Hagel, Brennan, and history: How often does Senate reject cabinet nominees?
The Senate has only rejected two presidential cabinet picks since World War II – though six others have withdrawn their names, and the process is becoming more contentious.
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“Appearing to question the Senate’s constitutional prerogatives, the imperious Strauss personified the worst elements of executive-branch domination at precisely the time that the Senate sought to cast off such control and had acquired the Democratic majorities to do so,” writes the Senate Historical Office.Skip to next paragraph
Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.
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The second Senate nomination-vote loser was Sen. John Tower (R) of Texas, who was nominated as secretary of Defense by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. A recognized defense expert and one of the Senate’s own, Senator Tower at first seemed a safe choice. But allegations of alcohol abuse, plus questions about his role as a consultant to defense contractors, sank his bid following a contentious debate.
“The rejection of Tower’s nomination was surprising because the Senate allows presidents great latitude in selecting top-level members of their administrations,” writes James King, chairman of the University of Wyoming political science department, in a study of the Senate nomination process.
Of course, it’s more common for nominees to withdraw their names from consideration than it is for them to go down in flaming defeat on the Senate floor. Since 1993, six cabinet nominees have faced reality and pulled out rather than suffer a Senate rejection.
Zoe Baird ended her bid to serve as President Clinton’s attorney general in 1993 due to controversy over her hiring of illegal immigrants to serve as a chauffeur and nanny to her children. Linda Chavez was picked by President George W. Bush in 2001 to serve as Labor Secretary, but withdrew after reports that she had also paid an illegal immigrant to perform household chores. Former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle withdrew his name from consideration as Obama’s secretary of Health and Human Services due to charges of conflict of interest and tax evasion.
Both Hagel and Mr. Brennan are probably well aware that, given the contentious state of modern US politics, even winning cabinet nominees now suffer bruises along the way. Whereas the Senate once generally opposed nominees only for nonpolicy reasons, now nomination hearings are yet another forum in which to argue over matters of state.
“The appointments process has become a policy battleground in recent times. Senators may oppose a candidate because they disagree with the policy preferences of the candidate,” writes Wyoming’s Dr. King.
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