The Politics of Requesting Appointments: Congressional Requests in the Appointment and Nomination Process

Article excerpt

Abstract

There is persistent debate about who most influences the federal appointment process, especially whether the executive branch staffs the federal bureaucracy with individuals loyal to the White House or relies on the process as an accommodation to important political players, especially members of Congress. Yet, people still know little about the role members of Congress play in the process of shaping the prenomination environment. In this article, the authors address this debate by using unique archival data from the Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford Presidential Libraries to identify which legislators contacted the president about a specific nomination or appointment request and under what conditions these requests were successful. The authors find that legislator resources, Senate membership, and those closer ideologically to the president are related both to the number of requests made and to the number of successful appointment or nomination requests granted. The results suggest that the president relies on members of Congress for credible information about staffing administrative positions, but they appoint or nominate individuals that are in their own interest, not necessarily to accommodate Congress.

Keywords

presidential-legislative relations, appointment, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower

The president's appointment power is outlined in the "appointments clause" of Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, where the president nominates individuals to several offices with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. This creates a "diffused responsibility" of administrative governance because the powers are shared (Jones 1994, 24). As with many aspects of shared governance, this institutional arrangement provides a distribution of power between two branches but also encourages conflict. Corwin's (1957) description of the separated powers as an "invitation to struggle" has framed scholars' thinking about the interaction between the presidency and Congress and conditions "that great game" where the two sides engage in collective bargaining to advance their policy agendas (Neustadt 1990, 32). Weingast (2005, 336) argues that the bureaucracy is "caught in the middle" of a complex political tug of war between Congress and the president. As a result of this struggle, especially in times of divided government, when traditional legislation is more difficult to pass, presidents have turned to the "administrative presidency" to organize the bureaucracy in their favor (Weko 1995; Moe 1999) and to attempt to conduct policy outside of the purview of the Congress, the media, and the public (Nathan 1983; Walcott and Hult 1987).

So how do presidents staff the bureaucracy? The politics of presidential appointments has often been viewed as a trade-off between the accommodation to political party (the interests of members of Congress) or as an extension of presidential policy objectives. On one hand, a president may staff the executive with individuals who are loyal to the president's party, thereby pleasing the president's core supporters. This view was prevalent in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because of the role of patronage for party loyalists (Nokken and Sala 2000; see also Skowronek 1982; Johnson and Libecap 1994). In this vein, presidents use appointments to help build (and hold) coalitions together within Congress and within their party.1 On the other hand, presidents may ignore their party and staff the executive with loyalists to their own ideological or policy goals. This perspective suggests that presidents attempt to "politicize" or "presidentialize" the bureaucracy to their own ends (Nathan 1983; Moe 1985; Moe and Wilson 1994; Lewis 2008). Waterman (1989) labels this "responsive competence" (as opposed to "neutral competence," whereby the most qualified, policy-substantive person is found for the job). Evidence from independent regulatory commissions suggests that this perspective has some weight (Moe 1982). …