Kansas City native Geoffrey Starks is finally a full-fledged member of the Federal Communications Commission. We say “finally” for a good reason.
President Donald Trump nominated Starks, a Democrat, on June 4. Early on, the Senate was expected to quickly confirm him. Then life as usual on Capitol Hill took over.
A “hold” was placed on the appointment of an FCC colleague who was teamed with Starks, and the two lingered in limbo-land for months. In December, concerns apparently had been addressed, and the two were finally confirmed.
Limbo-land. That’s where so many federal nominees find themselves these days. It’s a dilemma that virtually defines D.C. gridlock. St. Louis lawyer Stephen Clark can tell you all about it, too. He waited more than 300 days for confirmation to the federal bench before getting an affirmative committee vote on Thursday to move to full Senate consideration.
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The number of vacant positions in federal agencies and the courts has grown into the hundreds. The problem is so severe that the federal government resembles a football team without a running back, a wide receiver and two linemen.
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt has long been fed up with this process, but now he’s proposing a way forward. Blunt and fellow Republican James Lankford of Oklahoma, want to slash the number of hours of debate for many nominees from 30 to two. Cabinet-level appointees would still face longer debates.
The rules have allowed Democrats to slow down Senate business and eat up days of precious floor time.
“This has been nothing more than obstruction for the sake of obstruction, and it is outrageous,” Blunt said.
Dozens of appointees have been delayed, undermining the president’s ability to fully staff the government.
Right now, the Blunt-Lankford proposal has no Democratic backers. But the time to reform this process is overdue. Elections have consequences, and Trump won. And consider this: Trump is more than halfway through his term. Democrats say they’re looking forward to 2020 with confidence that their nominee can win.
With this measure in place, Democrats could expect their new president to have success at filling vacancies.
Something has to give. The country just endured the longest shutdown in history, and another could be in the offing. The confirmation process for key jobs is broken, too.
Of course, because it’s Washington, both sides are to blame. Trump’s team has moved at tortoise-like speeds to put forward qualified nominees. Senate Republicans, of course, were the ones who refused to act on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, so Democrats have a right to complain that it’s awfully convenient that Republicans are now getting religion on confirming nominees in a timely manner.
But enough’s enough.
Yes, the Senate has a role to play here. That’s what “advice and consent” is all about. But we are light years away from a time when judicial nominees could run the confirmation gauntlet, from start to finish, in less than a month. That’s what used to happen under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Today, federal district courts have 121 vacancies while circuit courts have 12. About 20 percent of the seats on the federal bench sit vacant, and that undermines the swift execution of justice in this country.
Republicans may have to use the “nuclear” option to force a rules change to speed up the process. That’s not ideal, but as Blunt says, presidents deserve the chance to put their team in place.