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Biden’s confirmations progress at the 300-day mark

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The Biden administration’s effort to staff the federal government is proceeding at a snail’s pace compared to previous administrations. Such a leadership vacuum inhibits the administration’s ability to implement their agenda, and while the Senate plays a key role in the process and pace, it is the president who suffers most from this incredibly slow pace.

At day 300, the Biden administration has much to be proud of—passage of the infrastructure bill, the declining unemployment rate, and the record number of federal judges that have been confirmed, among earlier legislative achievements like the American Rescue Plan. According to my Brookings colleague, Russell Wheeler, as of November 17, (Biden’s 300th day in office), the Senate has confirmed 28 federal judges (nine on the court of appeals and 19 on the district courts), surpassing his most recent Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who had six judges confirmed by this point and President Trump, who had 13. But while the administration can hail its record-setting appointments to the bench, it is worth noting that confirmed appointees to the executive branch are trickling in at an alarmingly slow pace.

This report marks this project’s third and final opportunity to track the pace of executive branch confirmations and the gender and ethnic diversity of these appointees during President Biden’s first year in office. When I reported on the progress at the 100– and 200-day marks, the Biden confirmation pace lagged behind his three predecessors, while the commitment to nominating large numbers of women and nonwhites represented a historic breakthrough. This study’s data on executive branch confirmations, drawn from Congress.gov, includes comparisons to Biden’s three predecessors and focuses on the fifteen major departments (excluding U.S. Attorneys at the Department of Justice). In addition, there is data on gender and race/ethnicity for each confirmed individual; the categories for the latter are the same as the U.S. Census.

pace of confirmations

After 300 days, the Senate has confirmed 140 of President Biden’s nominees to the 15 major executive departments. The chart below demonstrates that while the Biden administration outpaced President Trump at the start and surpassed the Obama administration in days 200-300, overall President Biden lags behind his predecessors—a troubling, but perhaps not unexpected trendline. Terry Sullivan, a political scientist with the White House Transition Project, shows that the pace of confirmations has been declining for every president since Ronald Reagan, suggesting that even Biden’s successor will have fewer confirmations after 300 days.

Since we began tracking President Biden’s Cabinet and appointees, we have broken them down by department. This enables one to move beyond the aggregate figures and examine confirmations within each of the 15 departments. Such an examination reveals that the Biden administration has the fewest number of confirmed appointees in seven of the 15 departments including Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, State, Transportation, and Treasury. Of these, the performance in the State Department is weakest; an unsurprising predicament given the emergence of a Republican blockade by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and more recently, Marco Rubio (R-Fla). Working together, they have stalled the confirmations of many senior State Department officials. To provide a clearer sense of just how many appointees are being held up, the Partnership for Public Service indicated that as of November 22, there were 85 pending State Department nominees, 47 of which were awaiting a full vote. This GOP blockade has clearly succeeded as demonstrated by the confirmation records of President Biden compared to his three predecessors on day 300: Biden 27, Trump 55, Obama 92, and Bush 133.

Why does this slow pace matter? Apart from a leadership vacuum that hampers long-term planning and adversely affects morale, the slow pace of confirmation affects government performance. More than 17 years ago, the bipartisan 9-11 Commission released a report that addressed the dangers of delayed confirmations. One of their key recommendations was expeditious confirmation of those appointees working in the national security realm. According to a study by the Partnership for Public Service: The commission found that George W. Bush lacked key deputy Cabinet and subcabinet officials until the spring and summer of 2001, noting that “the new administration—like others before it—did not have its team on the job until at least six months after it took office,” or less than two months before 9/11. We are now 10 months into a new administration and are well behind the confirmation rate of the Bush administration.  In short, the situation is far more dire than when the 9-11 Commission issued its report. I suspect the commission would be most disappointed by the Biden administration’s lag in filling top positions at Defense, Homeland Security, and State given the national security implications.

Diversity of confirmations

Aside from the slow pace of confirmations, it is important to point out the historic levels of gender and racial/ethnic diversity among the Biden confirmed appointees. From the start, the administration has demonstrated a high level of commitment to the appointment of women and nonwhites. At the 300-day mark, women represent half of the 140 confirmed appointees, exceeding his three predecessors by a sizeable amount (President Obama was closest with 29% of his appointments going to women).

Similarly, the Biden administration demonstrated a major commitment to appointing nonwhites.  After 300 days, 39% of the Biden administration confirmed nominees are nonwhite; representing a stark change from the Trump administration that reached 14% in the first 300 days.

As of November 22, the Partnership for Public Service indicated that there are 175 nominees (to the 15 major departments) languishing somewhere in the Senate confirmation process. This large number suggests that the Biden administration has fulfilled its obligation. Given no choice but to work within the limitations of a slow-moving and sometimes recalcitrant Senate, the Biden administration has made its mark where it can—by appointing the most diverse set of presidential nominees.

Twenty years ago, political scientist Burdett Loomis wrote an article for the Brookings Institution noting “…the lengthening Senate confirmation process indicates that a problem does exist…” If only the Senate operated at the same pace as it did back in 2001, President Biden might have about 326 confirmed nominees instead of well less than half of that number (140).  While the slow confirmation pace is not a new phenomenon, it has reached a new low. In prior publications, I tried to account for the slow pace: the 50-50 split in the Senate, the heavy legislative agenda, the frequency and length of Senate recesses, the apparent prioritization of judicial appointments, and the frequency of Republican holds. In the end, the source of the delay is irrelevant. The Senate has a responsibility to vote on the president’s nominees in a timely fashion and I contend that this role is most important at the start of a new administration.

The Biden administration has made history on two fronts and in two starkly different ways—the most diverse set of confirmed appointees and the fewest nominees in place at the 300-day mark.  Frustrated by this pace, Majority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) recently threatened to keep the chamber in session longer than anticipated so that they could confirm more nominees. If cutting recess or working on weekends motivates Senators to vote on the nominees languishing in the Senate, I am all for it. Leadership matters, particularly at the start of an administration, and giving a president the tools (in this case personnel) he or she needs to govern is good for everyone—Republicans and Democrats alike.

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High Alert For Schools, Colleges Over Possible 3rd Wave

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While Odisha is witnessing a rise in COVID cases at different residential schools and institutions, the emergence of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529 has triggered scare among students below 18 years old.

The new COVID variant is dubbed as ‘a variant of concern’ by WHO. As stated by health experts, Omicron is more lethal than the Delta variant and the new mutated variant may even infect individuals who have received double dose vaccines.  

Amid the rising fear over Omicron, the Odisha government has decided to intensify its preparations to tackle the situation and prevent the threats of a possible third wave. The government has decided to monitor international travellers.

The State Health Department issued a set of guidelines stating testing, quarantine and genome sequencing mandatory for those coming from outside, particularly from foreign countries. 

Odisha Chief Secretary Suresh Chandra Mohapatra has directed district Collectors, Chief District Medical Officers (CDMO) and Superintendents of Police to remain alert for a possible third wave of the pandemic in the State. He further directed to take immediate actions if any person shows COVID symptoms.

The Chief Secretary has also emphasised on door-to-door vaccination drive and directed to ensure that everyone adheres to the COVID guidelines released by the government. He also ordered to take the violators to task and take stern action against them.

Such directives have been issued following the surge in cases in schools and institutions which have been opened recently.  

State Health Minister Naba Kishore Das said, “We are keeping track of the new variant and monitoring international passengers from South Africa and other places. They will be tested and quarantined. They will also undergo treatment if they develop any symptom. All concerned officials have been directed to remain on high alert.”

Health Services Director Bijay Mohapatra earlier today said that the guidelines issued by the State government are as per the instructions of the Centre. 

“Community surveillance and awareness measures need to be ramped up as they will play a crucial role in tracking down contacts of positive cases. Several measures are still continuing across the State as per protocol to check the spread of the Covid-19,” Mohapatra added.

3rd Wave Scare Looms Over Schools, Institutions

While the scare of a possible third wave is looming over schools across the State, the number of positivity has witnessed a spike recently; especially in the residential institutions and hostels. Recently, COVID positive cases were reported from Burla VIMSAR, Saint Mary Girls High School in Sundergarh and Chamakpur government residential girls school in Karanjia among students as well as the working staff.

The positive cases ‘within campus’ have increased to 150. 

Following the detections of the cases, the campuses have been designated as mini-containment zones and parents have been barred from visiting the hostels.

While parents have expressed concerns over the rising cases in hostels and residential schools/colleges, Mass Education Minister Sameer Ranjan Dash said, “Positive cases have been reported in hostels of a few institutions and immediately those were shut down and were declared as containment zones. The district administrations are keeping vigil eyes on the events and will take action as and when needed. “

Health Expert Dr. Sarat Behera said that COVID cases are on the rise after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. “The State is witnessing a spike in daily cases of positivity. Omicron is more lethal than other variants and people must strictly follow COVID appropriate behaviour,” he said.

It is expected that children below 18 years old are at high risk during the possible third wave of the pandemic as they still remain unvaccinated. Under such circumstances, COVID positivity is increasing in schools and colleges. Health experts have expressed concerns that a minor lapse could cost large.

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Investors continue to watch omicron Covid variant

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SINGAPORE — Shares in Japan looked set for a lower open on Monday as investors in Asia monitor developments surrounding the recently discovered omicron Covid variant.

The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 28,365, against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 28,751.62.

Shares in Australia slipped in morning trade as the S&P/ASX 200 fell 0.89%.

Stock picks and investing trends from CNBC Pro:

Oil prices surge more than 2%

Oil prices were higher in the morning of Asia trading hours.

International benchmark Brent crude futures were up 2.9% to $74.83 per barrel. U.S. crude futures gained 3.54% to $70.56 per barrel. On Friday, oil saw its worst day of 2021 amid renewed Covid fears.

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was at 96.251 after a recent drop from above 96.4.The Japanese yen, widely seen as a safe-haven currency, traded at 113.74 per dollar after strengthening sharply late last week from above 114.8 against the greenback. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.714, having dropped last week from above $0.725.

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Trump challenges media and Democrats to debate his electoral fraud lie | Donald Trump

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Donald Trump has challenged leading editors and politicians to debate him in public over his lie that Joe Biden beat him in 2020 through electoral fraud.

In a typically rambling statement on Sunday, the former president complained about “the heads of the various papers [and] far left politicians” and said: “If anyone would like a public debate on the facts, not the fiction, please let me know. It will be a ratings bonanza for television!”

Despite Trump’s insistence that “the 2020 election was rigged and stolen” – and his well-known fixation on TV ratings – it was not.

Even William Barr, an attorney general widely seen as willing to run interference for Trump, publicly stated there was no evidence of widespread electoral fraud.

Biden beat Trump by more than 7m in the popular vote and by 306-232 in the electoral college, a result Trump called a landslide when he beat Hillary Clinton by it in 2016. Clinton also beat him in the popular vote.

Trump’s proposal of a public debate – which seemed unlikely to bear fruit – extended to what he called “members of the highly partisan unselect committee of Democrats who refuse to delve into what caused the 6 January protest”.

The attack on the US Capitol, Trump said, was caused by “the fake election results”.

In a way, he was right. It was his lies about the election which led to the deaths of five people around the attack on Congress by a mob seeking to stop certification of Biden’s win, some chanting that Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, should be hanged.

At a rally near the White House shortly before the riot, Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” in his cause. He was impeached for inciting an insurrection but acquitted when only seven GOP senators found him guilty, not enough to convict.

On Sunday, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee and a member of the 6 January panel, told CNN: “We tried to hold the former president accountable through impeachment. That’s the remedy that we have in Congress. We are now trying to expose the full facts of the former president’s misconduct as well as those around him.”

To adapt the Tennessee Republican Howard Baker’s famous question about Richard Nixon and Watergate, the House committee is focusing on what Trump knew about plans for protest and possible violence on 6 January – and when he knew it.

'Will you shut up, man?': Biden and Trump clash in first US presidential debate – video
‘Will you shut up, man?’: Biden and Trump clash in first US presidential debate – video

Numerous Trump aides and allies have been served with subpoenas. Most, like the former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to contempt of Congress in the first such case since 1983, have refused to cooperate.

Schiff said a decision on a possible contempt charge for Mark Meadows, Trump’s last White House chief of staff, would likely be made in the coming week.

It seems unlikely any senior figure in the US media or among Democrats in Congress or state governments will take up Trump’s challenge to debate him in public.

Observers including the former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who helped Trump prepare for his debates against Biden, agree that a near-berserk performance in the first such contest did significant damage to Trump’s chances of re-election.

At one point on a chaotic evening in Cleveland in September, Biden was so exasperated as to plead: “Would you shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.”

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