Expect More Trump on Nomination Fights, Short Says

Legislative affairs chief decries Democrats even as Senate awaits nominees

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short offered more criticism of Senate Democrats on nominations Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Clark file photo)
White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short offered more criticism of Senate Democrats on nominations Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Clark file photo)
Posted March 16, 2018 at 3:41pm

The White House renewed its complaints Friday about the pace of Senate action on nominations Friday, even as President Donald Trump is making the “personnel business” more complicated by shifting his Cabinet and other senior staff positions.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short described himself as a “warm-up act” and suggested President Donald Trump soon will make a larger “foray” into the nominations debate.

The president has spoken to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York about the pace, Short said, opening the White House press briefing.

The Senate has slowly but steadily been processing nominations, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky regularly moving to cut off filibuster threats on nominations, which can get through with only Republican votes thanks to the 2013 Democratic rules changes that dropped the thresholds to simple majorities.

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Democrats have said they’ve slow-walked many of the president’s nominees because they are unqualified for the jobs into which Trump and his team want to insert them.

There are also two issues that rest on the administration side. For one, moves like the dismissal of Rex Tillerson as secretary of State and the corresponding shift of CIA Director Mike Pompeo have added priorities to McConnell’s agenda, creating two more high-profile nomination battles for the top slots at Foggy Bottom and Langley. 

And then there’s the matter of the missing priority nominees. For instance, Trump administration still has yet to formally nominate a top diplomat for South Korea even as the the president may be preparing to meet with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un.

For his part, Short accused Schumer of “weaponizing” the Senate’s rules to purposely block President Donald Trump’s nominees for key government posts.

Short contended Trump nominees have been subjected to 79 cloture votes during the administration’s first 14 months but the past four presidents — to the same point in their first terms — faced only 17 such floor votes.

“This level of obstruction is beyond historic,” Short said, accusing Schumer of requiring cloture votes “to slow down the process and to obstruct.” He also claimed the minority leader is using the nomination cloture votes — which require 30 hours of floor time to be ticked off before a procedural vote requiring 60 votes — in order to “slow down” the GOP-Trump legislative agenda.

Cloture motions on nominations aren’t what they used to be, however. Before the use of the “nuclear option” that changed the filibuster thresholds, the moves to limit debate required bipartisan support except during the brief periods where at least 60 senators were members of the majority caucus.

Legislative issues like infrastructure and immigration would require bipartisan deals to be struck before those bills could reach the floor for consideration (especially since the Senate has no appetite for going nuclear on legislative filibusters).

But Short said that unless Schumer removes his cloture requirement for most nominations, it would take the chamber 11-and-a-half years to clear all of Trump’s nominees.

“This hasn’t been going on for a long time,” Short said. “This is not what’s historically done.”

Short started his appearance at the White House podium — which came amid reports Trump is poised to oust several senior staffers — by joking he was there “since I know many of you are interested in White House personnel issues.”