President Donald Trump’s second State of the Union was billed as a call for unity and bipartisan cooperation, but it didn’t take long for the president’s rhetoric to descend into blaming his political opponents for his troubles — regardless of whether the charges were fair or accurate. In one particularly egregious example, Trump blamed the Senate for a backlog of vacancies to posts in the federal government. In fact, this backlog exists because the administration has not actually submitted many nominees for the Senate to consider.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” the president began. “It just doesn’t work that way! We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad.”
Trump then blamed a slow pace of political appointees being confirmed by the Senate as an example of this division.
“This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate — some after years of waiting,” he continued. “The Senate has failed to act on these nominations, which is unfair to the nominees and to our country. Now is the time for bipartisan action.”
Trump did not mention that the Senate Republicans have controlled the chamber since he took office. He also said some had been waiting for years, when his administration is barely two years old.
But the president is also playing fast and loose with the facts when he blames the Senate for this nominations crisis. According to a running analysis from the Partnership for Public Service (PPS) and the Washington Post, the Trump administration’s large backlog of vacant positions is largely due to the fact that it has not actually nominated candidates for the Senate to consider.
Of the roughly 1,200 positions that require Senate confirmation, the PPS analysis is tracking 705 of the more senior postings, including “Cabinet secretaries, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, heads of agencies, ambassadors and other critical leadership positions.” As of Monday, 144 of the 705 key positions do not even have nominees. That is greater than the 126 which await confirmation and much smaller than the 431 which have already been confirmed.
Trump’s own cabinet is emblematic of this problem. Currently, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense are being led by acting secretaries, because the president has not formally nominated anyone to lead those agencies.