Confirmations of Biden picks at the Pentagon have stalled in recent months amid resistance from some Republicans, and no candidate has been confirmed since July. Once the Senate returns next week, the need to confirm that these officials will compete with other priorities regardless of the election outcome, including passing defense policy, reaching an agreement to finance the government and the confirmation of candidates for the office of the president.
All candidates who are not confirmed at the end of this Congress are sent back to the White House to be renominated and start the process over again.
The possibility of the Senate moving to the Republicans adds to the urgency of having the Pentagon nominees confirmed by the end of the year. Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Jack Reed (DR.I.) said confirming all pending Pentagon nominees “activates the election.”
“If there is a Democratic Senate in the next term, then we will have a little more flexibility to leave the justices and move on to other departments,” Reed said last month at a Council on Foreign Relations. “If we lose the majority, which is 50-50 at the moment, then I think there will be total pressure to get as many judges confirmed as possible and that will interfere with the ability to get the DoD people in. “
While 43 of Biden’s Pentagon nominees have been confirmed in his first two years in office, 11 picks still await a final vote by the full Senate. Four of those candidates have been awaiting confirmation votes since March.
Candidates awaiting a vote include the Pentagon’s top watchdog, the chief health officer, two senior procurement officials and the department’s top legislative liaison.
Two other nominees, Biden’s picks to be inspector general of the National Reconnaissance Office and senior Pentagon manpower and reserve affairs official, await Armed Forces confirmation hearings.
Much of the impasse stems from Sen’s objections. Josh Haley (R-Mo.), who blocked rapid confirmations to protest Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The resistance of a single senator cannot prevent candidates from getting the job. But Hawley’s blockade is forcing Senate leaders to spend more time on the floor holding additional procedural votes.
An agreement to endorse a block of candidates with broad bipartisan support could ensure that many officials take office by the new year and do not have to repeat the process and possibly face a Senate led by the GOP. But no such deal seems to be in sight yet.
That’s time the Senate likely won’t have if Democrats prioritize appointing judges before losing power, said Arnold Punaro, former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Even if you argue that they are going to work until Christmas and until January 2, when the new Congress will be sworn in … we are under the two-minute exercise, frankly, as far as legislative days go” , said Punaro. . “And you have 25 judges on the schedule who are clearly a priority for the administration.”
He argues that with ‘significant headwinds’, the executive must pressure the majority leader chuck schumer to make filling the defense bench a priority during the lame duck session. Punaro is specifically pushing for the confirmation of two acquisition and industry-related candidates: Radha Plumb to be the second acquisition and retention manager and Laura Taylor-Kale to be the head of industrial base policy. of the Pentagon.
Defense candidates should be a higher priority for the Senate “based on what they want our industry to do” to help arm Ukraine, he said.
“You have to have people you can work with who are confirmed by the Senate,” Punaro said. “Career people are fine, but… there is a difference.”
Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who died last week and whose career included a stint as the Pentagon’s top arms buyer in the Obama administration, even offered last month to help convince leaders to hold votes on Plumb and Taylor-Kale. Punaro said he and Carter discussed it several times, and the former Pentagon chief agreed to the approach on the Friday before his death.
Also on the waiting list is Pentagon weapons tester Nickolas Guertin, who is Biden’s pick to be the Navy’s chief of acquisitions, though the White House has yet to officially name him. His selection comes as the Navy battles with Congress over whether to scrap many ships that the service says aren’t worth the cost of upkeep. But the delay in appointing Guertin means his confirmation will likely be pushed back to the next session.
Former Pentagon Inspector General Glenn Fine is also advocating for the Senate to confirm an IG, which has been filled on an interim basis for more than six years. Biden’s pick for the job, Robert Storch, was approved by the Armed Services Committee in March but has yet to receive a vote. In an Oct. 20 op-ed from the government executive, Fine called the delay “a mistake.”
“Serving in an acting position is not the same as holding a permanent office. Some people in the agency — and some even in the IG office — think they can wait for you,” Fine wrote. “And a permanent IG can more easily set strategic policy and make long-term personnel decisions.”
Then-President Donald Trump kicked Fine out of his acting job in early 2020, replacing him with Environmental Protection Agency inspector general Sean O’Donnell. O’Donnell still holds both positions nearly two years in the Biden administration.
“It’s hard enough to oversee an agency as an IG. It is next to impossible to manage two IG jobs, especially when one of them involves the biggest government agency,” Fine wrote.
Biden nevertheless made progress in nominating his Pentagon team despite the deadlock. Only one position, assistant secretary for acquisition, has no candidate out of the 57 Pentagon civilian jobs confirmed by the Senate.
Armed forces leaders, meanwhile, will focus primarily on passing their annual defense policy bill when the Senate returns the week after the election. With little time left in the session, Reed and the Republican ranking Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma aim to quickly pivot to negotiations with the House and produce a compromise bill that can arrive in Biden’s office by the end of the year.
It’s unclear whether Senate Democrats will push the issue on deadlocked national security candidates, a stalemate that Reed chafes against.
“It’s boring in a way, because we’re talking about people who play a key role in keeping the men and women on the ground safe and well-being,” Reed said.