Democrats Are Having Trouble Confirming Top Joe Biden Nominees

Key absences and discord within the Democratic caucus is preventing the president from filling critical posts.

Last November’s election handed Democrats an additional seat in the Senate, a welcome cushion for the party that was supposed to make it easier to confirm President Joe Biden’s executive and judicial nominees.

But in recent weeks, two key Biden nominees have withdrawn their names from consideration for a job in his administration and two more could be in jeopardy.

The problem is attributed to a mix of absences ― Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) are both out due to health reasons, leaving Democrats short of the 50 votes needed for confirmation ― as well as discord within the Democratic caucus.

Over the weekend, Phil Washington, Biden’s nominee to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, bowed out from his bid after Republican senators raised concerns along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). Gigi Sohn, Biden’s long-stalled nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, did the same earlier this month.

Julie Su, Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Labor and a favorite choice of progressives, is also facing skepticism from some moderate Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). Su met with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday and is expected to receive a hearing next month.

“Still looking at that. No decision made,” Tester told reporters when asked about her nomination.

“There’s concerns, I’m sure,” added Manchin, who has also vowed not to move forward on a separate Biden nominee to oversee oil and gas leasing at the Interior Department.

Meanwhile, Michael Delaney, Biden’s nominee to the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is facing scrutiny from some Democrats and progressive groups over his handling of a school sexual assault case. Top Democrats are standing by Delaney, but the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t been able to advance his nomination due to the absence of Feinstein, who is still recovering after a bout of shingles.

Republicans said Democrats should do a better job of putting forward qualified candidates, although they didn’t always do so when they controlled the upper chamber under President Donald Trump.

“The Biden administration needs to do a better job of vetting candidates and picking people that have actual qualifications rather than meet some sort of checklist of criteria that satisfies their liberal base,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, pointing to a Biden judicial nominee who had trouble answering questions about the U.S. Constitution in her confirmation hearing.

Despite the potential hang-up with Delaney’s nomination, Democrats have been broadly successful in pushing through Biden’s judicial nominees at a historic pace. The Senate has confirmed more judges (118) at this point in a president’s term than any of the previous three administrations, according to data provided by Schumer’s office. The majority of those new judges are women and people of color.

Democratic senators downplayed their hitting speed bumps in the confirmation process on Tuesday.

“It’s a fairly recent phenomenon that the parties are expected to line up uniformly behind their president’s nominee and when there’s any diversion it’s big news,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “I think it’s perfectly fine that occasionally you have Democrats who have differences of opinion from the president’s choices. The story is that it happens so infrequently, not that it happens at all.”

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