President Donald Trump sounded a bit like other newly arrived presidents on Monday when he complained on Twitter that Congress is holding up his appointments. “Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals,” he wrote. But if Trump really wants to understand the problem, he does not need to look all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The fact is that while the Republican-controlled Senate is lagging, the main problem is that Trump is not nominating candidates for positions and has fallen seriously behind in staffing the government’s top ranks. According to the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, Trump’s performance is the slowest in four decades on nominations, confirmations and standing up the critical leadership needed to run the country. At this point, the project reported, most administrations would have filled about 38 percent of the most critical positions in the government, but Trump has completed only about 14 percent. The biggest obstructionist is Trump.
For the relative few he has nominated, if Trump is so impatient with the Senate confirmation process, he should take it up with the members of his party who control the chamber. The White House Transition Project says the Senate has confirmed slightly less than half of Trump’s nominees.
Politics aside, the U.S. government today is hollowed out in the executive service, and this could prove a serious disadvantage in a crisis. Trump fired the director of the FBI but hasn’t come up with a replacement for James Comey. There is currently no presidentially appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a bulwark against pandemic, nor a nominee for the assistant secretary of health and human services for preparedness and response, a key position to manage something such as another influenza outbreak. There are no U.S. attorneys to replace those forced out by Trump. Also alarming, Trump has yet to nominate a single assistant secretary of state for any region around the world, leaving in place acting officials who don’t have the sway of presidential appointees.
By placing a premium on loyalty, Trump from the start excluded many talented people from serving. He clearly has not made it a priority to catch up.