Dead End: American Senate Failure to approve President Biden’s Cabinet
By James Osolo
On 23rd November, two weeks after the election, President-elect Joe Biden announced his first nominee to the Cabinet and that was Anthony Blinken as the secretary of states. As of today, he has nominated most of the cabinet positions, of which 23 require Senate approvals.
Each nominee is expected to get the majority votes in the senate for them to be confirmed, after which they are sworn in by the Vice president who is the president of the senate. Despite there being an informal rule that each president chooses his team and all his nominee should be confirmed, this is far from the actual situation.
The current Senate distribution of seats is 50 democrats and 50 republicans, and with Vice President Kamala Harris being the president of the senate she breaks the tie giving democrats 51 members vs 50 for republican, a slim majority indeed. A slim majority always complicates the functioning of any administration.
But despite this slim majority, the Democrats have been unable to confirm the nominees as fast as president Biden would have wanted. As of today, only 9 have been approved which is a record low for an incoming president. Some previous presidents have had their whole cabinet approved immediately after inauguration. This has greatly affected President Bidens’ ability to work on his priorities. Why is the approval rate so slow, and what are the challenges President Biden’s administration are facing despite having a majority in the senate?
The first reason is for this is that, it took the democrats time before they could get their majority power, since the number is 50-50 in favor of democrats, they had to agree on the rules of engagement with the Republican party. The rules had to be acceptable to both parties which took a longer time than anticipated. The agreement took longer than expected because the Republicans came up with new demands which the democrats were not willing to accept. After so much back and forth the republican through the outgoing Majority leader, Mitch McConnell finally stopped their demands but only after some assurance from the moderate Democrats on some of their demands and the democrats got their majority.
The second reason was Trump’s impeachment. The senators spent almost two weeks preparing and hearing the case, a time which they would have used to confirm Biden’s nominees when this issue was raised to Biden as one of the reasons why they should stop the second impeachment of Trump, he said that Trump’s behavior demanded a trial even if that meant slowing the confirmation of his nominees. There have also been instances of perceived wrong choices. Joe Biden’s team didn’t do some homework on some of the nominees like Neera Tanden, the nominee for the office of management and budget director. Neera has faced great resistance from the senators from both parties especially on her previous comment on Twitter. Neera had a habit of commenting negatively on the senators from both parties, including calling them ugly names.
As a result of this moderate democrat Joe Manchin has already indicated he won’t be supporting her nominations making it hard for her to sail through, with the slim majority the democrats have, she will need to get republican support to sail through which with the current situation in the Capitol hill is likely not to happen. The Biden administration has however refused to withdraw her nomination despite being no clear path forward.
Because of these and probably many other reasons, Joe Biden is likely to continue operating with no full cabinet with the current challenges that the US is facing, ranging from the Covid-19 menace to the storm in Texas. The Senate needs to move with speed to confirm his nominees so that he can start implementing his policies and as the say goes each president disserves an opportunity to select the cabinet he wishes and the senate should confirm his nominees. At the end of the day, it is only the president who’d be held accountable for the performance of his administration. For now, it is a wait and see as we await to see what unfolds.
James Osolo is a writer on International Affairs. He is currently pursuing Write Your Passion Program.