikely to have more than a dozen Senate-approved nominees by inauguration day.

Political Prospects

Trump’s slow pace of vetting and nominations may undermine his agenda in a number of ways. First, Democrats in the Senate can use concerns over the nominees’ qualifications to weaken Trump. Democratic leaders have promised not to confirm any nominee who does not pass an FBI background check, sign an ethics agreement, and disclose all their finances. With 48 seats in their caucus, Democrats only need to win over 3 Republican Senators to prevent confirmation entirely. Even if Republicans remain unified, the Democrats can slow down the confirmation process, preventing the Senate from passing legislation.

Second, failing to vet nominees ahead of time may create serious complications down the road. Many Federal offices require appointees to give up stock options and other holdings that create conflicts of interest, and nominees often refuse to do so and step down. This is particularly likely to happen for many of the wealthy candidates Trump has chosen. If a nominee turns the job down during vetting, it will embarrass the President while leaving the position vacant.

Finally, failing to appoint on time will make it difficult for Trump to govern. To carry out his agenda, the president must have qualified civil servants who share his vision and know how to enact it. Without that, it will be very difficult for him to enact his goal of “draining the swamp” and radically changing American government.

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