Continued delays in confirming Biden’s Cabinet risk national security and public health

Control of Senate is no excuse for Republican inaction during lame-duck period

Hearings for a small number of Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees won’t begin until one day before his inauguration, representing a significant break with tradition, Manley writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Hearings for a small number of Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees won’t begin until one day before his inauguration, representing a significant break with tradition, Manley writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 14, 2021 at 6:00am

Since President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in November, Senate Republicans have abdicated their responsibility to advise and consent on the incoming administration’s nominees. Four years ago, the Senate had held hearings on eleven of Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks before Inauguration Day. However, the first hearings for a small number of Biden’s Cabinet nominees won’t happen until Jan. 19 — just one day before his inauguration. 

For the good of the country, as well as the viability of their own party in the wake of assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters, Senate Republicans must commit to respecting the will of the American people and protecting the security of our country by quickly confirming Biden’s nominees. Every day delayed is a threat to national security, public health and American lives and livelihood — and raises more questions about whether Republicans have learned any lessons from the tragic events of last week.

As a longtime aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I helped usher through many nominees for two different administrations — Republican and Democrat. I know how this process works and have heard Republican explanations for why it doesn’t work. But I also know that none of their excuses can cover up one essential fact — a failure to act expeditiously puts Americans at risk and runs contrary to the will of the American people. 

What actually stands in the way of Senate Republicans approving these nominees is partisan politics and money. Being worried about attacks from the right makes them reluctant to move toward the center. Being deep inside the pockets of special interests is a fast way to fund your campaign, but it leaves you beholden to their agenda, not to the best interests of the American people. These members of Congress know that Biden will finally put the needs of hardworking families first, and that worries their special-interest donors who benefit from Republicans in power. Biden has sworn to take on the pharmaceutical companies gouging patients and undo the Trump administration’s last-ditch attempts to allow polluters to skirt accountability.

Certain Republican senators will do anything to save their political souls and further their special-interest donors’ bottom lines, including, apparently, putting the health and safety of their own country at risk. With the chaos surrounding the last few weeks of the Trump administration, Senate Republicans have an even greater obligation to prepare the president-elect for success to the best of their ability, and that includes guaranteeing a swift confirmation process for his nominees to be ready to lead on Day One.  

Control of the Senate cannot be used as an excuse for delays: Republicans were always going to be in control of the chamber during the lame-duck period, and it was their responsibility to keep the nomination processes moving forward, no matter the outcome of the Georgia Senate runoffs. With less than a week until the inauguration, Senate Republicans have completely failed to stay on track to fill some of the most critical roles in our government, including many national security roles. The interim between Election Day and inauguration should have been spent moving critical nominees through the confirmation process. Instead, Republican senators dragged their feet, leading to unprecedented delays and threatening national security. 

Between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the investigation of the Russia cybersecurity attack, the mounting civil unrest and insurrection encouraged by the outgoing administration, and so much more, the Biden Cabinet must be able to hit the ground running. Any delay during the transfer of power makes our country vulnerable to threats, both foreign and domestic. Being unprepared or falling further behind on these challenges is simply not an option. 

Senate Republican delays in the confirmation process are not only dangerous, but undemocratic. With control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress, Democrats have a clear mandate from the American people to undo the damage of the last four years and get our country back on track. Senate Republicans must put country over party and over their special-interest donors by ensuring the new Cabinet is in place immediately.  

Jim Manley is a 21-year veteran of Capitol Hill who served as an aide to Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Harry Reid. He is currently a public affairs consultant at his own firm in Washington, D.C.