Hispanic activists suggested this week that racial motives are behind the plodding pace of the confirmation of new administration’s Cabinet picks, dripping political gasoline on an already smoldering fight on Capitol Hill over President Biden‘s nominees.
One week into his term, Mr. Biden is facing the second-slowest rate of confirmations of any president in at least 60 years, with just three Cabinet secretaries and his director of national intelligence in place. Only President Trump had a worse record, with just two Cabinet secretaries at this point.
Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, meanwhile, had most of their full slate in place after a week in office.
Democrats say the speed needs to pick up for Mr. Biden.
Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer moved Wednesday to force the issue, setting up a vote for Thursday to head off a filibuster and advance Homeland Security pick Alejandro Mayorkas.
Since the matter involves a nomination, it takes only a majority vote to advance Mr. Mayorkas to a final vote, which would occur next week.
Proyecto 20%, a coalition of Hispanic groups, said this week it is striking that two prominent Latinos, Mr. Mayorkas and Xavier Becerra, Mr. Biden‘s pick for Health and Human Services, haven’t seen action yet.
“We want the Senate to understand the urgency of confirming these Cabinet secretaries because the well-being of millions of Americans, specifically Latinos and immigrants, depends on the policies these agencies execute,” said Nathalie Rayes, president of the Latino Victory Fund, which is part of Proyecto 20%.
The organization has set a demand for at least 20% of Mr. Biden‘s political appointees, including Cabinet-level posts, to be Latino.
The picks Mr. Biden has gotten confirmed are major ones: Lloyd Austin at the Defense Department, Antony Blinken at the State Department, Janet Yellen at the Treasury Department, and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence.
The other big national-security posts are at the Justice Department, where attorney general nominee Merrick Garland is still compiling paperwork, and Homeland Security, where Mr. Mayorkas’s nomination is controversial.
“In truth, we should have been able to confirm Mr. Mayorkas days ago. He is supremely well-qualified for the job,” Mr. Schumer said.
Those qualifications include more than four years as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an immigration agency in Homeland Security, and three years as deputy secretary for the whole department.
Yet it’s that time in office that also has complicated his nomination.
Republicans point to a scathing inspector general report that accused him of ethical lapses while at USCIS, finding that he intervened in cases involving major Democratic figures to get visa applications approved for wealthy investors. Employees also complained to the inspector general that Mr. Mayorkas was an abrasive boss.
He has vehemently and repeatedly denied all the accusations.
Mr. Mayorkas cleared committee Tuesday on a 7-4 vote.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans are eager to move through any “mainstream” nominees Mr. Biden puts forth.
“Unlike what took place four years ago, Republicans are not gratuitously delaying people who are mainstream and qualified whom the president has asked to serve in key posts,” the Kentucky Republican said.
He knows personally about political delays.
His wife, Elaine Chao, was Mr. Trump‘s nominee for transportation secretary. Having served as labor secretary in the Bush administration, she was considered a controversy-free pick. Mr. Trump announced her name in late November, she had her confirmation hearing Jan. 11, 2017.
But she wasn’t confirmed until Jan. 31, and at that time was just the third department secretary the Senate had approved.
Mr. Biden is ahead of that pace.
“I just spent four years arguing that presidents deserve some latitude to assemble their team. I meant it, and I mean it now,” Mr. McConnell said Wednesday.
Mr. Biden‘s pick for secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was approved in a Senate committee on a 21-3 vote, clearing him for full Senate action.
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