Speed Reads

History Lesson

Reminder: 3 Obama Cabinet nominees dropped out amid scrutiny in 2009

Senate Republicans are pressing Democrats to confirm at least seven of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees on Friday, in the hours after Trump is sworn in, while Democrats say they are probably open to confirming a handful, including Trump's picks for defense (former Gen. James Mattis), homeland security (former Gen. John Kelly), and CIA director (Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas). With 48 votes, Democrats can't stop any nominations, but if they don't agree to a voice vote, they can delay the confirmations.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), echoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), argued that seven nominees is only fair. "In 2009 when President Obama was sworn into office, there were seven Cabinet members confirmed on his first day in office — seven," he said. "That's a demonstration of the good faith and the civility that ordinarily extends in the peaceful transition of power." That's also not the whole story.

First, the Senate only confirmed six Obama nominees on Inauguration Day 2009 — the secretaries of agriculture, education, energy, homeland security, interior, and veterans affairs. The seventh, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was already in office, a holdover from the George W. Bush administration. Democrats also had a much larger 58-41 majority.

The biggest difference, though, is that Obama's nominees had been vetted — and in fact, three of his nominees withdrew their names before a vote: commerce secretary nominees Gov. Bill Richardson (who said a federal pay-to-play inquiry would cause an "untenable delay" in his confirmation) and Sen. Judd Gregg (a Republican who decided under partisan pressure that he had "irresolvable" ideological differences with Obama), and HHS secretary pick Tom Daschle (a former Senate majority leader who admitted failing to pay $128,000 in taxes on unreported income and use of a chauffeured car).

On Wednesday, CNN's Jake Tapper, who covered the Daschle story, explained how the Obama and Trump nominations are different. "The Senate committee was vetting Tom Daschle, they had issues and questions," he said. "I don't see that same sort of diligence going on in the committees. They seem to be rushing through a lot of these nominations."

Historically, "Cabinet nominations tend only to fail when dragged down by scandal or impropriety," not "policy disagreement or extreme political views," says Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight. "Only a scandal big enough to force the famously unapologetic Trump to reverse himself and withdraw a nomination is likely to bring down any of his appointees."