A raft of Defense Department nominations including President Trump's pick for Navy secretary remain among the Senate's unfinished business as lawmakers begin their final two weeks of work before an August recess.
The tight timeline means Democrats and Republicans will have to strike an agreement to speed up consideration of the 12 nominees and fill key Pentagon posts under the Trump administration before they leave town until September.
The DoD nominees, among 84 total Trump picks now pending, have already passed through the Senate Armed Services Committee and are cued up on the chamber's calendar for floor action. But Democrats have been slow-rolling Trump's picks by requiring each to be considered individually through floor procedures that can take days.
Nominations have in the past been voted on in batches by the Senate and the impending summer recess might pressure Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to come to an agreement to speed up the slow pace of confirmations, said Mark Harkins, a senior fellow with the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.
"Hopefully, a large number of these people who are pending on the executive calendar right now will be able to be passed through on that [faster] process and it will only be a handful in a slowed-down procedure," Harkins said.
Without a coming together, the DOD picks could languish into the fall and leave top positions vacant or manned by Obama administration holdovers. Once confirmed, those nominees join the seven people who have already joined the Pentagon.
The Navy secretary nomination is among the most crucial for the administration. Trump picked Richard V. Spencer, a financier and former Marine aviator, to be the service's top civilian leader as the administration works to shore up depleted forces and prepares to expand the fleet from 276 to 355 ships in the coming years.
The pending nominations also include Matthew Donovan to be Air Force undersecretary; Ryan McCarthy to be Army undersecretary, and Ellen Lord to be the Pentagon's top weapons buyer.
Filling the positions could also benefit Congress as it moves ahead on the 2018 defense budget, Harkins said.
"Congress usually talks to political appointees. It does them no good to have shell agencies without political appointees over there because then they don't have anybody they can talk to who they feel can talk with any authority," he said. "As we get deeper and deeper into the budget cycle, you are going to want people who are going to be able to answer your questions who you believe have some authority up the line."
The nominees awaiting Senate confirmation are:
- Richard V. Spencer, to be Navy secretary
- Matthew Donovan, to be Air Force undersecretary
- John Gibson, to be deputy chief management officer
- Ellen Lord, to be undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics
- Lucian Niemeyer, to be assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations, and environment
- David Trachtenberg, to be principal deputy undersecretary for policy
- Owen West, to be assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict
- Ryan McCarthy to be undersecretary of the Army
- Charles Stimson, to be general counsel of the Navy
- Elaine McCusker, to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense, comptroller
- Robert Daigle, to be director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation
- Robert R. Hood, to be an assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs.