Four of Biden’s top picks have been confirmed quickly by the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote that also makes Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) the Senate majority leader.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was confirmed just a few hours after Biden took the oath of office on Jan. 20, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin approved by the Senate two days later on a 93–2 vote.
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen was approved on Jan. 25 on an 84–15 vote, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken was confirmed on Jan. 26 by a vote of 78–22.
Confirmation hearings are being scheduled and held at a fairly prompt pace as Senate Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are carefully picking their battles.
Only two of Biden’s Cabinet nominees appear to face serious obstacles. Sen. Josh Hawley initially placed a hold on Alejandro Mayorkas’ nomination as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but Schumer won a cloture vote on Dec. 28, 2020.
A final vote on confirmation was to be held Feb. 1 but was delayed until Feb. 2 due to a winter storm that blanketed the Washington, D.C., region. A Feb. 2 vote also will be held on Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg.
Republicans pointed to a 2015 DHS inspector general report that stated that Mayorkas, who was then deputy secretary of the department, had used his position to benefit Democratic figures such as former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and threatened retaliation against career DHS employees who criticized his actions.
Former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is strongly opposed by several Senate Republicans due to his long-standing support for federal funding of abortion-on-demand, and for his lack of experience in the health care industry.
Becerra also raised eyebrows when he said the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom applies only to individuals, not to churches or other religious institutions.
Biden nominated Becerra on Dec. 7, 2020, but a confirmation hearing hasn’t yet been scheduled. Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) has encouraged Biden to withdraw the nomination.
Even so, Biden is far ahead of where Trump was at the same point in the latter’s presidency, and close to how well President Barack Obama, who Biden served as vice president, fared with his appointments. Democrats controlled the Senate in 2009, while Republicans controlled it in 2017.
An analysis by Heritage Action for America Executive Director Jessica Anderson reveals a dramatic contrast, as Senate Democrats used every available parliamentary procedural tactic to delay consideration of Trump’s nominees.
“Instead of working with the Republican majority on legislation, Senate Democrats chose to weaponize the confirmation process in order to slow down enactment of President Trump’s conservative agenda in the administration and in Congress. The numbers bear this out,” Anderson wrote on Twitter on Feb. 1.
“In 2009, 12 of President Obama’s nominees were confirmed within his first 2 days in office. Only 2 of President Trump’s nominees were confirmed in his first 2 days in office. It took 25 days before President Trump’s 12th Cabinet level nominee was confirmed by the Senate,” Anderson wrote.
“Additionally, 16 out of 22 of Obama’s initial Cabinet-level nominations were confirmed in the Senate by voice vote. In 2017, the Senate confirmed 0 of President Trump’s 22 Cabinet-level nominations by voice vote,” Anderson added.
Trump’s Cabinet nominees required on average more than 33 days to be confirmed after being nominated. Only two, Secretary of Defense (Ret.) Gen. Jim Mattis and DHS chief John Kelly were confirmed the same day Trump was inaugurated.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer required 111 days before the Senate confirmed him, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s nomination was stalled for 94 days, and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats for 54 days.