This year has seen no shortage of seemingly pointless hearings, where candidates make fools of themselves only to still be appointed to their designated role anyways. Some notable examples:

  • Betsy DeVos was unable to answer basic concepts about education at the house hearing
  • Ben Carson didn't want to talk about the budget of the agency he was appointed to control
  • Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times to get them to stop doing their job, a fact which came out during his hearing as EPA head
  • Tom Price had enormous conflicts of interests during his time as a state representative, and was also unable to give details on what he planned to do to fix Medicare and Medicaid beyond lofty superlatives (link)
  • The latest hearing for Brett Kavanaugh is also turning out to be quite the stage for dramatic political theatre, complete with protestors, yelling, accusations of partisanship, and other stupidity.

Despite all this seeming idiocy, these hearings don't seem to have any use beyond letting everyone know that the person who is about to be in charge of <organization> is an incompetent goofball.

So, with that preamble, my question is why do we bother having these things? What goal do they serve? A secondary and related question is, are they actually serving that goal well in the current hyper-partisan political climate?

  • 4
    As you perform your research, have you considered how 'dramatic' these things would be if the briefings weren't televised or video recorded? Sep 5, 2018 at 3:31
  • @DrunkCynic surely there is more to those hearings than mere entertainment value. I think those hearings were a thing even before television was widely available.
    – JJJ
    Sep 5, 2018 at 10:57
  • @Philipp if you see this, can you, please, clarify what exactly is wrong with this question and what can be done to fix it? I see opinionated assertions in the penultimate paragraph, but I'm not sure that's the only issue. Thanks. Sep 5, 2018 at 11:18
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    @defaultlocale The problem with this question is that it is written in an unnecessarily polemic tone. This gives the impression that the author already made up their mind about the answer to the question and now just wants to vent frustration and/or seeks confirmation for their personal opinion. This is not the kind of question we want here. This website is for honest questions about politics and political processes, not for political activism.
    – Philipp
    Sep 5, 2018 at 11:26
  • 3
    @Philipp - sorry that you guys think this is polemic. I'm simply responding to current events; I'm sure that when Bush or Clinton went through their own appointments similar idiocy ensued. I'm no historian, I'm just a dude watching what's happening.
    – eykanal
    Sep 5, 2018 at 16:25

2 Answers 2


Why do we bother having these things? What goal do they serve?

Technically, because these things are in the Constitution (Article II, Section 2), to change that you need a constitutional amendment and no one proposed that.

The reason is that the confirmation process is the only thing stopping the Executive branch from appointing whomever they want without any kind of public scrutiny.

Are they actually serving that goal well in the current hyper-partisan political climate?

Perhaps, they are not serving their goal as well as they should be. In a perfect world, this responsibility of the Senate would have little do with party affiliation.

Saying that, even in this political climate, they're serving their goal:

  • Not all nominations are successful: Andrew Puzder and Ronny Jackson withdrew themselves after review.
  • The mere presence of confirmation process requires the President to be careful with his appointments. We can assume that nominations are pre-negotiated between the Senate and the Executive.
  • Facts that come out during the hearings are made available to the general public. Without public hearings, Betsy Devos would just give one public self-congratulatory speech and assume her post in the Department of Education. You'd never hear about her again after that, she would never give an interview that would make her look bad.

Actually, it can be said that the meticulous scrutiny of each and every appointment is one of the few positive consequences of the current ultra-competitive climate in the US politics.

Related: Unsuccessful nominations to the Cabinet of the United States on Wikipedia


Look to the Constitution of the United States, specifically Article II, Section II, Clause II.

[The 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.

The Confirmation Briefings in the Senate, from the committees to the full spread of the Senate, meet the Advice and Consent clause. With the advent of televised hearings, 24 hour news media, and now social media, the majority of the politicians involved use it more to advance their narrative than to meet their obligation to the nation.

This can be seen in the Kavanaugh Confirmation. Though each of the Democratic members of the committee have already publicly stated they'll vote against his confirmation, they are also fund raising on the #StopKavanaugh line, while in the midst of ranting about not having a chance to read documents that won't affect their opinion.

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