South Carolina’s Mick Mulvaney is in the final hours of what is now an unusually long, drawn-out confirmation process to become President Donald Trump’s budget chief.
The Senate is expected to confirm the Republican congressman Thursday morning. The margin is likely to be slim, with no Democrat voting for him.
It’s been a long wait for confirmation.
“The longest it has ever taken to approve a first budget director for a new president was one week,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. “One week. We’re now in week four, with little or no movement.”
Trump wanted Mulvaney in office before now. The president has scheduled an address to both houses of Congress on Feb. 28, and was said to want a “skinny budget” outlining how to pay for his top priorities as president in general terms. Mulvaney would, ideally, prepare that document, and would have to defend it before Congress.
Whether he’ll have the time or expertise to do so is a question.
Longtime Washington budget analyst Stan Collender, a frequent Republican critic, said Trump wouldn’t be hurt too badly by even further delays in filling the post.
“Only if Trump is planning on submitting a 2018 budget, and that’s not clear,” he wrote in an email response to a question on whether this delay would be a problem for the new administration. Fiscal 2018 begins next Oct. 1, but Congress is supposed to pass a blueprint for that budget by April 15.
Mulvaney has been slowed by a confirmation process that has taken longer than usual because of Democratic delaying tactics. He is one of nine Trump Cabinet nominees still unconfirmed. None have been defeated.
Enzi said that even last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had noted that “this is the slowest time for a new Cabinet to be up and running since President George Washington. And that was last week. It’s even slower than that, and we’re not done.”
Mulvaney has survived two confirmation votes by two Senate committees, winning approval on party-line votes.
The Senate voted 52-48 Wednesday to limit debate on the nomination, clearing the way for Thursday’s full Senate confirmation vote. Mulvaney is expected to win it.
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Wednesday that “I’m still leaning” toward voting no. When asked whether he would change his mind if his vote meant defeating Mulvaney’s nomination, he added, “I don’t base my votes on the numbers. I base them on what I believe.”
Still, he said much the same thing before the confirmation vote in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, yet he voted in favor of Mulvaney.
Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats. If Mulvaney loses two of those votes, Vice President Mike Pence would break the tie in his favor. Three “no” votes would kill the nomination.
Mulvaney, known as a strong opponent of federal deficit spending, is unlikely to attract votes from Democrats.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said during the debate session on Mulvaney that the congressman was too strongly anti-climate-change to be a serious choice as budget director.
“The fellow who’s being considered . . . questioned the scientific fact of climate change,” he said. “We can’t muzzle scientists. We can’t muzzle science. It’s not going to go away.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Mulvaney’s time in Congress indicated that he didn’t have the proper worldview to serve in a national position.
“There’s got to be a recognition of the value of bipartisanship compromise, putting the country first, putting pragmatism ahead of ideology,” he said during the debate.