Biden’s Slow Appointment Process
Key posts across the government remain unfilled.
At POLITICO, Alex Thompson Josh Gerstein, and Theodoric Meyer take us “Inside the delay at DOJ.”
Biden’s Justice Department is lagging behind.
Over 10 weeks since inauguration and nearly a month after MERRICK GARLAND was sworn in as attorney general, the president has yet to fill several critical Justice Department posts, including the assistant attorney generals for the criminal, national security, civil and antitrust divisions, along with a solicitor general. In comparison, BARACK OBAMA had nominated people for all of those positions by his third day in office.
Justice Department insiders along with people familiar with the situation say the delay is partly the result of a delicate stand-off between Garland and the White House over who they want in the positions.
The new attorney general feels entitled to pick at least some of these senior posts himself, they say. But given President JOE BIDEN’s long history dealing with criminal justice matters, the White House has had some of their own people in mind, such as Biden’s former Senate counsel NEIL McBRIDE (McBride did not respond to a request for comment).
So, my initial take on this was “Screw Merrick Garland. He’s not the one who got 81 million votes.” But it turns out to be more about former President Donald Trump than Garland.
“I’m sort of flabbergasted,” said another. “You don’t have a national security chief and a criminal division head at the same time you’re putting trillions of dollars out there in programs that have a history of being rife with fraud?”
Part of the problem: The White House is wary of pushing its own choices too hard, for fear it would look like the president is big-footing Garland or stuffing the Justice Department with loyalists.
Biden is determined to draw a contrast with DONALD TRUMP’s repeated attempts to politicize the department. “I’m not going to be saying go prosecute A, B or C,” Biden told CNN in December. “It’s not my Justice Department. It’s the people’s Justice Department.”
That desire to display independence was part of the rationale for selecting Garland over former Sen. DOUG JONES (D-Ala.), who had longstanding ties to Biden.
The ongoing Justice Department investigation into HUNTER BIDEN has only heightened that concern. The criminal division head would be in the chain of officials that would sign off on any decision to prosecute or not prosecute the president’s son if those decisions involve matters beyond the tax issues believed to be at the center of the investigation.
That’s all rather frustrating but probably the right call. Knowing that these controversies (and that’s to say nothing about possible criminal charges against Trump or his senior officials) are coming down the road, it’s shrewd to stave off even the appearance of impropriety. Biden is bending over backward to be the anti-Trump here and it’s likely the right call.
The White House argued that the delay in nominations is more a consequence of Garland’s slow confirmation process rather than the back-and-forth over particular names.
“The biggest factor affecting the timeline for DOJ nominations was the delay of the Attorney General’s confirmation by a small group of Republicans, despite him having overwhelming bipartisan support,” said a White House official. GOP senators like TOM COTTON had put up roadblocks that delayed the confirmation votes.
That seems like a weak excuse. And Republican stonewalling doesn’t explain why nominations haven’t been made to these posts. (Indeed, that’s part of a pattern. Biden hasn’t made appointments to most key Defense Department posts, including all three Service Secretaries, yet.)
“We feel we can make these decisions carefully because we have faith in the acting officials currently leading these offices, whether Biden-Harris Administration appointees or DOJ career professionals,” the official added.
The Justice Department also noted that they still have four pending nominations before the Senate: LISA MONACO (deputy attorney general), VANITA GUPTA (associate attorney general), KRISTEN CLARKE (assistant attorney general for civil rights), and TODD KIM (assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources division).
I’m sure Biden will make strong appointments to all of these posts. But, given the degree to which he hit the ground running, I’m surprised that he’s doing it so slowly throughout the administration.