Lame-duck Trump rushes to fill posts he left vacant for years


The Biden administration could be stuck with Trump nominees confirmed before Inauguration Day.

Donald Trump, who was defeated in his bid for reelection in the presidential race against Joe Biden just over a month ago, has submitted dozens of nominations for executive and judicial appointments since Election Day. If confirmed, many of the nominees could continue to serve in the next administration.

On Nov. 17, 10 days after every major news outlet declared Biden the president-elect, the White House released a statement containing a list of people Trump intended to nominate to positions in the government. The first on the list was Brian P. Brooks, to be nominated for a five-year term in the position of comptroller of the currency. Brooks, like many other Trump hires, has been serving in the position in an "acting" capacity since May, but if the Senate votes to confirm him now, he could serve through 2025.

The release contained the names of 14 other people Trump intends to appoint to administration positions. Some were for advisory committees that serve at the pleasure of the president, but others — such as his picks for the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys and for the National Security Education Board — would serve four-year terms.

A day earlier, Trump had sent the nominations of two men to lifetime appointments as federal judges to the Senate.

Trump's blitz has continued in the subsequent weeks. He announced plans on Thursday to nominate four people to six-year terms on the board of trustees of the Kennedy Center, five people to serve five-year terms on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and four people to serve multi-year terms on the boards of U.S. military academies.

In total, he's named more than 35 people to boards, commissions, executive branch posts, and judgeships since becoming a lame duck.

Many of the positions have been vacant for some time and could have easily been filled before Americans elected Trump's replacement. One judicial post he now seeks to fill has been open since March 2019. Another is currently occupied by a George W. Bush appointee whose term expired in 2016.

The Trump administration has been noted for failing to send executive branch nominations to the Senate, often choosing to leave posts vacant for years at a time or to fill them with unconfirmed "acting" officials. Trump specifically prefers acting officials, he told reporters in 2019: "I sort of like 'acting,'" he said. "It gives me more flexibility; do you understand that? I like 'acting.'"

Even some of Trump's GOP allies expressed frustration with the chronically high number of vacancies. "It's a lot. It's way too many," Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) complained in February 2019. "You want to have confirmed individuals there because they have a lot more authority to be able to make decisions and implement policy when you have a confirmed person in that spot."

Trump's sudden enthusiasm for nominations is a change not only from his record over the past four years but also from his rhetoric as a candidate.

In March 2016, after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Trump demanded that Scalia's seat not be filled by President Barack Obama. "Let the next president pick," he urged.

In a breach of precedent, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP-controlled Senate have enabled Trump's lame-duck appointees, rushing to confirm as many picks as possible before the end of his term. Rather than pass pandemic relief or hundreds of other pieces of legislation, the Senate has spent most of its time since Election Day ramming through judges and other nominees.

McConnell (R-KY) announced before the election that he and his caucus planned to "clean the plate" by filling every single judicial vacancy before Trump's departure, should he lose.

"Americans chose new presidential leadership. President-elect Biden takes office January 20 at noon," Stephen Spaulding, senior counsel for public policy and government affairs at Common Cause, said in a email. "Any senator voting to install lame duck Trump nominees in the meantime must scrutinize those appointments carefully, because they come from a president that the American people rejected and some will be in a position to shape policies counter to the incoming administration."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.