The Senate’s unprecedented lack of action on President Biden’s nominees has left the administration at a personnel standstill, with a Cabinet official’s confirmation process at a dead end and military leadership unable to move forward with promotions.
Almost six months after the president nominated Julie Su to head the Department of Labor, the Senate has made little progress getting her across the finish line because moderate Democrats do not support her. Meanwhile, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is holding up hundreds of military advancements in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
The Senate went into August recess with no end in sight to Tuberville’s hold and could go into the 2024 election without a confirmed Labor secretary.
The former Labor secretary, Marty Walsh, is the first and only Cabinet official to leave the Biden administration. Reports swirled about Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wanting to leave her post after the 2022 midterm elections, but she shut down the rumors at the time.
Multiple sources close to the administration say that as the 2022 election approached, there was a point when Cabinet officials were told if they wanted to leave, they should leave at that time. Administrations typically want a solid team in place going into an election. If Yellen were to have left, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo was floated as her replacement, but backfilling that spot would have been the challenge, sources mentioned.
At issue for the administration is the state of play in the Senate that has made even the prospect of moving high-profile nominations to be a troublesome process. Any nominee could face an uphill climb to win some support from within the Senate Republican ranks, especially if the candidate in question is a controversial choice just as Su has turned out to be.
Now, with what Su is going through in the Senate, one source familiar with the administration questioned, “Who would offer themselves for a nomination in an environment that they may get jammed up?”
But exacerbating those problems is winning support from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), a trio of moderate members who hold the keys to any nominee getting across the finish line.
Manchin is the only one of the three who has explicitly announced their opposition to Su, but he has also sided against multiple Biden nominees in recent months. Included in that is a host of judicial selections, Jared Bernstein’s nomination to become Biden’s top economic adviser and any of the administration’s picks for the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Not only does the administration have a problem with Republicans, but they have problems with Democrats as well,” said Jim Manley, a former top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). “And in weeks and months ahead, they’re going to have to figure out who to prioritize, who to put off and who to figure out who they can get to fill jobs in an acting capacity.”
“Short term through the end of the fiscal year, the dance card is full. We’ll see what opens up then, but given that Republicans are vowing to block every [Defense and State Department] nominee, if you throw a Cabinet secretary on top of that, it’s going to be tough to get anything done,” Manley added.
Earlier this year, two Biden nominees who weren’t getting enough support in the Senate withdrew their names in one month — Phillip Washington, the former pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, and Gigi Sohn, the former pick to serve as the top telecommunications regulator for the Federal Communications Commission.
Adding to the administration’s headaches is the continued hold on military promotions by Tuberville that shows no signs of letting up. The hold is set to enter its fifth month next week, with Democrats — including Biden —increasingly trying to use the former Auburn University football coach as a boogeyman.
“By the fall, we may not have a chairman of the joint chiefs of staff,” Biden recently warned, though, calling Tuberville’s hold “outrageous” and “nonsense.”
Biden recently picked Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. to become the next chairman and, if confirmed by the full Senate, he would become only the second Black man to hold that role, after Colin Powell. Current chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley’s term expires at the start of October.
He also picked Adm. Lisa Franchetti to be the next chief of naval operations. If confirmed, she would be the first female member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Despite the outcry over the military holdup, the White House doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get a full-time Labor secretary in place.
The administration hasn’t changed its strategy to get Su confirmed and has denied reports of pulling her nomination.
“The president’s support for acting Secretary Su is unwavering,” a White House official said.
The official said that when Walsh left his post, Su automatically became acting secretary, adding she is not subject to the time limits of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, so she can serve there indefinitely.
When UPS and the Teamsters struck a deal over workers’ contracts to avoid a strike, the White House said Su remained in close contact with both parties. When asked in late July if Su has legal authority to act as secretary in a full capacity, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House is “confident” in her legal standing.
Multiple Senate GOP sources argued that if future nominees are in the mold of Su, it would be well within their right to oppose them. But they are leaving the door open to supporting other potential nominees down the line.
“Su is a unique candidate but in all of the wrong ways. The opposition is rooted in her lack of qualifications, not just in being a Biden nominee. … It would depend on who the nominee is,” one Senate GOP aide said. “The closer it gets to the election and there’s a potential vacancy, there’s politics at play. For the administration, if it does get closer and they’re trying to woo the base, maybe that forces them to swing further to the base.”
“I don’t think Senate Republicans would reject them for the sole reason that they were nominated by Biden,” the aide continued. “If you send flawed candidates to the Senate, they’re likely to face opposition. But every nominee is different.”
One Senate Republican added that “it depends” on who the nominee is and noted that some members could back a “reasonable candidate without a milelong political rap sheet.”
Source: The Hill