Unprecedented Nominations Blockade


  • President Obama had 206 of his nominees confirmed in the first six months of his administration, while President Trump has had only 55 nominees confirmed.
  • Ten nominees have been confirmed with 80 or more votes – earning the support of most Democrats – yet still required cloture to be filed.
  • Key positions remain open, despite favorable committee action, including four deputy secretaries, eight federal judges, and eight members of independent boards or commissions.   

In the first six months of President Trump’s administration, he made 257 nominations to important judicial and administration positions, yet the Senate confirmed only 55 of these nominees. These confirmation delays result mostly from Democrats putting up roadblocks on even the most non-controversial nominees and insisting that Republicans file cloture on the majority of nominations.

First Six Months: Nominees Confirmed

Total Confirmed

In the first six months of President Obama’s term, the Senate confirmed 206 of his nominees. All but a few Obama nominees were confirmed without a roll call vote and without needing to go through the time-consuming cloture process. They were confirmed using fast-track procedures – voice vote and unanimous consent. In stark contrast, just five of President Trump’s nominees were confirmed using fast-track procedures, and 34 of them were confirmed only after filing cloture.

confirmations on inauguration day

In the past, even senators not in the president’s party recognized the importance of allowing the new commander in chief to get his team in place quickly. Recent presidents have had many cabinet secretaries confirmed on Inauguration Day – and the vast majority of secretaries were in the job before the end of January.

Cabinet Secretaries Confirmed Early in an Administration

Inauguration vs End of January

Only two of President Trump’s cabinet secretary nominees were confirmed by his Inauguration Day – the fewest in 28 years – and just one additional nominee was confirmed by the end of January. These were: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly; Defense Secretary James Mattis; and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton had nearly their whole cabinets in place in their first two weeks in office. President Obama had 10 cabinet secretaries confirmed by the end of his first January in office; President George W. Bush had 13; and President Clinton had 13. It took 39 days for President Trump to have 10 cabinet secretaries in place.

slow pace after first six months

The slow pace of confirmations has continued through the first six months of the Trump administration. In prior administrations, the sheer volume of nominees requiring Senate confirmation – currently 1,242 civilian positions – resulted in the Senate using expedited procedures for most nominees after they had been vetted by the committee of jurisdiction. Only rarely had confirming a nominee required debate to be cut off using cloture.

Confirming almost any nominee during the current administration, however, has required cloture to be filed – even for nominees with overwhelming bipartisan support. Just five of President Trump’s nominees have been confirmed by unanimous consent or voice vote, and 50 required roll call votes.

Trump Vs. Obama: Times Cloture Filed on Nominees in First Six Months

Total Cloture Filed

Cloture was filed on only eight Obama nominees during his first six months in office. Over the same period in the Trump administration, 34 of President Trump’s nominees required filing cloture.

Of these 34 nominations, half received at least 60 votes. Ten nominees were confirmed with 80 or more aye votes – including support from more than half of Democrats. One nominee received 100 votes in favor of confirmation. At the current rate, it will take 11 years to confirm all of the president’s nominees to fill jobs in the executive branch.

Number of Votes for Trump Nominees after Cloture Was Filed

Required Cloture

key administration posts Await senate action

The delays have left the executive branch critically understaffed. Currently 58 senior administration positions are vacant despite having been reported favorably by the committee. All that remains for these nominations is confirmation by the full Senate. Until these vacancies are filled, agencies will be unable to perform many of their statutory duties. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been without a quorum since February 3 and is unable to approve new energy infrastructure projects.

Positions that have been advanced to the full Senate by committees and not yet confirmed include:

  • Christopher Wray, director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Richard Spencer, secretary of the Navy
  • Dan Brouillette, deputy secretary, Department of Energy
  • Pamela Hughes Patenaude, deputy secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Eric Hargan, deputy secretary, Department of Health and Human Services
  • Thomas Bowman, deputy secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Althea Coetzee, deputy administrator, Small Business Administration
  • Neil Chatterjee, member, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Robert Powelson, member, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Noel Francisco, solicitor general of the United States
  • J. Christopher Giancarlo, chairman, Commodity Futures Trading Commission
  • Mark Green, administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development

Additional vacancies awaiting senate action

Highlighting how much work remains, nominees are facing a long road to confirmation due to the ongoing blockade. For example, the president has nominated 24 people to key positions in the Department of Defense, 15 of which were sent to the full Senate, but only seven have been confirmed. The Justice Department has had 29 nominees so far, and just three have been confirmed. The Department of Health and Human Services has had just three of 13 nominations confirmed.

Nominees Confirmed vs. Awaiting Action

Key Vacancies

Judicial Vacancies

In addition to filling administration jobs, the Senate must also confirm nominees to the judiciary. There are 135 vacant judicial branch positions, of which 52 are considered “emergencies.” The Senate has only confirmed four judicial nominations this year.   

Judicial Vacancies

On the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals alone, there are 20 vacancies, including four in the 9th Circuit and three each in the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th Circuits.

Circuit Courts of Appeals Vacancies

Circuit Court Vacancies