Advice and Consent…and Appeasing Constituents

The purpose behind cabinet appointment confirmation hearings

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Illustrator: Taylor Daniels

Presidents typically get who they want in their cabinets, and Donald Trump is no exception. His appointees are likely to have a smooth time through the Senate, much like previous cabinet picks, even if many of his nominees do not have the qualifications necessary to head the departments to which they were appointed.

The process is now even easier since cabinet confirmations can no longer be filibustered; only a simple majority of votes is required to get confirmed thanks to rules democrats established when they were in the majority in 2013.

A simple confirmation system made even easier begs the question: What is the purpose of having these hearings?

High-level federal appointments—whether they are executive, diplomatic, or judicial—are subject to the Senate’s “advice and consent” under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. Senators take this power very seriously, making cabinet nominees subject to lengthy hearings.

Confirmation hearings also reflect something called the “two Congress principle:” the theory that states there is a Congress that legislates and a Congress that is a representative assembly in which re-election chances depend on local ties its members build and maintain.

The public forum of a hearing allows senators to make comments that please a certain constituency back home. An example of this being when Senator Chris Murphy, who has pushed for stricter gun control measures since the Sandy Hook shooting in his state, asked Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos if she supported guns in schools.

There are other audiences that hold a great interest in these confirmation hearings, specifically interest groups that will most likely be affected by cabinet secretary’s department. This allows outside groups to build a relationship with the presumptive cabinet official by gaining on-the-record assurances about what changes will occur, if any, which can serve well for future lobbying efforts.

Although mostly used by senators to please constituents and lobbyists to build relationships, confirmation hearings are a test for the new administration and allow for public discussion and disclosure of what the administration and that cabinet official want to do with the department they will be heading.