Presidential nominations and Senate approval: How will Biden staff the federal agencies of the US?

As Congress certifies Biden’s election win after a brutal mob attack on Congress, Biden has finally named his team comprising 24 men and women of varied backgrounds. While talking to the media, Biden said that he chose the best talent among the people to serve the interests of the USA.

However, the presidential nominations have to be ratified by the Senate. With Georgia’s win, the Senate now belongs to the Democrats, albeit a thin margin.

The legislative branch, specifically the Senate, remains the most important organ in approving the presidential nominations. Whenever the president appoints any federal official, the Senate has to either approve or reject the nomination. If the Senate rejects it, the officer will not be appointed to the office, according to the Constitution of the country. 

What process will Biden be going through to finalize the nominations? On which type of officers is this provision valid? Discussed below are the significance and the procedure for the Senate approval in the Presidential nominations. 


Powers granted to the Senate by the Constitution regarding presidential appointments

Section 2 Article 2 of the Constitution says, 


“He (President) shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.”


Under this clause, the Senate is responsible for approving all the presidential nominations, including ambassadors, judges, and the members of the cabinet.

Presidential nominations and Senate approval: How will Biden staff the federal agencies of the US?

Steps involved in the process:

The procedure is formally divided into three steps.

  • First, the White House will choose a nominee and send the nomination to the Senate.


  • Second, the Senate will either approve or reject the nomination.


  • Lastly, if the Senate approves the nomination, the president will present a signed commission to the approved nominee, who will assume the leadership of the office.

Presidential nominations and Senate approval: How will Biden staff the federal agencies of the US?

Judicial nominations and the Senate

The president is authorized to appoint judges who can sit in the US District Courts, Supreme Court, and the Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate’s judicial committee ratifies these appointments.

Since 1789, 161 nominations for the Supreme Court have been submitted to the Senate by the president, and the Senate has rejected 36.

This is quite a high rejection ratio as compared to the other officials, where the Senate has approved more than 95 percent of nominations. One of the classic examples in this regard is the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court after the demise of Ruth Ginsberg.

Congress can also recommend a nominee to the executive branch, but the president is under no obligation to respond to them.


Infographic explaining Presidential nominations process


Is the process of presidential nominations effective?

The potential nominees for cabinet positions have to fill out different forms, including a national security questionnaire and financial disclosure report.

This makes the process a bit complicated and gives a sense of red tape in the system. However, the Office of Government Ethics helps them in solving these forms.

Once these forms are submitted, they are checked by the FBI, which submits a report after doing a background check of the nominee. 

The process works quickly for some nominations while slowly for others. The congressional research calls it “the importance of the position involved, existing political circumstances, and policy implications.” It is the responsibility of the Senate executive clerk to refer a nominee to the specific committee based on the rules.

Overall, the process is a bit long; however, it is an efficient way to keep a check on people before giving them important positions in the bureaucracy of the country. Also, the going gets tough for the nominee when the opposition party controls the Senate, and they come in a political tussle with the White House. 

Approving or rejecting presidential nominations is a vital power, and only the proper exercise of this power can make the country’s bureaucracy efficient.

The sole responsibility to decide the composition of important federal departments, including courts, cabinets, ambassadors, and federal officials, lies with the Senate.

While on the one hand, this process is contentious at times, the Senate approves the nominations most of the time. With the Senate in hand, Biden will not face any major resistance in getting his nominations approved.

The process is a bit lengthy; however, it is necessary to check the details of the nominees before giving them the leadership and control of all important offices.

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