Though Democrats wouldn't be able to block an appointment since they're not the majority, how exactly could they delay one if they chose to?

3 Answers 3


The only way the Democrats would be able to delay or block the cabinet appointments would be if 3 or more Republican senators can be convinced not to vote for the appointments.

A simple majority (51 votes) in the senate is sufficient for the appointments to proceed, and that vote can't be filibustered. (Source)


Though Democrats wouldn't be able to block an appointment since they're not the majority, how exactly could they delay one if they chose to?

Up until 2013, they could have blocked with just forty-one Senators even in the minority.

Each appointment has to be confirmed by the Senate. A normal (not recess) appointment must be confirmed before taking office. The confirmation itself just requires a simple majority (and the Vice President can break a tie). Until 2013, the vote could not take place without an end to debate. Ending debate over the protests of a Senator normally requires a super-majority of sixty votes, but the 2013 reform changed cloture votes on appointments other than to the Supreme Court to only require a majority as well.

Now the process is as simple as voting against confirmation of the appointment. That always worked. Previously there was an additional possibility of demanding continued debate and voting against cloture. The majority of the Senate can also block the appointment by simply refusing to hold a vote on the confirmation. But that's unnecessary if they have the votes to block the appointment directly. And it gives the administration rhetorical ammunition.

Note that if the majority party only holds its own members, it is impossible for a minority party to block a nomination to anything other than the Supreme Court at the moment. That said, if they can make a political point, it may be possible to pressure some members of the majority party to switch. The less partisan and more fact-based the point, the stronger their ability to do that. The minority has the most leverage with Senators up for election in states won by the minority candidate in the presidential election.

Trump's 2017 cabinet nominations

In the specific example of the 2017 Donald Trump nominations, there are two Republican Senators considered vulnerable in 2018. They are Dean Heller of Nevada, which voted for Hillary Clinton (and elected a Democratic Senator) in 2016. And Jeff Flake of Arizona, which was won narrowly by Donald Trump. However, even if both voted against the nomination, that leaves fifty other votes and Mike Pence would break any tie. So Democrats need at least one Republican Senator who is not facing a competitive 2018 race to vote with them (or abstain/not vote). This seems unlikely considering the party unity Republicans in the Senate have shown in other procedural votes but is not impossible.

As a practical matter, watch out for a candidate with a serious ethical problem. Short of that though, expect nothing more than political theater.

  1. filibuster?
  2. disclosure?
  3. confirmation questions?
  4. public pressure?
  5. ask trump nicely?
  6. ask trump not so nicely?
  7. dig up dirty on the nominees?
  8. negotiation? ...

all sorts of possibilities. whether they are effective or the democrats are will to do it is another question.

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