After votes on all 15 of President Trump’s major department heads, his Cabinet has already received the most combined “no” votes in history, just three months into his administration — a clear indication of a more combative opposition in the Senate than nominees of Trump’s predecessors faced.

Eight of Trump’s Cabinet members have received more “nays” than any previous nominee for their respective positions. These votes reflect a confirmation process increasingly driven by stark policy differences and partisan political concerns.

Opposing senators were mostly deferential to the president’s picks until about four decades ago, and more voted “no” on President Barack Obama’s picks than those of any previous president. Trump’s nominees broke that record after a vote that ultimately confirmed Alexander Acosta as labor secretary.

Total ‘no’ votes

on Cabinet nominees by president

Presidents since Franklin Delano Roosevelt

0

200

400

Trump

437 “no” votes

Obama (2 terms)

406 “no” votes

W. Bush (2)

157

Reagan (2)

124

Nixon (2)

113

F. D. Roosevelt (4)

83

Eisenhower (2)

55

H. W. Bush (1)

54

Ford (1*)

50

Carter (1)

49

Truman (2)

37

Clinton (2)

18

L. B. Johnson (2*)

0

Kennedy (1)

0

* Ford, Truman and Johnson each assumed their presidencies mid-term. Truman and Johnson both won reelection to serve a subsequent full term.

Total ‘no’ votes on Cabinet nominees by president

Presidents since Franklin Delano Roosevelt

0

100

200

300

400

437 “no”

votes

Trump

Obama (2 terms)

406

W. Bush (2)

157

Reagan (2)

124

Nixon (2)

113

F. D. Roosevelt (4)

83

Eisenhower (2)

55

H. W. Bush (1)

54

Ford (0*)

50

Carter (1)

49

Truman (1*)

37

Clinton (2)

18

L. B. Johnson (1*)

0

Kennedy (1)

0

* Ford, Truman and Johnson each assumed their presidencies mid-term. Truman and Johnson both won reelection to serve a subsequent full term.

Both Republican senators under Obama and now Democrats under Trump have fought political battles on this new front by requesting that legislators go on the record for or against each nominee in a roll call vote.

Eight of Obama’s initial nominees were easily confirmed without that record of how each senator voted. None of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed this way.

Percentage of ‘no’ votes

for each Cabinet nominee

Roll call vote

Vote not recorded

(voice vote or unanimous consent)

Obama

31 votes on nominees

Filibuster

eliminated

Thomas Perez

50% “no”

(rejection)

Labor

25

0

Vote not recorded

Roll call vote

Trump

15 votes

Betsy DeVos

Education

50% “no”

(rejection)

25

0

Roll call vote

Percentage of ‘no’ votes for each Cabinet nominee

Roll call vote

Vote not recorded (voice vote or unanimous consent)

Obama

Trump

31 votes on nominees

15 votes

Filibuster

eliminated

Betsy

DeVos

Thomas Perez

50% “no”

(rejection)

50% “no”

Labor

Education

25

25

More

votes

against

0

0

Vote not recorded

Roll call vote

 In the past, whole presidencies might have passed without a single roll call vote on the Cabinet. The Senate often confirms several nominees to a new president’s Cabinet with zero recorded “no” votes.

Percentage of ‘no’ votes

for each Cabinet nominee,

by president

Roll call vote

Vote not recorded

(voice vote or unanimous consent)

LewisStrauss (rejected)

Commerce

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisenhower

25 votes

on nominees

24

22

Earl Butz

50% “no”

(rejection)

Agriculture

0

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

15

31

11

12

John G. Tower (rejected)

Defense

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Carter

Reagan

H. W. Bush

33

18

21 votes

on nominees

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Clinton

W. Bush

28

34

Filibuster

eliminated

Betsy DeVos

50% “no”

(rejection)

Education

0

Obama

Trump

31 votes

on nominees

15

Percentage of ‘no’ votes for each Cabinet nominee, by president

Roll call vote

Vote not recorded (voice vote or unanimous consent)

Lewis Strauss (rejected)

Commerce

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisenhower

Kennedy

25 votes on nominees

24

22

12

Earl Butz

Agriculture

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

Carter

15

31

11

21 votes on nominees

John G. Tower (rejected)

Defense

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Reagan

H. W. Bush

Clinton

33 votes on nominees

18

28

Filibuster

eliminated

Betsy DeVos

Education

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

W. Bush

Obama

Trump

34

31

15 votes

on nominees

Percentage of ‘no’ votes for each Cabinet nominee, by president

Roll call vote

Vote not recorded (voice vote or unanimous consent)

Lewis Strauss (rejected)

Earl Butz

Commerce

50% “no”

(rejection)

Agriculture

0

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisenhower

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

Carter

25 votes on nominees

24

22

12

15

31

11

21 votes on nominees

Filibuster

eliminated

John G. Tower (rejected)

Betsy DeVos

Defense

Education

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Reagan

H. W. Bush

Clinton

W. Bush

Obama

Trump

33 votes on nominees

18

28

34

31

15 votes

on nominees

Percentage of ‘no’ votes

for each Cabinet nominee, by president

Roll call vote

Vote not recorded (voice vote or unanimous consent)

Lewis Strauss (rejected)

Commerce

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Roosevelt

Truman

Eisenhower

25 votes

on nominees

24

22

Earl Butz

Agriculture

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Kennedy

Johnson

Nixon

Ford

15

31

11

12

John G. Tower (rejected)

Defense

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Carter

Reagan

H. W. Bush

33

18

21 votes

on nominees

50% “no”

(rejection)

0

Clinton

W. Bush

28

34

Filibuster

eliminated

Betsy DeVos

50% “no”

(rejection)

Education

0

Obama

Trump

31 votes

no nominees

15

Since Democrats ended the filibuster on Cabinet nominations in 2013, a minority party has little power to stop an undesired pick. Senators can stage a display of dissent, request a roll call and cast a “no” vote.

A more political process

Experts said the 1980s were a turning point. More so than his predecessors, President Ronald Reagan prioritized ideology when making his appointments, using the process to install conservatives across government. In this increased politicization, Congress found more reason to push back on the executive branch.

This trend continues today.

“The minority party is much less willing to go along with the president’s choice,” said Lauren Cohen Bell, the dean of academic affairs at Randolph-Macon College, who is an expert on presidential appointments. “They don’t want to be seen as capitulating to whatever the White House’s partisan perspectives or goals might be.”

Bell, whose 2002 book "Warring Factions" explored what is driving these changes, said interest groups have seized on the confirmations process, especially to politically charged departments such as Labor and Interior, as a way to attack policy positions they oppose, as was the case with DeVos and school vouchers.

Top three ‘nay’-getting nominees by Cabinet position

Many of Obama’s and Trump’s nominees saw the most ‘no’ votes since FDR for that position. Ranked by percent of recorded votes cast against the nominee.

Agriculture Yea Nay
1. Nixon Butz 51 44
2. Trump Perdue 87 11
3. Reagan Lyng 95 2
Attorney General Yea Nay
1. Trump Sessions 52 47
2. Obama Lynch 56 43
3. W. Bush Mukasey 53 40
Commerce Yea Nay
1. Eisenhower Strauss 46 49
2. Roosevelt Wallace 56 32
3. Roosevelt Hopkins 58 27
Defense Yea Nay
1. H. W. Bush Tower 47 53
2. Obama Hagel 58 41
3. Truman Marshall 57 11
Education Yea Nay
1. Trump DeVos 51 50
2. Obama King 49 40
3. Carter Hufstedler 81 2
Energy Yea Nay
1. Trump Perry 62 37
2. Reagan Hodel 86 8
3. Reagan Edwards 93 3
HHS Yea Nay
1. Trump Price 52 47
2. Obama Sebelius 65 31
3. Obama Burwell 78 17
HUD Yea Nay
1. Trump Carson 58 41
2. Obama Castro 71 26
3. Ford Hills 85 5
Homeland Security Yea Nay
1. Obama Johnson 78 16
2. Trump Kelly 88 11
Interior Yea Nay
1. Ford Hathaway 60 36
2. Trump Zinke 68 31
3. W. Bush Norton 75 24
Labor Yea Nay
1. Obama Perez 54 46
2. Trump Acosta 60 38
3. Carter Marshall 74 20
State Yea Nay
1. Trump Tillerson 56 43
2. W. Bush Rice 85 13
3. Nixon Kissinger 78 7
Transportation Yea Nay
1. Trump Chao 93 6
Treasury Yea Nay
1. Trump Mnuchin 53 47
2. Obama Geithner 60 34
3. Obama Lew 71 26
Veterans Affairs

No nominees for this position have received any recorded “no” votes.

Senators use the nomination process to warn the administration of their opinions on policy battles they expect to come up. Since the filibuster remains on legislation, Trump will need to persuade 60 senators to support some of his key agenda items. Even senators who eventually supported his nominees have fired warning shots, such as when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) questioned Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson’s stance on Russia.

“No policies are settled here, but clearly the opposition is laying out the groundwork for what they expect to be later policy debates,” James King, a professor at the University of Wyoming, said.

While a drawn out fight can slow the president’s momentum and drain political capital at the start of his first term, it’s almost unheard of that the opposition could vote down nominees on policy complaints alone. Usually some sort of illegal behavior in the nominee’s background contributes to their withdrawal.

[The popular uprising that threatens the Betsy DeVos nomination]

Democrats have pledged that several other Trump nominees will face a Democratic wall of “no” votes in the coming weeks, but it’s likely that Republicans will get most of their picks.

In the last 80 years, only two Cabinet nominations have made it to a floor vote and failed, in part because presidents try to pick experienced nominees who will pass the Senate’s test. 

But attempting to block a nominee — or more precisely, showing their supporters that they’re attempting it — is one of the only options for Democrats, who remain largely shut out of power.

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