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“Serves At the Pleasure of the President” … Can Congress Block Trump’s Cabinet Appointments?

November 21, 2016







There are some 4,000 political appointments for the incoming administration to fill. Of those, about a quarter require Senate confirmation through a simple majority vote of the Senate.

Image Source: slideshare.net

Image Source: slideshare.net

As of the writing of this post, President-Elect Trump has officially announced just one Cabinet officer – Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Here’s a list of the other candidates being considered for the Cabinet.

Which Executive Appointments Require Senate Approval?

According to a Congressional Research Service report, the presidentially-appointed positions requiring Senate confirmation include, among others:

Over 350 positions: Secretaries of the 15 Cabinet agencies, deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and general counsels of those agencies.

Over 130 positions: Director positions in the regulatory agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Aviation Administration.

About 200 positions: U.S. Attorneys and U.S. Marshals.

Over 150 positions: Ambassadors to foreign nations.

Up to 9 positions: vacant Supreme Court Justice positions. Currently, there is only one vacant Supreme Court Justice seat open.

What If the Senate Blocks A Cabinet Nomination? 

Just because the Senate is controlled by Republicans does not necessarily mean every nominee will be rubber-stamped. For example, Senator Rand Paul has warned against certain picks for secretary of State. To get around Senate opposition, a President can make “recess appointments.”

Current Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell Image Source: reuters.com

Current Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell
Image Source: reuters.com

This means that when the Senate is in recess, the president can make appointments without the need for Senate approval. However, the appointee must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress, or when the position becomes vacant again.

What Can Democrats Do to Prevent Recess Appointments?

The 2014 elections gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress. The Senate is now composed of 54 Republicans, 2 Independents, and 44 Democrats. The House of Representatives is now composed of 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats.

The Democrats, who are currently the minority party in the Senate, can hold “pro forma” sessions during recesses lasting longer than three days. While no legislative business is conducted in a pro forma session, they ensure that Congress is not officially adjourned, thus blocking the president from making recess appointments.

Presidentially Appointed Jobs That Don’t Require Senate Approval

There are more than 320 high level government jobs, known as PA, or “Presidential Appointment” jobs, that the president appoints directly without the Senate’s consideration or approval.

According to the GAO, most PAs are not paid a salary. Rather, 99% of all PAs – those serving as advisors to commissions, councils, committees, boards or foundations – are either not compensated at all or are paid a daily rate of $634 or less only while actually serving. The remaining 1% of PAs, such as the Director of the National Cancer Institute, are paid salaries.

PA positions in the Executive Office of the President and the federal departments and agencies are mostly full-time jobs and have no term limits.

Can the Public Influence Cabinet Appointments?

Members of the public may call their Senators to either encourage or argue against the confirmation of appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

Who do you think should or should not be appointed to the Cabinet? Would you want to serve this President Elect?

Posted by Mary Mock at 4:41 pm - 1 comment
  • Redrose1

    Apparently the Democrats can block the President’s recess appointments by holding a “pro forma” sessions during recesses. It is to the public advantage to call their Senators to either encourage or argue against the confirmation of appointments requiring Senate confirmation. It is the public’s right to be able to do this. I am very much pleased with the choice Newly Elected President Trump has chosen of one cabinet officer Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. I believe he will do an outstanding job as Attorney General.

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