Appointing Cabinet and other federal positions is one of a new President’s first and most important jobs. The people he chooses will lead agencies, enforce laws, decide court cases, and represent the United States’ interests overseas. A few people have asked me recently which of Donald Trump’s appointments will require confirmation by the Senate, and which ones he is free to make unilaterally. Here’s a breakdown of how it works:
What gives the Senate the authority to confirm or deny appointments?
Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for. …”
Which positions are subject to Senate confirmation?
- The Secretaries of the 15 major federal agencies (“Cabinet agencies”), including defense, Labor, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, etc. See the image above this post for a full list. The Senate must also confirm these agencies’ undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and general counsels (top lawyers).
- Supreme Court Justices: there are currently 9 Justice positions. Only 8 are filled as of the time of this writing, due to the death of Justice Scalia and the Senate’s refusal to conduct confirmation hearings for President Obama’s nominee. Supreme Court Justices serve for life.
- Directors of regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration.
- U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals.
- Ambassadors to foreign nations.
- Several other positions in independent agencies such as NASA, as well as part-time positions such as the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
Which positions are NOT subject to Senate confirmation?
Over 300 Presidential Appointments exist that do not require Senate approval, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office. These can be used as political favors and encompass varying levels of responsibility and influence. “Advisor” and “strategist” positions, such as that of Stephen Bannon in the Trump White House, fall into this category of appointments not requiring Senate review.
What are the odds of Donald Trump’s appointments being denied Senate confirmation?
The odds are low that Trump’s appointments will be denied. In election years when the Senate is controlled by a different party than the Presidency, there can be strong opposition to the President’s appointments; however, in 2016, the Republican Party retained control of the Senate. Only a simple majority of Senate votes is required for confirmation (one more vote in favor than opposed – the Vice President holds the tie-breaking vote), and most or all of Trump’s appointments will likely have the necessary support.
Is there any other way to block appointments?
There are procedural methods such as the filibuster, but these will probably not prove effective if employed by the Democrats this time. Some amount of Republican opposition would be needed. If either of your Senators are Republican and you want to encourage them to vote against a particular nomination, contact them and let them know.