Over the past six decades, the number of federal government roles requiring Senate approval has nearly doubled and the process to confirm them has become increasingly arduous and politicized, a recent report found.
This persistent dysfunction within the confirmation process has led to more vacancies in the federal government, reducing the president's capacity to govern and the Senate's power to hold officials accountable, according to the Partnership for Public Service's Center for Presidential Transition.
The nonpartisan nonprofit's report, released Monday, analyzed how the Senate confirmation process over the last several presidential administrations has created serious barriers to the effectiveness of the federal government. The report also proposes several ways to streamline the process moving forward.
The president selects about 4,000 people for various roles within the executive branch and independent agencies, and more than 1,200 of those appointees require Senate confirmation. These roles can range from high profile positions that help implement the president's agenda to part-time ceremonial roles.
Since 1960, the number of Senate-confirmed positions has grown from 779 to 1,237 in 2016 — a 59 percent increase.
Some of these roles were created to help the government address new challenges. Examples of recently established agencies include the Department of Homeland Security, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
But once created, Senate-confirmed positions are hard to reform or eliminate, the report notes. In 2011, Congress passed legislation that converted 163 positions to presidential appointments. This did little to halt the growth of Senate-confirmed roles, though. From 2012 to 2016, more than two dozen positions requiring confirmation were added.
Additionally, it takes more time than ever before to confirm all these positions. The average Senate confirmation process took 117 days during the Trump administration and 112 days during the Obama administration — twice as long as it did during the Reagan administration (56 days).
Following this trend, Joe Biden had the fewest number of cabinet nominees confirmed on his inauguration day in recent history.
The Senate's confirmation of presidential nominees has also become an increasingly politicized process as the minority party uses parliamentary tactics to gum up the works. One increasingly common tool is the filibuster, which is used to slow, if not block nominees. That in turn has led to a rise in filibuster-ending cloture votes, the procedure used to end debate on a motion and proceed to a final vote.
And these lengthy confirmation processes also mean positions in the federal government remain vacant for longer periods of time.
To temporarily fill vacancies for Senate-confirmation roles, presidents have often employed acting officials. "However, what should be a stop-gap measure has become a more semi-permanent solution as the executive branch has increasingly relied on acting officials, often in response to the Senate's slow and intricate confirmation process," the report states.
The Center for Presidential Transition identified seven potential solutions to streamline the confirmation process:
- Convert some Senate-confirmed positions to non-confirmed presidential appointments.
- Assign more Senate-confirmed positions to fixed-length terms to reduce the turnover in key roles.
- Expand the norm of holding over critical officials until successors are confirmed in the short term.
- Convert a portion of political appointments to nonpolitical career roles.
- Convert select Senate-confirmed political appointments on commissions and boards to non-confirmed roles or to agency-controlled appointments.
- Eliminate redundant and consistently vacant appointments.
- Enhance the Senate's "privileged" nomination process to allow certain nominees to bypass committee procedures.
The Framers intended the nomination-and-confirmation process to allow presidents to appoint the best candidates to their administrations, while preventing them from installing unsuitable or corrupt individuals. This objective still has merit and should be maintained, the report says.
"However, the current number of Senate-confirmed positions has created a logjam, hindering the ability of administrations to fill critical roles and undermining the effectiveness of the American government," the report concludes. "It is only through cooperation across the executive and legislative branches that the current appointment process can be reformed from the unsustainable status quo."
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Conservative Americans' adherence to disinformation spread by QAnon runs deeper than previously believed, recent polling found.
Although just one in 10 adults who self-identify as center-right have a favorable view of QAnon, a survey conducted by Citizen Data found that 62 percent of conservatives believe in at least one core conspiracy theory born from the movement. This analysis, released Friday, is the first part of Citizen Data's year-long project "to deeply understand" the American political right. Future analyses will be focused on voting access, electoral reform, Covid-19 and climate change, among other topics.
Conservatives with a favorable view of QAnon were more likely to believe in multiple conspiracy theories. More than two-thirds of those favorable toward QAnon rated three or more theories as true, compared to one-fifth of those who are unsure about QAnon, and 12 percent of those who are unfavorable.
Citizen Data — which is led by former third-party vice presidential candidate Mindy Finn and provides data resources for nonpartisan and cross-partisan groups — found that 60 percent of Republicans believe the movement's original and baseless conspiracy theory that a global network of pedophiles are torturing and sexually abusing children in satanic rituals. This is a huge increase from last fall when a separate survey found only a third of conservatives believed this was true.
More than half of the respondents also erroneously believe Donald Trump to be the winner of the 2020 election. Those who endorse the "Big Lie," compared to those who reject it, were nearly three times as likely to have a favorable view of QAnon (16 percent versus 6 percent) and half as likely to have an unfavorable view (29 percent versus 61 percent).
A significant number of conservatives also accepted as true conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic and the Covid-19 vaccine:
- 16 percent said they believe vaccines contained tracking chips.
- 23 percent said they believe the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax.
- 24 percent said they believe the government is covering up a link between Covid-19 and autism.
One-third of the Republicans surveyed said they would not get the Covid-19 vaccine.
Additionally, Citizen Data found that racial attitudes among white conservatives (92 percent of those surveyed) were powerful predictors of QAnon favorability and belief. While the survey did not explicitly say belief in QAnon was correlated with white supremacy, it did find that respondents with strong senses of white identity and hostility toward people of color were more likely to support QAnon.
QAnon belief was also found to be more prevalent among young Republicans. One-third of conservatives under 35 who participated in the 2020 primary and general elections gave QAnon a positive rating, compared to 22 percent of older voters who did the same.
Differences in how men and women view QAnon were significant in the contexts of educational attainment and political knowledge. Women without a bachelor's degree were more likely to believe in the conspiracy theories than men with the same education level. Conversely, men with little political knowledge favored QAnon more than women with the same unfamiliarity with politics.
Overall, respondents who reported higher levels of political knowledge were less likely to believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, regardless of their news consumption habits. This finding in particular points to an opportunity for countering the spread of these falsehoods.
"Increasing political engagement and political education may help to inoculate American society against conspiracy movements," the survey found.
Citizen Data surveyed 5,918 American adults who identify as center-right between May 16 and June 3. The margin of error was 1.4 percentage points.
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The Institute for Political Innovation is helping to debunk myths about American politics. It may be easy to point fingers at politicians, but the truth is that Senators and Representatives are often prisoners of a dysfunctional system. They have no choice but lockstep allegiance to their side, thanks to an outdated and toxic rule within the politics industry: the party primary.
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Senate votes 50-50
Nevins is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and co-founder and board chairman of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
Yesterday, our congressional dysfunction continued as the vote on the For the People Act was along purely partisan lines with a vote of 50 Democrats in favor and 50 Republicans against. The level of dysfunction is heightened by the fact that this was not a vote to pass the voting rights legislation, but simply a vote on whether to even debate the proposed legislation.
Whether one believes that the wave of state-level voting changes is warranted or not, whether one believes in the voting rights legislation in its present format or not, there is no doubt that Americans believe that voting is at the heart of our democratic process. Yet the vote as to whether to even have a debate on the subject was 100% partisan.
As I listened to the rationale on both sides before, during and after the vote, I realized that the rhetoric was devoid of any desire for an open-minded search for the truth and a workable solution on this vital issue.
As I switched channels between FOX, MSNBC, and CNN, I witnessed the dogma and observed how it can give the holder a warm and comforting feeling of security in this time of great change and anxiety in our nation. Comfort unfortunately does not allow for the possibility of advancement and a modicum of common ground.
Polls repeatedly show that a vast majority of Americans in both parties want fair and open elections. Yet this is rarely mentioned by the press or members of Congress as the dysfunction continues. Finding the balance between reasonable voter ID that 75% of Americans favor and federal standards to ensure that voting is accessible and fair cannot even be debated as both sides are entrenched in the dogmatic rhetoric of left versus right politics.
Therefore, the dysfunction continues as both sides enflame their followers. A writing by professor Dan Schnur published in Allsides.com entitled Both Parties Rely on Fear-Mongering articulates the problem.
Democrats issue dire warnings of the threat of voter suppression. Republicans sound the alarm about the menace of voter fraud. But both parties are dramatically overstating an exaggerated problem to whip their most devoted supporters into a frenzy. The result is that confidence in the foundation of our democratic process is at an all-time low, driven down by unyielding partisan attacks from both the left and the right as a cynical tool to motivate their most committed loyalists.
Last night as I reflected, I was reminded of a quote from Brené Brown, a research professor who has spent a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame:
My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are fraught with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.
You may ask how this in any way relates to the dogma perpetrated by our political leaders who each have their own prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by their side. Perhaps it is our fear of uncertainty, and the vulnerability that comes with uncertainty, that leads the citizens of our country to gravitate to candidates who claim to have the answer, who portray everything with a high degree of certainty in comforting black and white terms.
Our nation is trapped by political dogma and the greatest casualty is the truth that is needed for pragmatic solutions. Everything gets lost in the posturing, the fear mongering, and the close mindedness as nothing gets done. And We the People are the collateral damage of this partisan warfare.
We can and must do better as a nation. Now is the time, because so much is at stake.
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