Senate Democrats Holding Up Trump Nominees for Top Jobs

Even with Mitch McConnell at the helm, Republicans are growing frustrated with slow pace of confirmation votes

by Jim Stinson | Updated 26 Jan 2018 at 2:19 PM

Despite a change in how the Senate votes on presidential nominees, a large number of President Donald Trump’s key nominees are stuck in legislative limbo, blocked by tactics that mostly Democratic senators are employing.

The White House says there are currently 262 pending nominations held in the Senate.

At the Department of Labor, Secretary Alex Acosta has a solicitor and several other Senate-confirmed aides, according to Bloomberg News. But Trump's and Acosta's pick for deputy secretary at the Labor Department, Pat Pizzella, could be held up until spring, Bloomberg reports. His nomination is opposed by liberal activist groups that say he has lobbied for lower wages in the past.

Bloomberg said the stall will make appointees of former President Barack Obama at Labor very happy, as they seek to slow down the "unraveling" of Obama's policies by the new Trump administration.

The White House sees the plotting to stall Trump's agenda, and is not happy about it.

"President Trump is on pace with previous presidents in submitting nominees to the Senate," Lindsay Walters, deputy press secretary, told LifeZette. "We hope that Democrats in the Senate will put an end to their pointless obstruction and move these qualified individuals, some of whom are up for key leadership positions, quickly through the process."

On Wednesday, Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), forced Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote for former Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) as an at-large ambassador for international religious freedom. The vote was 50-49.

It has gotten so bad, German newspapers are wondering about the whereabouts of their U.S. ambassador. The European power has gone more than a year without a Trump pick to serve in Berlin.

"America needs a voice in Germany!" read a headline in an edition of Bild, a large German tabloid, earlier this month.

But the nominee to be ambassador, Richard Grenell, has been stalled. Grenell, a Trump ally, was nominated in September. At the turn of the year, he was renominated to comply with Senate rules.

Grenell, 51, has worked as the longest-serving spokesman for the U.S. ambassador at the United Nations. He has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University.

A Christian and an openly gay man, Grenell was a top surrogate for Trump during the 2016 campaign. Grenell has continued to defend Trump on Twitter, where Grenell has a devoted following.

But more than a year after Trump began considering Grenell for a top foreign policy spot, the California resident remains in limbo. His nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Germany ran into resistance by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the junior senator from the Nutmeg State. Murphy wants to run for president and objects to what he calls Grenell's "insulting and derogatory" tweets.

But even Democratic partisans in former President Barack Obama's orbit believe the knee-jerk opposition to some of the nominations is not helpful.

Mostly, senators are expressing "concern" about special interests in their state.

Lis Smith, the former head of rapid response for the 2012 Obama campaign, retweeted a show of support for Grenell: "What American interest is served by holding up this nomination?"

Grenell's nomination has headed to the floor from committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can force a vote, something that could set even looser rules and something threatened by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Not all of the holds are by Democrats, though. Five holds were placed on Trump's nominees last week, Roll Call reported on Monday, reflecting concern by Democratic and GOP senators about the president's picks for the EPA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Interior.

Mostly, the senators are expressing "concern" about special interests in their state. For example, Roll Call noted Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) held up a Trump nominee to the Energy Department simply because he feared a policy difference that would affect his state's uranium-mining industry.

PoliZette White House writer Jim Stinson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

(photo credit, homepage image: Richard Grenell, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Richard Grenell)

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