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How Does the Confirmation Process Work?

by Countable | 12.20.16

The election of a new president brings with it the challenge of appointing new Cabinet secretaries, as most presidents choose not to retain members of their predecessor’s Cabinet so that they can put their administration’s mark on the executive branch. But the legislative branch has an important role to play in the process, as most (but not all) nominations put forward by the president have to be confirmed by the Senate.

What positions require Senate confirmation?

All 15 Cabinet positions require confirmation before a nominee can assume his or her role as the head of an executive branch department, and every Cabinet-level official other than the White House Chief of Staff has to go through the process. Ambassadors and other high-level officials must also be confirmed by the Senate, as do Supreme Court justices.

What happens in the Senate?

After a nominee has made their financial disclosures, they’re vetted by the White House and FBI to ensure that they’re fit to serve. Once that’s accomplished, the nomination is officially sent to the Senate, where it is assigned to a relevant committee. For example, Supreme Court nominations go to the Judiciary Committee, while the Armed Services Committee handles the Secretary of Defense nomination.

From there, the committee can either send it straight to the Senate floor for a vote, hold hearings before voting as a committee, or do nothing and attempt to kill the nomination. If they choose to do nothing, the Senate can invoke cloture (a three-fifths vote) and pull the nomination out of committee so it can advance. Typically, a committee will hold hearings and then vote, with a simple majority required to send it to the full Senate.

Once a nomination is out of committee, the Senate will vote on it. For all non-Supreme Court nominations, a simple majority is all that’s needed for confirmation thanks to a 2013 change to Senate rules that eliminated the need for the approval of three-fifths of senators.

Are many nominations rejected?

Rejections are relatively rare, but they happen far more often for Supreme Court nominations than for Cabinet posts or other positions in the executive branch. The last would-be Supreme Court justice to be rejected was Robert Bork in 1987, though President Reagan also withdrew another nomination that year and President George W. Bush withdrew Harriet Miers’s nomination in 2005.

For non-judicial nominations, three have been rejected or withdrawn since 1989 — John Tower as Secretary of Defense in 1989, Dr. Henry Foster as Surgeon General in 1994, and Linda Chavez as Labor Secretary in 2001. Both Foster and Chavez withdrew their names from consideration, while Tower’s nomination was rejected by the Senate on a 47-53 vote which was the first time the Senate had ever rejected a Cabinet appointment of a newly elected president.

When does the process officially begin?

As soon as the new Congress takes office, it can begin the process of vetting nominees and holding confirmation hearings. However, an appointment can’t be confirmed until the new president takes office, so final confirmation votes won’t occur until after the inauguration.

— Eric Revell

(Photo by U.S. Senate Historical Office / Public Domain)

Countable

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(113)
  • Olga
    12/21/2016
    ···

    I support Congressman Nadler's call to halt any confirmations of Donald Trump's appointees until he releases his tax returns, outlined in detail how he will deal with the egregious conflicts of interest involved with his business holdings, and cooperates with an investigation into the role of Russia in helping him get elected. His lack of transparency is unprecedented and presents a danger to the best interests of the nation.

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  • Roberta
    12/21/2016
    ···

    I'm asking you to deny all appointees until (1) Trump releases all tax returns (2) he divests himself of all business enterprises and (3) all appointees are thoroughly vetted. Please don't normalize racism and nativism - please don't allow the billionaires club to run our democracy.

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  • Jacob
    12/21/2016
    ···

    I'm asking you to reject all of President Elect Trumps current nominees. His current nominees are so conservative that they really cater to the Alt-Right, aka White Supremacists. In addition, their personal beliefs and past business dealing do not convince me that they will do what is best for our children, what is best for public education, what is best for our earth and environment, what is best for our minorities of all kinds, what is best for civil right. They will destroy the positive changes we've made under President Obama. Please reject his nominees and ask for people who find themselves in the middle of the road, who actually previously cared about the departments they are appointed to, who are actually educated, who have matriculated from our public school systems, who represent a broad swath of our diversity, i.e. women, LGBTQ persons, hispanics, African Americans, and more. Please.

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  • Ale
    12/21/2016
    ···

    Dear representatives, you represent us. You are in charge of representing the American people. I ask that you refresh your memory, to the Donald Trump appealing to the conman man and woman. The lower and middle classes. Those who were sick of seeing big influence in politics. And he promised that would change. And yet here we are, with a president elect that has appointed a billionaire to every single cabinet position. How are we supposed to be fairly represented by people who know nothing of the common struggle, take advantage of capitalist loopholes, and gain billions off the backs of others barely making a living wage. Justify that? You can't. Oppose these cabinet assignments if you know the true meaning behind honesty and integrity. If money is what represents us, we will have nothing in the end, when it has blinded us from the consequences of our actions and we realize we can't eat it.

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  • Sydney
    12/20/2016
    ···

    I would like my reps to delay and impede any Trump nominations.

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  • Mary
    12/21/2016
    ···

    I understand you want a change of direction. Unfortunately for the voters you represent and unfortunately for the integrity and reputation of the Republican party and for your personal reputation, all of the cabinet nominations our president-elect is putting forth are so extreme and so unqualified that they promise to do irreparable harm to our nation. I would hope you realize that for country, for party, and for your continued ability to serve, these initial nominations must be denied so that more realistic candidates can be brought forward.

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  • Kerren
    12/21/2016
    ···

    None of Trumps cabinet nominees are qualified for their positions. This is not in Americas best interest. I would like to see my Rep do the right thing and and say no to the nominations, especially the nomination for Secretary of State!

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  • Liz
    01/09/2017
    ···

    All confirmations need to be placed on hold until the appropriate background checks, vetting and ethics reviews can take place for each of Trump's appointees. Any shortchanging of the process shortchanges the American public. Considering that almost all of his appointees are in direct opposition to the offices places that much further importance on proper vetting and review.

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  • Liz
    12/21/2016
    ···

    I do not support the President Elect's cabinet choices. Each one appears to be diametrically opposed to the department they will be in charge of, some are tragically unqualified for the job. He seems to be going for a scorched earth approach, to dismantle all the systems which hold our country together.

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  • UrbanMimi
    01/10/2017
    ···

    Do not confirm Jeff Sessions for AG. His racism is well known. We don't need racist attitudes in Fed Government. We need someone who treats all Americans equally

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  • Violeta
    12/21/2016
    ···

    Please ask president elect Trump to share his tax returns and make sure there are no conflicts of interest for the PE and his businesses and within his cabinet picks before you confirm his appointees.

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  • Elizabeth
    12/21/2016
    ···

    I can't find one nominee that is qualified for any position when viewed from the position of having to protect the general public. Virtually all of them have secondary motives that are contrary to the positions for which they are nominated. Some of them even have what appeared to be significant, serious, "emolument clause" style conflicts of interest.

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  • Jody
    01/24/2017
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    Please vote "no" and do not confirm Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. She has displayed a disdain for public schools and an ignorance of educational principles. Education is our future. We need a qualified, reasonable professional at the helm. Thank you for your consideration. --Jody Brady

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  • Brea
    01/24/2017
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    Please vote NO on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Her first hearing clearly demonstrated that she is woefully unqualified for the job, and does not understand the basic debates and issues facing public education.

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  • Patricia
    12/26/2016
    ···

    I find none of the proposed appointees to the Cabinet positions to have the knowledge or experience needed to do the job well and in the best interests of the whole country.

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  • Erin
    12/20/2016
    ···

    I'm increasingly concerned about the cabinet choices of Donald Trump. Do you agree with the appointments he has made? If so why? If not, how will you be actively trying to alter his choices?

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  • Olirox
    12/21/2016
    ···

    Please do not accept any of these nominations. The country will regress to the point of major damage. Citizens rights will be reduced, the environment will deteriorate and our international relationships will fall apart.

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  • Ann
    01/23/2017
    ···

    Call your Congressmen and tell them to vote NO on Betsy Devos. She is a threat to the education of disable students. She has no knowledge of IDEA, which guarantees them an appropriate education. She will gut the public school system through the use of vouchers.

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  • Dian
    01/26/2017
    ···

    Please vote against, Devos, Sessions, Price, Perry, Carson, and Pruitt. Non of there people are the best people for the job. Many have no experience. Others are simply not qualified based on character and agenda. Listen to the people as we were promised in the presidents inauguration address.

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  • Roshuni
    01/10/2017
    ···

    A man with such a negative background in regards to race relations is the absolute LAST person to be considered for Attorney General of the United States. He definitely does not have all of Americas best interest at heart and can only further hurt minorities and the disenfranchised.

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