Senate Confirms Army Corps Chief

Get-out-of-town vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan

Senators confirmed the new head of the Army Corps of Engineers and then headed home. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate voted 89-1 Thursday to confirm Rickey Dale “R.D.” James to lead the Army Corps of Engineers, which will serve as the chamber’s get-out-of-town vote after a long haul of days that involved the government shutdown over the weekend. 

Earlier in the week, the chamber had expected to approve James by voice vote on Wednesday before a roll call vote on the nomination was scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Afterward, senators headed for the exits. 

James’ confirmation process to be assistant secretary of the Army for civil works moved relatively quickly. After President Donald Trump sent his nomination to the Senate in October, the Armed Services Committee approved his confirmation in November and the Environment and Public Works Committee followed suit in December.

EPW Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Wednesday that James, who has been a member of the Mississippi River Commission since 1981, was “experienced, qualified and ready to start.” The commission makes policy recommendations related to navigation, environmental and flood control projects on the rivers.

James was not the first choice of House members who had sought an outsider for the position. Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., who is chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the corps, called James’ nomination “a mistake” in a letter last year to home-state groups. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy, Republicans from Louisiana, voted to confirm James. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was the only “no” vote.

Lawmakers of both parties have criticized the corps for being overly bureaucratic and unable to effectively execute its duties. Members have said the agency needs significant overhauls and Graves questioned whether James was up to the task.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.