Other than the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, in 2017 the Trump nominee that made the most headlines was one attacked by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over his Christian faith. And still in 2018, this nominee still hasn’t been confirmed. Not because of Democrats, but because a member of Senate GOP leadership is holding him over funding for his state.
Russ Vought was nominated for Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget in April of 2017. When he finally received a hearing in June, he was grilled by liberal Senator Sanders not for his policy views on federal spending, but on whether he was Islamaphobic or anti-Semitic because he publicly professed belief in the tenants of Christianity.
Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders flirted with the boundaries of this rule … It was a remarkable moment: a Democratic senator lecturing a nominee for public office on the correct interpretation of Christianity in a confirmation hearing putatively about the Office of Management and Budget. Sanders used the term “Islamophobia” to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing, Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.
Eventually, Mr. Vought was passed out of committee and sent to the Senate floor for a final confirmation vote. And since the the filibuster for non-Supreme court nominees was done away with years ago, all he needed was for Senate GOP leaders to schedule a vote and 51 GOP votes for confirmation. But months went by and nothing happened.
Finally, in October it was revealed that Senate GOP Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) was personally blocking Mr. Vought, because he was using the nomination as leverage to extract higher amounts of emergency spending for his home state of Texas for hurricane relief. Conservatives were outraged, and nearly 100 conservative leaders wrote urging Senator Cornyn to drop his hold:
Texas is already receiving aid in the $36.5 billion supplemental funding bill that recently passed the House, and is under consideration by the Senate. Yet, Cornyn wants more. In taking this position, Cornyn appears to be playing politics and one-upsmanship with his fellow Texans, Governor Abbott and Senator Cruz, both of whom have helped to bring about appropriate and constructive federal support in response to this natural disaster. This behavior by Senator Cornyn is unbecoming a Senator who wants to be the next Republican leader in the Senate and who professes to be a principled conservative.
In December, an additional $81 billion was passed by the House of Representatives for disaster relief including funding for Texas hurricane recovery. However, to date, Mr. Vought has not been confirmed and it appears that is because Senator Cornyn has not released his hold.
CPI’s Rachel Bovard recently explained that the Senate is confirming some Trump nominees, but not necessarily ones that would make conservatives happy:
If these high level, non-judicial nominees aren’t being confirmed, then who is?
Ambassadors to countries such as Monaco, Cameroon and Denmark. Low-level legal advisors, general counsels, assistant administrators and undersecretaries for marketing and regulatory programs. These positions are important, but not critical to a fully functioning government, and certainly not worth prioritizing over deputy cabinet officials like Russ Vought…
More concerning is the fact that poor nominees are being given Senate consideration while well-qualified conservatives are waiting in the wings. McConnell recently sought unanimous consent to confirm three nominees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — two Republicans, paired with one Democrat.
Chai Feldblum, the Democrat and Obama-era appointee, opposes background checks on any employees, including at daycares and nursing homes. She continues to advance an argument, long rejected by the courts, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects gays and lesbians from employment discrimination. She has also stated that, in situations where religious liberty and sexual liberty are in conflict, sexual liberty should win.
The frustration among conservatives is heightened because, for most of the year, McConnell confirmed barely any nominees, judicial or otherwise. He only began confirming judges at a more rapid pace after bowing to pressure from conservatives and the president.
As the Senate leaves for the year, approximately 500 of the president’s nominees still await confirmation — and all must be renominated at the beginning of 2018. Congress has a full plate when they return in January. But instead of voting to bail out health insurance companies or provide amnesty to illegal immigrants, perhaps McConnell should utilize the Senate floor to confirm the qualified conservative appointees who have been patiently waiting all year for the Senate to do its work.
CPI will continue to monitor these nomination fights.