When the President Elect in the US picks members to be part of their Cabinet, to form their government, during the Senate confirmation hearing if the members of the Senate are dissatisfied with their performance and ability to answer their questions, can they cause so much concern that they may be refused to join the government in the proposed position? Or are they always guaranteed that position, regardless of the opinion of those chairing the Senate hearing?

I guess the question is really, does the Senate have the power to deny positions based on what they deem to be acceptable and unacceptable levels of competency?

  • 2
    If the Senate couldn't deny nominations, what would be the point of the hearings in the first place?
    – jwodder
    Jan 24, 2017 at 1:51
  • I don't know jwodder, that is kind of the reason I asked...
    – Sam
    Jan 24, 2017 at 15:42
  • @jwodder For advice.... This country used to have something called the loyal opposition for the party out of power.
    – user9790
    Jun 30, 2018 at 13:13

2 Answers 2


Yes, the Senate can reject Cabinet nominees. The President can only appoint a Cabinet secretary with the advice and consent of the Senate, and the Senate can withhold that consent. This isn't terribly common (normally a nomination is pulled before it gets to that point), but the Senate has to agree to any Cabinet appointment.

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    Just to clarify: The full Senate votes on each cabinet nominee. Since the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, then at least two Republicans must vote against the nominee for his confirmation to be denied. It doesn't matter how upset a Democrat is if all Republicans for in favor of confirmation.
    – jalynn2
    Jan 23, 2017 at 18:26
  • But could the Democrats delay the hearings - eg. filibustering (which after all is what Republicans did quite successfully for Obama's Supreme Court nominee)... or isn't this that kind of hearing? Jan 23, 2017 at 19:05
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    @Baard The Democrats removed the filibuster on most nominations a few years ago. Supreme Court nominations are one of the only types it still applies to. And Republicans didn't filibuster Garland; as the majority party, they didn't need to.
    – cpast
    Jan 23, 2017 at 19:11
  • @jalynn2 it doesn't require them to vote against; if four or more Republicans refrain from voting for (and, in the case of a tie, the Vice President of the US/President of the Senate), the Senate's consent could be withheld.
    – phoog
    Jan 23, 2017 at 19:14

Summarizing the Ballotpedia entry,

Committee hearings allow a close examination of the nominee, looking for partisanship and views on public policy. ... Once committee hearings are closed, most committees have a set amount of time before a vote is taken on whether the nominee is reported to the Senate favorably, unfavorably or without recommendation. They also have the option not to take action on the nominee. If action is taken, the committee notifies the executive clerk. ... Only one cabinet position since 1945 has been confirmed by the Senate after being reported as unfavorable by a committee. ... Following a vote of cloture, the Senate conducts a simple majority vote on whether to confirm, reject or take no action on the nomination.

So after committee hearings, the committee might choose to not take action on a candidate. I don't think this would put anyone on the committee in a good light. If the committee returns a unfavorable report, it is a defacto denial given that there has only been one who has been appointed with an unfavorable report. Yet, this only highlights that in theory they could approve a unfavorable report. A group in the senate might try to deny cloture, but that is not the same as denying them the position.

Ultimately, it comes down to the simple majority vote. If they have that majority, they can get appointed even over a unfavorable report. However, even with a favorable report, they can be down voted by the senate and be denied the position.

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