WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump now is pushing his ambitious agenda on Capitol Hill, where over the next two months he and his allies must navigate fiscal deadlines, win a Supreme Court confirmation and undertake a massive revamp of the health care law.
But while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) approach the tasks with full staffs, Trump still lags in filling important subcabinet posts amid reports his personnel office creates delays by vetting candidates to make sure it hires only loyalists.
“These subcabinet posts are essential for governing,” said Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University, because they “translate vision into action.”
Congress is moving ahead fast.
The House Republican majority has put the first of three phases of its plan to replace the Affordable Care Act on a fast track as it aims for a House vote next week and a Senate vote before the April recess.
Lawmakers also must address the government hitting the federal debt limit Thursday, though the full impact is months away, and pass funding to keep the government open for another five months before the money runs out April 28.
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee opens its hearing on Appellate Court Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
That same day, the House Intelligence Committee holds a hearing on Russia’s role in last year’s election, with FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers and former top Obama officials asked to testify.
Despite that crowded schedule, Trump said he’s in no rush to fill jobs because many are unnecessary. Still, he has begun to staff up his White House team.
Last week, he hired a communications director, staffers for the office that works with Congress and 26 attorneys for the White House Counsel’s Office. He also named six appointees to such posts as solicitor general and CIA general counsel.
Trump nominated eight subcabinet officials, mostly in the Treasury Department.
At his first Cabinet meeting Monday, Trump blamed Senate Democrats’ bruising opposition for delays in appointments.
“We have four empty seats, which is a terrible thing because the Senate Democrats are continuing to obstruct the confirmation of our nominees,” Trump said, referring to the pending appointments to lead labor, agriculture, director of national intelligence and U.S. trade representative.
Democrats did set a record in their opposition to a first-term president’s Cabinet, charging that the nominees had no government experience, had conflicts of interest or opposed the purpose of the office they were chosen to lead.
They voted against 17 Trump nominees, topping the previous record of eight Ronald Reagan appointees, and they cast 384 nay votes against those choices, more than triple the previous high of 111 against Obama’s picks.
But Trump and Republicans also have caused delays.
Trump submitted his nominee for agriculture secretary to the Senate just last Thursday. His first choice for labor secretary withdrew because of financial and ethical issues. The GOP-controlled Senate held hearings for the intelligence and trade posts in the past week.
Overall, for 1,200 Senate-confirmed positions, he must fill, Trump has submitted 39 nominees — and 19 have been approved, while 20 are pending votes or hearings.
Trump meanwhile, nixed his defense and state secretaries’ first choices for deputies, and has nominated just six deputies for his 15 departments. None of them have been confirmed.
Obama and George W. Bush had won confirmation of at least seven deputies by this time in their first terms.
“The heads of the departments and agencies can make all the great decisions they wish,” Light said, “but the subcabinet drives the decisions down, passes the information up, and act as the connectors between the Cabinet heads and the front line.”