White House 'frustrated' by slow pace of Senate confirmations of nominees

WASHINGTON, Aug 11 (Reuters) - The White House expressed frustration on Wednesday about the U.S. Senate's slow pace in confirming nominees to serve in key roles in the Biden administration and as envoys overseas, saying it needed all hands on deck.

"What's the holdup?" press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, saying nearly 275 of President Joe Biden's nominees were awaiting confirmation, including many who were "non-controversial" and had "a lot of Republican support."

"We are frustrated over the slow pace of confirmations," she said, adding Biden had submitted more nominees to the Senate than his predecessor, Donald Trump, at this point in his tenure, and a comparable number to former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

The Senate early on Wednesday confirmed the nomination of Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado and interior secretary, to be the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, only the second of Biden's 57 ambassador nominees to be confirmed, along with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden's envoy to the United Nations.

The Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan think tank, said the Senate confirmed a total of 11 nominees on Wednesday before adjourning, bringing the total of Biden's nominees confirmed to 144 of the 442 nominations formally submitted.

While Democrats control the Senate, the confirmation process has been slowed by a number of holds placed by Republicans, including Ted Cruz, to register frustration over issues including the Biden administration's handling of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline being built from Russia to Germany.

Partnership for Public ServiceChief Executive Max Stier said all modern presidencies had faced similar issues due to steady growth in the number of Senate-confirmed positions and the use of holds to slow down the process.

The problem is "getting worse, not better," he added, saying it meant important decisions were left in the hands of acting officials, instead of those chosen for the job, with the average time of service for those confirmed being two years, half a presidential term.

By the time of the August recess during Obama's first year, the Senate had confirmed 304 of the 430 nominees submitted by that point. Trump had 130 of his 308 nominations confirmed by the same period. That is out of some 1,200 Senate-confirmed positions overall.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.