One of the abiding themes of Barack Obama’s Presidency was the supposed intense obstruction he suffered from the Republicans who supposedly were unwilling to compromise with him.
I always found these claims somewhat overdone if only because – apart from gun control – I was unable to see what programme it was that the Republicans were preventing Obama from enacting. It always seemed to me that the claim was made at least in part in order to excuse Obama’s inactivity, and his failure even to try to implement any part of the sort of liberal programme some of his supporters craved for.
However, to the extent that Obama did actually experience obstruction from his Republican opponents, it is as nothing to the obstruction Donald Trump is having to face from the Democrats. The clearest example of this is the extraordinarily protracted confirmation process in the Senate of Trump’s picks for cabinet posts.
As I wrote back in November, claims that were being made at the time that Trump was struggling to pick people for his cabinet were simply wrong. By the time of the inauguration Trump was in a position to propose a full cabinet line up. Obviously some of these picks were controversial. However to a greater or lesser degree that is true of the picks made by every President.
What has however been remarkable has been the Senate’s slowness in confirming Trump’s picks. It seems that this is the slowest confirmation process since George Washington’s in 1789. Only now, following Steven Mnuchin’s confirmation yesterday as Treasury Secretary, are more than half the cabinet places filled.
The key reason for this is the extraordinary obstruction of the Democrats in the Senate who have taken the historically unprecedented step of voting as a block against almost all of Trump’s choices.
The paradoxical effect of this is that it will almost certainly ensure that Trump will eventually get all his cabinet picks confirmed, because it has united the Republicans in the Senate (who hold the majority) behind them.
By contrast if the Democrats had approached the confirmation process in a more consensual and conventional fashion, it is likely that they might have won over enough Republicans to persuade either Trump to drop some of his picks or some of them to stand down. As this discussion in the Washington Post shows, that is something which in fact usually happens during a confirmation process.
Much of the confusion in the early weeks of the Trump administration is almost certainly a result of the fact that many of the top posts in the government have not been filled. Though that will surely change, it is clear that even the pretence of bipartisanship in US politics has completely broken down. That cannot but have ominous consequences in the future.