About 100 of President Donald Trump’s nominees have been kicked back to the White House, prolonging an unusually high number of vacancies across his administration and escalating the Senate’s long-running nomination wars.
While the Senate agreed to keep roughly 150 of Trump’s picks for consideration next year, it refused to do so on roughly 100 others, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. That means the White House will have to renominate them if Trump wants them installed.
Among the high-profile picks tossed back to the White House: Alex Azar, chosen as the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services; Thomas Farr, a district court nominee whose record on voting rights has infuriated Democrats; and K.T. McFarland, the former deputy national security adviser chosen as U.S. ambassador to Singapore who is now facing questions about her communications with ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn.
That will trigger a requirement that nominees’ paperwork be up to date — a gargantuan task for some nominees who’ve been languishing in the Senate for months, especially if their net worth changed dramatically because of the surging stock market.
That has some lawyers worried that nominees could throw in the towel, frustrated by the already laborious process of winning Senate approval.
“For some nominees, their paperwork will be obsolete,” said one lawyer who represents several nominees and was not authorized to speak on the record. “The stock market has gone up, so the numbers are going to be materially different.”
Many nominees hire lawyers to walk them through the confirmation process, spending tens of thousands of dollars — or much more for wealthy people with complicated financial situations — for assistance in filling out ethics and financial disclosure forms. The process requires nominees to review and document nearly every major financial decision in their adult lives, and the finished paperwork has been known to run more than 60 or 70 pages, lawyers said.
Generally, nominees will have to update their paperwork only if there’s been a material change, but each Senate committee has slightly different rules governing the issue.
In a less divisive political atmosphere, lawmakers would have approved a unanimous consent agreement allowing the nominees to carry over into next year. Such agreements have rarely been controversial.
Any one senator can object to allowing a nominee to be carried over. Though it’s likely Democrats are responsible for most of the rejections, Republicans also could have triggered some, too.
During the first year of the Obama administration, only eight nominees were not carried over into the next session, according to Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who has been researching the issue. President George W. Bush had just two picks returned to the White House.
“It definitely violates precedent,” Lankford said of sending back so many nominees. “That’s just a sign of the times that people are looking for a rule to be able to slow the Senate down even more. … That’s making a bad situation worse.”
But Democrats said the caliber of Trump’s nominees warranted a break from tradition.
In an interview earlier this week, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said he would look for obstacles to oppose nominees with “egregious conflicts of interest,” an “appalling lack of knowledge about the job,” or “who are inclined to destroy the very agencies that they’re assigned to support the mission of.”
Merkley and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) targeted Kathleen Hartnett-White, Trump’s pick to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
“Unqualified or controversial nominees will not simply be rubber-stamped by the Senate,” Carper said in a statement. “Let’s start the new year off with a clean slate and allow President Trump the opportunity to nominate a leader for the Council on Environmental Quality who takes environmental laws and public health protections seriously.”
White has come under fire from Democrats for rejecting the scientific consensus on the human causes of climate change.