You may have noticed the recent news coverage of Trump’s secretary nominees’ Senate hearings. Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, Ben Carson, Mike Pompeo, Elaine Chao, and Jeff Sessions have all had their hearings in the past couple days, with more scheduled into next week. What is the procedure that will allow these nominees to begin their jobs in the new administration?

After a president is elected, he or she is tasked with the duty of filling the executive branch with qualified individuals to run the government. This process begins immediately after the election and continues up until or after the inauguration. All of the president’s appointments, including cabinet secretaries that require Senate confirmation, must follow the official appointment confirmation process before taking office. In total, there are around 1,200 “PAS”, president appointment with Senate confirmation, positions. In addition to PAS appointments, there are also around 350 presidential appointments, or PA, without Senate confirmation, Non-career senior executive service, or NA, who work in key positions below presidential appointees. Lastly, there are Schedule C Appointments, or SC, including confidential assistant and policy professionals.  

The first step to kick off the process is to vet a list of candidates suggested to the president from advisers, members of Congress, and even special interest groups. After the president works with these people to choose a nominee, each one must pass investigations by the FBI, IRS, and Government Ethics Officials. They must also submit any requested information that relates to their background check or questionnaires and disclosure reports. After a president officially chooses a nominee, he must submit a written form with the nominee to the Senate where it starts the “Advice and Consent” procedure laid out in Article II of the Constitution.

The second step takes place in the Senate for PAS positions.  This entails committee hearings from the committee that has jurisdiction over the specific office. These hearings allow senators to ask questions on the nominee’s policy views and goals to examine his or her fitness for the office. This may include the testimony of opponents, supporters, or separate committee investigations. This is currently going on with Trump’s picks. The high profile offices are often broadcasted online and on television. After hearings are closed, the committee that held the hearing may report to the Senate favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation/action. Historically, it is very rare for nominee to pass through the rest of the process if the committee reports “unfavorably.” After this takes place, the nomination goes on the Executive Calendar before it makes in to the Senate floor.

The final step of the process occurs after the nomination has been on the Executive Calendar for more than a day. All senators must agree on a date and time for debate or else it goes on hold. Once debate ensues on the Senate floor, it doesn’t end until two-thirds of the Senate votes to close the debate and a simple majority is then needed to confirm the appointee. Senators can vote to either confirm, reject, or take no action on the nomination. Any nominations still left pending by the end of the Congress’ session must be resubmitted by the president to the next Congress. If a nomination is approved, the Senate’s decision is sent back to the president, results are recorded, and the appointee may take office.

Kristine Bucci