Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to have a singular focus: getting as many right-wing extremist judges into the federal judiciary as is humanly possible. To that end, he’s allowing the popular-vote-loser in the White House to regularly circumvent the Senate on all other nominations.
The Constitution says the Senate is supposed to advise and consent to the government the president wishes to compose. That means the Senate has the final say in confirming government heads. But Trump is doing an end run around that process by not nominating permanent heads to agencies. Asked by Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan about having an “acting defense secretary. An acting chief of staff. An acting interior secretary,” Trump said “It’s easier to make moves when they’re acting.” He added that “I like acting because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility.”
He actually likes having “acting” employees around him, sources tell the Wall Street Journal, because “interim leaders are more beholden to the Oval Office.” It’s like he’s re-enacting The Apprentice, holding out the possibility of plum jobs to people gathered around him only if they prove their loyalty.
He’s setting a record, in fact, for executive branch vacancies. The Partnership for Public Service has tracked nominations for three decades, and estimates that the Senate has confirmed just 54 percent of Trump’s civilian executive branch nominations. That’s compared to 77 percent of the previous administration under President Barack Obama. Trump hasn’t bothered to nominate people for 150 out of 705 key Senate-confirmed positions.
It’s not going unnoticed, even by rank-and-file Republicans. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told the Washington Post “[I]t’s way too many. […] You want to have confirmed individuals there because they have a lot more authority to be able to make decisions and implement policy when you have a confirmed person in that spot.” That’s the thing: Trump doesn’t want them to have that authority—he wants to keep them second-guessing and beholden to him.
If Lankford is really concerned, though, he needs to talk to his leader. McConnell could fix this, like he could have fixed the government shutdown. He’s got the power to hold Trump’s agenda hostage if he wants to. More than the power, actually, he has the responsibility under the Constitution. McConnell, the supposed great institutionalist, is willfully subjugating the Senate to Trump’s whim, just as surely as he weaponized it to prevent President Obama from having a fully functioning administration.
When history looks back on this stunningly awful stretch of broken American governance, it’s going to be Mitch McConnell who’s the biggest culprit.