Cabinet Appointees Could Face A Slow Road

History shows us the speed of President-Elect Biden’s cabinet nominations could depend on who controls the Senate when he takes office.

If Republicans win one of the two Senate seats up for grabs in Georgia, Biden would assume office with an opposition-controlled Senate—last faced by George H.W. Bush in 1989. Biden would need Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and his caucus to cooperate in moving the nominations through committee, scheduling votes and winning support. 

On the other hand, if Democrats win both seats, Senator Chuck Schumer would take charge and the confirmation process would more closely resemble those of Obama and Trump’s administrations, whose parties initially controlled the Senate.

In studying the Senate confirmation paths of cabinet officials in the first year of H.W. Bush’s, Obama’s and Trump’s administrations, GPG found:

  • The Democratic-controlled Senate defeated one of Republican President H.W. Bush’s nominees – Senator John Tower for Defense Secretary. On the other hand,  Presidents Obama and Trump had no nominees defeated—though they did withdraw nominees, perhaps to avoid defeat or political embarrassment.
  • Only two of 14 of President H.W. Bush’s main cabinet nominees received confirmation hearings prior to Inauguration, and none were confirmed on Inauguration Day.  At the same time, nearly two-thirds of Presidents Obama and Trump’s main cabinet nominees received their confirmation hearings before the inaugurations of Presidents Obama and Trump.  And six of Obama’s nominees were confirmed on Inauguration Day.
  • Both the H.W. Bush and Obama Administrations carried over at least one cabinet official from the Administration that preceded it (three in H.W. Bush’s case: Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, and Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos).  Somewhat more unusually, Democratic President Obama opted to keep Republican President George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary

Read a more detailed analysis of administration-specific cabinet trends here.