Already 41 days into his administration, President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is taking shape at the slowest pace of any White House in modern history. Biden has just over a dozen nominees for top posts confirmed more than a month into his tenure.
And on Tuesday, he suffered yet another huge loss.
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Biden’s cabinet was thrown into further uncertainty when his nominee to lead the White House budget office, Neera Tanden, withdrew from consideration after facing a certain defeat in the U.S. Senate. Her nomination faced opposition from key senators on both sides of the aisle.
Among Biden’s 23 nominees with Cabinet rank, just 13 have been confirmed by the Senate, or a little over half. And among the 15 core nominees to lead federal agencies, 10 have been confirmed, or about two thirds.
According to the Center for Presidential Transition, about a month into their first terms, the previous four presidents had 84% of their core Cabinet picks confirmed.
The delay in confirmations means some departments are left without their top decision-makers as they attempt to put in place policies to address the overlapping crises brought on by both the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.
Even Democrats are complaining that the lack of leadership is starting to negatively impact the American people.
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Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said there are a number of “big decisions” at HHS and across the federal government that needs guidance from the White House.
“It’s very unfortunate. And in the middle of a huge health crisis, it’s the wrong thing to do,” she said. “Civil servants are capable, but they need leadership. And they’re used to having leaders.”
Shalala was confirmed just two days after President Bill Clinton was sworn in, and said she had her chain of command ready to go and could immediately dig into a long list of decisions and policy changes.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden administration’s HHS nominee, will get a committee vote Wednesday, and he’s expected to be confirmed. But Shalala pointed to a laundry list of issues — from oversight of hospitals, health care companies and nursing homes during the pandemic to issues surrounding drug pricing, telemedicine and child care services — that have urgently needed his input.
Lacking a department head, she said, “just slows everything down.”
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Deflecting blame, the Biden White House says a lack of cooperation from former President Donald Trump administration officials is the reason for the delay.
In private, Democrats acknowledge that Trump’s second impeachment trial also slowed down the process some, eating up a week of valuable time in the Senate and bogging lawmakers down with other work beyond reviewing and processing Biden’s nominees.
In addition to waiting on Becerra at HHS, the administration lacks top leaders at the Justice Department, Housing and Urban Development, and the Small Business Administration — departments that would be key to overseeing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill Biden has pushed, should it be passed into law later this month.
And the delay in confirming top posts also means a delay in confirming and seating deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, who are often in charge of the nitty-gritty in implementing major policy. Shalala noted, for instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will offer guidance on how insurers should cover coronavirus costs and implementation on aspects of the COVID-19 aid bill, and currently only has an acting administrator.
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She also noted HHS has deputies who oversee everything from refugee resettlement to child care programs.
And Tanden’s withdrawal Tuesday raises further questions about the Biden administration’s budget process.
The White House has yet to offer a timeline for releasing its budget. That also puts them behind most recent presidents, who typically submit written budget toplines to Congress by the end of February.
The Associated Press contributed to this article