“It’s interesting when you see that The Washington Post Fact Checker has come out to confirm what we have been saying and what the president has been saying. That to get his nominees in place would take over nine years, to get them confirmed.”
— Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), remarks to reporters, April 24
The Fact Checker gave President Trump a rare Geppetto Checkmark this week, and it got noticed. But now the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is crying foul, saying Trump’s claim of nine years does not hold up.
Here’s a tour through the debate.
There is no doubt that it has taken Trump longer to get his nominees confirmed compared with his recent predecessors. For Trump, it has been 85 days on average, compared with 65 for Barack Obama and 44 for George W. Bush.
One factor has been Democrats’ habit of forcing the Republican Party leadership to invoke cloture for votes on key nominations, often referred to in public discourse as a filibuster.
(A filibuster generally refers to extended debate that delays a vote on a pending matter, while cloture is a device to end debate. Filibusters are used by opponents of a nominee or legislation, while cloture is filed by supporters. In the past, it took 60 votes to end debate on nominations, but a rule change engineered by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) in late 2013 changed it to a simple majority. The rule change meant the majority could push through nominations that might have previously failed to meet a 60-vote threshold. But it did not mean that the lawmakers had to stop demanding a cloture vote on every nominee.)
If you file cloture on Monday, the cloture vote ripens on Wednesday (the first day of session after an “intervening day”). Then, if cloture is invoked, up to 30 hours of debate time is available, which takes the Senate into Thursday afternoon. In other words, it can take four Senate days for one nominee.
So when Trump said it would take nine years, that was based on 1,122 potential nominations. Assuming each nominee is subjected to 30 hours of debate, that’s 33,660 hours, or 1,402 days. But the Senate is not in session every day — only about 150 days a year. So that works out to almost 9.4 years, assuming that all the Senate did was work on nominations subject to a cloture vote.
We noted that not every nomination is subject to a cloture vote, but, at the same time, one would expect the Senate to spend some time trying to pass laws.
Schumer’s office said The Fact Checker should not have assumed that every nomination going forward would be subject to a cloture vote. (We did not, since we also tried to add time for legislation.) Matt House, spokesman for Schumer, provided documentation showing that 432 of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed, 314 of them by voice vote. In other words, about 1 in 4 have been subject to a cloture vote.
So, assuming 1,122 potential nominations, that means 281 nominees would be subject to a cloture vote. Under the same formula as before, we end up with 2.3 years. But there’s a wrinkle: Previously, we had not counted intervening days, so when you add those, you end up with 4.2 years, or beyond the end of Trump’s term. (Counting intervening days also would make Trump’s nine-year calculation much higher.)
We also checked how many nominations have received Senate confirmation in 2018. We counted nine in January, 33 in February, 37 in March and eight so far in April. That works out to 87, or about 261 a year. At that rate, it would take 4.3 years for all of his potential nominations — or, again, beyond Trump’s term.
House noted that many of the nominations have cleared through voice votes, but it’s striking how long some took. Seven of the nominations approved in March were submitted in August, July and even June. Not all this is the fault of the Democrats, of course, as Republicans also place holds on nominations. Republicans also control the committee and floor schedules.
House’s objection is that Trump is wrong when he says that Democrats are “slow walking” all of his nominations — and that Trump is wrong to say, as he asserted at the news conference, that “Democrats are taking 30 hours per person, they’re taking the maximum time.” Democrats will sometimes give yield-back time and do not take the full 30 hours; they do not file cloture on every nominee.
In any case, at the current pace it’s unlikely that Trump will have all of his nominees confirmed by the end of this term. The president offered a theoretical number of nine years, and the numbers add up if one assumes that the number of nominations subject to cloture will increase. But the result still isn’t pretty if you do the math based on previous performance.
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