Senate support for presidential executive branch nominees since 1989

Jeff Lewis

August 14, 2019

Overview

There has been a good deal of attention given to President Trump’s filling of high-level positions within the executive branch. Many high-level positions have been left unfilled for lengthy periods. Many nominees have been drawn from outside the pool of what have historically been considered qualified candidates. And, there has been strong and consistent opposition among Democratic senators to President Trump’s nominees. Here we place Democatic senators support for President Trump’s executive branch nominees in recent historical context by comparing support for his nominees to support for other president’s nominees since 1989.

We find that the average level of support among Democratic senators for President Trump’s nominees has been lower than support among opposition-party senators for any other recent president. Similarly, the fraction of President Trump’s nominees that have received a majority of Democratic senators votes is the lowest among opposition parties’ senators for a president’s nominees since 1989 though Republican senators’ support for President Obama’s nominees was nearly as low during the first two years of President Obama’s second term in office.

Finally, looking at the support for presidential nominees among invidual senators, we find that Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders1, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Edward Markey, and Jeff Merkley have only supported between 7 to 18 percent of Trump appointees. No other opposition party senators have supported fewer than 25 percent of any other president’s nominees since 1989.

Analysis

All of the computer code used to generate this analysis can be accessed here.

The plot below shows the overall share of affirmative votes in support of executive branch nominees by congress among senators of the president’s party and among opposition party senators since 1989. As expected, support among presidents’ co-partisans is uniformly high over the period. However, support from opposition-party senators has fallen over time reaching its lowest level during the Trump administration.

Overall support of presidential nominations

Fraction of president’s nominees receiving majority support from each party’s caucus

The figure below shows the fraction of each president’s nominees in each congress that were supported by a majority of the president’s co-partisans and opposition-party senators. Note that only President Clinton had any nominees who were not supported by a majority of his co-partisan senators. The fraction of nominees who have received majority support from the opposition-party’s senators has varied substainly since 1989 reaching a low as 40 percent in the 115th Congress.

Rates of nominee support by senator and president

The two tables below show the senators who voted to confirm the nominees of particular presidents at the lowest levels since 1989. The first table shows the lowest rates among opposition senators. The second table shows the lowest rates among the presidents co-partisans.

Opposition party senators

The table below shows the lowest rates of support for nominees of each president since 1989. The table shows every senator who supported less the half of any president’s nominees.2 Notice how many of these involve Trump nominees and the very low rates of support for Trump nominees among a number of notable current Democratic senators.

Senator President Pct.
GILLIBRAND, Kirsten (D-NY) Trump 7.1
SANDERS, Bernard (D-VT) Trump 8.7
WARREN, Elizabeth (D-MA) Trump 8.8
BOOKER, Cory Anthony (D-NJ) Trump 11.9
HARRIS, Kamala Devi (D-CA) Trump 12.9
MARKEY, Edward John (D-MA) Trump 15.2
MERKLEY, Jeff (D-OR) Trump 16.6
WALLOP, Malcolm (R-WY) Clinton 25.0
HIRONO, Mazie (D-HI) Trump 29.3
WYDEN, Ronald Lee (D-OR) Trump 30.4
SCHATZ, Brian Emanuel (D-HI) Trump 30.8
BLUMENTHAL, Richard (D-CT) Trump 31.0
BUNNING, James Paul David (R-KY) Obama 31.0
SCHUMER, Charles Ellis (Chuck) (D-NY) Trump 32.3
UDALL, Thomas (Tom) (D-NM) Trump 32.3
HEINRICH, Martin (D-NM) Trump 34.2
DUCKWORTH, Tammy (D-IL) Trump 35.7
WHITEHOUSE, Sheldon (D-RI) Trump 35.7
STABENOW, Deborah Ann (D-MI) Trump 36.4
MENENDEZ, Robert (D-NJ) Trump 36.7
DURBIN, Richard Joseph (D-IL) Trump 37.2
BROWN, Sherrod (D-OH) Trump 37.3
SMITH, Tina (D-MN) Trump 37.3
VITTER, David (R-LA) Obama 37.8
CRUZ, Rafael Edward (Ted) (R-TX) Obama 38.0
BALDWIN, Tammy (D-WI) Trump 38.2
RUBIO, Marco (R-FL) Obama 38.8
VAN HOLLEN, Christopher (D-MD) Trump 38.9
REED, John F. (Jack) (D-RI) Trump 39.0
RISCH, James (R-ID) Obama 39.6
KLOBUCHAR, Amy (D-MN) Trump 39.9
LEAHY, Patrick Joseph (D-VT) Trump 39.9
MURRAY, Patty (D-WA) Trump 39.9
COBURN, Thomas Allen (R-OK) Obama 40.0
FEINSTEIN, Dianne (D-CA) Trump 40.5
LEE, Mike (R-UT) Obama 40.5
ROBERTS, Charles Patrick (Pat) (R-KS) Obama 40.6
FRANKEN, Al (D-MN) Trump 41.1
CORTEZ MASTO, Catherine Marie (D-NV) Trump 41.2
CANTWELL, Maria E. (D-WA) Trump 42.1
DeMINT, James W. (R-SC) Obama 42.9
MORAN, Jerry (R-KS) Obama 43.3
PETERS, Gary C. (D-MI) Trump 43.9
CARDIN, Benjamin Louis (D-MD) Trump 44.9
PAUL, Rand (R-KY) Obama 45.4
SCOTT, Tim (R-SC) Obama 45.5
CASEY, Robert (Bob), Jr. (D-PA) Trump 45.6
CRAPO, Michael Dean (R-ID) Obama 45.6
INHOFE, James Mountain (R-OK) Obama 45.8
BOOZMAN, John (R-AR) Obama 47.9
KAINE, Timothy Michael (Tim) (D-VA) Trump 48.1
BROWN, George Hanks (Hank) (R-CO) Clinton 48.1
PRESSLER, Larry Lee (R-SD) Clinton 48.1
SHELBY, Richard C. (R-AL) Obama 48.3
ENZI, Michael B. (R-WY) Obama 48.3
BARRASSO, John A. (R-WY) Obama 48.4
HASSAN, Margaret (Maggie) (D-NH) Trump 48.4
BLUNT, Roy (R-MO) Obama 49.1
SESSIONS, Jefferson Beauregard III (Jeff) (R-AL) Obama 49.3
FISCHER, Debra (Deb) (R-NE) Obama 49.6
JOHNSON, Ron (R-WI) Obama 49.6

Distribution of opposition senator support

The histogram below shows the distribution of nominee support rates among opposition-party senators by president since 1989. The red bars contain senators who supported fewer than half of a president’s nominees. The blue bars contain senators who supported more than half of a president’s nominees. Notice that every Democrat supported over 70 percent of President G. H. W. Bush’s nominees and no Democrats supported fewer than half of President G. W. Bush’s nominees. In contrast a substantial number of Republican’s supported fewer than half of President Obama’s nominees. However, for President Trump, most Democrats have opposed more than half of his nominees and a sizable number have supported fewer of his nominees than has been seen for any opposition-party senator since 1989.

Presidents’ co-partisan senators

The table below shows the lowest rates of support for the nominees of presidents since 1989 from senators who are the president’s co-partisans. The table shows every co-partisan senator who supported less than 95 percent of a given president’s nominees during this period.

Senator President Pct.
METZENBAUM, Howard Morton (D-OH) Clinton 80.0
BYRD, Robert Carlyle (D-WV) Clinton 83.6
VITTER, David (R-LA) G. W. Bush 85.0
FEINGOLD, Russell Dana (D-WI) Clinton 87.3
DORGAN, Byron Leslie (D-ND) Clinton 88.9
WELLSTONE, Paul David (D-MN) Clinton 89.1
BYRD, Robert Carlyle (D-WV) Obama 89.5
SANDERS, Bernard (D-VT) Obama 89.6
DeMINT, James W. (R-SC) G. W. Bush 90.0
HARKIN, Thomas Richard (Tom) (D-IA) Clinton 90.4
CONRAD, Kent (D-ND) Clinton 90.6
PAUL, Rand (R-KY) Trump 90.7
HOLLINGS, Ernest Frederick (D-SC) Clinton 90.7
SPECTER, Arlen (D-PA) Obama 91.7
BLACKBURN, Marsha (R-TN) Trump 91.9
BRAUN, Michael (R-IN) Trump 91.9
HAWLEY, Joshua David (R-MO) Trump 91.9
EXON, J. James (D-NE) Clinton 92.3
SIMON, Paul Martin (D-IL) Clinton 92.3
BOXER, Barbara (D-CA) Clinton 92.5
KERREY, J. Robert (D-NE) Clinton 92.6
MURRAY, Patty (D-WA) Clinton 92.6
SARBANES, Paul Spyros (D-MD) Clinton 92.7
HELMS, Jesse (R-NC) G. H. W. Bush 92.9
CLELAND, Joseph Maxwell (Max) (D-GA) Clinton 92.9
WYDEN, Ronald Lee (D-OR) Clinton 93.1
DORGAN, Byron Leslie (D-ND) Obama 93.1
FEINGOLD, Russell Dana (D-WI) Obama 93.1
MOSELEY BRAUN, Carol (D-IL) Clinton 93.3
MANCHIN, Joe, III (D-WV) Obama 93.3
McCAIN, John Sidney, III (R-AZ) Trump 93.8
ROCKEFELLER, John Davison IV (Jay) (D-WV) Clinton 93.9
BUNNING, James Paul David (R-KY) G. W. Bush 93.9
MIKULSKI, Barbara Ann (D-MD) Clinton 94.0
RIEGLE, Donald Wayne, Jr. (D-MI) Clinton 94.1
SHELBY, Richard C. (D-AL) Clinton 94.1
MOYNIHAN, Daniel Patrick (D-NY) Clinton 94.2
WALSH, John E. (D-MT) Obama 94.2
KERRY, John Forbes (D-MA) Clinton 94.4
LEVIN, Carl (D-MI) Clinton 94.4
COBURN, Thomas Allen (R-OK) G. W. Bush 94.4
REID, Harry (D-NV) Clinton 94.5
BOREN, David Lyle (D-OK) Clinton 94.7
SASSER, James Ralph (D-TN) Clinton 94.7
SANTORUM, Richard John (Rick) (R-PA) G. W. Bush 94.9

Notes


  1. Though elected as an independent, Senator Sanders is considered to be a Democrat for the purposes of this analysis.

  2. Among senators casting more than 10 confirmation votes for the given president’s nominees.