As all high government officials require the consent of the Senate, would it be possible for a opposition-held Senate to continuously reject the nominations by the President?

Senate confirmations only require a simple majority vote as shown in this document:

Under Senate Rule XXXI, the final question on a nomination is, “Will the Senate advise and consent to this nomination?” The Senate has three options: confirm, reject, or take no action on the nomination. Confirmation requires a simple majority vote.

So, if the Senate is controlled by the opposition party to the presidency, what would happen if they continuously reject all presidential nominees.

Note: I'm not asking about any particular presidency, so any example would be fine; it doesn't have to be related to this year's election. It's improbable that it would happen this year since both the Senate and the presidency are held by the Republicans.

Evidence or examples are greatly appreciated.

  • 3
    Please change the title. "Presidential nominee" usually means "presidential candidate". "Cabinet nominee" will be more idiomatic.
    – Rathony
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 12:48
  • Could they also simply delay the answer indefinitely like with Supreme Court nominations? Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 23:33
  • Note that the final question is not the entire process. At least prior to Harry Reid's "nuclear option" a few years back, nominees could be (and frequently were, by both parties) blocked from being confirmed by filibuster. Only 41% of Senators are necessary for a filibuster to succeed. A filibuster blocks the 'final vote' from ever taking place.
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 23:58

2 Answers 2


The senate could reject all candidates that a president nominated, but that would be an extreme case of partisanship. As far as the effects of such actions, the executive appointments would cause agencies to have a lack of leadership, but the staff are all government employees that run the day to day anyway and would likely continue the status quo unless specifically directed otherwise by the president. The judicial appointments would have a far greater impact since courts would slow down even more since there would be a bottle neck for judges in certain regions and levels of the justice system.

It is pretty rare that an executive appointment is actually rejected by the senate, generally because if the president were to appoint someone bad at this level it primarily hurts them. Nominees also tend to decline the nomination or withdraw if it looks like they won't actually get approved.

It is much more common for judicial nominees to be rejected or not approved, which makes sense as these appointments have a much greater and longer lasting impact. The Republican senate is currently blocking many Obama appointments, including a supreme court justice. Nixon also had several supreme court nominations rejected and many more lower court appointments.

  • I would say the GOP has acted on Garland and has decided not to confirm. Nothing says the Senate can only deny its consent by holding an up-or-down vote. Presidents have made 160 nominations for the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed only 124 of them. And of the 36 failed nominations, the vast majority of them (25) received no up-or-down vote.
    – user9790
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 14:45
  • 6
    The new precedent that was set by the Senate in 2016 was that the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, issued a public statement that the Senate would not consider any nominee for the vacant SCOTUS seat put forth by President Obama. In the past, individuals were given consideration, and either voted upon or their nomination was withdrawn when it became clear that the Senate would not confirm.
    – jalynn2
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 18:57
  • 2
    @jalynn2 That's not really true. You can find video of Joe Biden himself saying that Bush (the first one) shouldn't nominate anyone for SCOTUS during his last year in office and that the Senate shouldn't confirm them if he did. Both parties have played both sides of that game for much of American history.
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 23:56
  • @KDog Yeah, I think it's fair to say they won't confirm Garland now, though my guess is that they were considering doing it after the election if Hillary had won.
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 0:01
  • 2
    @reirab - both parties have threatened to do it in the past to prevent strategic resignations, but neither actually did it. A strategic resignation is one where a justice resigns when it seems probable that the White House will change parties in the coming election and the justice wants to enable the current president to replace him. For example, if Justice Ginsberg (the most liberal justice) resigned the day after the election so that Obama could appoint a successor before Trump took office. McConnell blocked Obama from filling a seat vacated by death, not resignation. With 11+ months left.
    – jalynn2
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 14:20

Theoretically speaking, all Cabinet nominees can be rejected by the Senate as there is no law that limits the number of Cabinet nominees the Senate can reject. But, it is very rare that nominations for Cabinet positions are rejected by the Senate for the following reasons:

  1. Other Cabinet positions except for Secretary of State who will be the fourth in the Presidential line of succession, Secretary of the Treasury (5th), Secretary of Defense (6th), and Attorney General (7th), are relatively not critical for their interests. Even if they try to change some existing laws after they become Cabinet members, they have other means to block or reject their initiatives and bills.

  2. Candidates are vetted by all the parties before nominations and go through Senate committee hearings. Unless there are very critical records of their wrongdoings in the past, most of the nominees are approved by the Senate.

  3. There are other more important issues for the Senate than confirming Cabinet nominees. They also have to consider other factors such as political retaliation when the table is turned.

Now Cabinet nominees are approved by a simple majority in the Senate. Before 2013 when the so called "nuclear option" allowing senators to approve by a simple majority was introduced, their nominations could have been blocked by the opposition party with minority using filibustering.

According to the linked Wikipedia article on Unsuccessful nominations to the Cabinet of the United States

As of 2016, nine nominations to the Cabinet have been rejected by the Senate. In addition, 13 nominations have been withdrawn, either by the President or by the nominee.

(emphasis mine)

  • 2
    Are you saying that the senate will have greater interest in the secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense and the Attorney General because those posts are fourth through seventh in the presidential line of succession? Given that the presidential line of succession has never even progressed to the second office (Speaker of the House), I doubt this factors into anyone's thinking.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:31
  • 1
    @phoog Why do you think there are more fuss about Secretary of State, the Treasury, Defense and AG? They have more power and influence on national issues than other secretaries. Those rankings are just proof that they are more important.
    – Rathony
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 15:33
  • @Rathony The line of succession tracks when the department was created, not its importance. That's why Housing and Urban Development is higher than Homeland Security.
    – cpast
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 5:40
  • @cpast Are you denying State Department is the most important department? Do you think HUD is more important than the Treasury? Woult it be unreasonable to assume the department was created in order of importance? Homeland Security is very special.
    – Rathony
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 7:32
  • @Rathony Yes, possibly, and definitely. It is a ridiculous assumption.
    – cpast
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 7:36

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