The 9 Most Divisive Cabinet Picks in US History

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The Constitution of the U.S. clearly states that the Senate and the President hold the necessary authority to appoint governmental officers to hold a position in the administration. Nevertheless, this co-relation in power has changed drastically in history.

For the past several decades, the Senate is the only authority able to reject a cabinet pick made by a president-elect or a president in office. How has the Senate played its role over the years?

Interestingly, for the first 10 years of the Senate as we know it, there was a long-standing courtesy between the Senate and the President regarding cabinet picks. Back in the XIX Century, the Senate was expected to check all candidates for federal jobs. This began to impact the federal employment acceptance rate, given that the Senate is part of political parties.

By the end of the 19th century, the Oval Office noticed that the Senate was becoming a significant challenge to the ratifications of the cabinet picks. As such, these encouraged a reform mechanism of the ratification process.

Despite these endeavors, as the federal government grew exponentially in the XX century, so did the number of confirmations by the Senate grew. As a rule, senators believed that it was an honor to approve the members of the cabinet. Also, it was seen as a way to have a say in the future of an administration’s politics. As a result, many cabinet candidates have been quickly blocked by discussions on political matters.

However, the political conflict between the President and the Senator remains intact. The beginning of any administration is a defining moment because the administration results depend on the number of positive confirmations by the Senate.

Until today, the Senate rejected nine nominations to the cabinet. In addition, over 18 nominations were ultimately withdrawn by the President to avoid any discussions in the Senate. The latest example took place at the beginning of the Biden Administration, where the President withdrew the nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

Here we have a short list containing the failed nominations to cabinets.

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Andrew Jackson’s Administration:

1. Roger B. Taney: In 1833, President Andrew Jackson put forward Roger B. Taney, who served as a lawyer to lawmakers and corporations. Jackson needed Taney’s assistance to break apart the Second Bank of the United States.

He rejected banking updates and agreed to withdraw money from the banking system. Given this complicated plan, the Senate rejected the nomination.

Edwards & Anthony, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

John Tyler’s Administration:

2. Caleb Cushing: Tyler wanted Cushing for the Finance Secretary position. Tyler was known to having a complicated relationship with the Senate due to his vetoes. As a result, the Senate rejected Cushing’s nomination twice.

3. David Henshaw: David Henshaw was the Secretary of the Navy in July 1843, after a recess appointment by Tyler. Afterward, he was formally nominated in December 1843, but his nomination was rejected. This outcome was due to Navy officers, including Admiral David Farragut.

He objected to Henshaw’s plans to combat sectional divisions within the Navy. It is said that Henshaw had plans to create Northern to Southern naval posts.

4. James S. Green: Tyler appointed James S. Green for Secretary of the Treasury in 1844. However, by this point, Tyler’s relationship with the Senate was utterly broken, and this continued to affect his nomination. In fact, Tyler was the only President who got 5 failed nominations to cabinet posts. Green felt victim to this tension, and his nomination was rejected on June 15, 1844.

5. James Madison Porter: Tyler nominated James Madison Porter to be his Secretary of War. A few days after the rejection of Green, the Senate also rejected James Madison Porter on June 30, 1844. This last nomination was a final yet clear message from the Senate to Tyler. Never again has there been such a failed interaction between these two offices.

Mathew Brady, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Johnson’s Administration:

6. Henry Stanbery: Henry Stanbery was the Attorney General for President Johnson. However, Stanbery resigned in 1868 to join Johnson’s team during his impeachment trial. Once Johnson was officially acquitted, he presented Stanbery’s nomination to resume his work as Attorney General. However, the Senate rejected his nomination.
Calvin Coolidge’ Administration:

7. Charles B. Warren: President Calvin Coolidge nominated Warren as Attorney General. His nomination was filled with concern because, at the time, Warren had close ties to the American Sugar Refining Company. This made the Senate very wary of Warren’s ability to support federal antitrust laws.

The Senate’s concerns had grounds because this sugar company controlled over 90% of the sugar-making operations in the U.S. As a result, most Senators were worried about Warren’s nomination. Also, there was the issue of the Teapot Dome scandal, when Interior Secretary Albert Fall was convicted of corruption due to ties with oil magnates.

U.S. Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dwight Eisenhower Administration:

8. Lewis Strauss: In 1959, President Eisenhower chose Strauss as his Secretary of Commerce during the government’s recess. Quickly after, Strauss made many enemies in the Senate, especially Clinton Anderson, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Anderson, Senator of New Mexico, personally led the crusade against Strauss.

The whole matter started due to a statement made by Strauss about Anderson because of Anderson’s limited knowledge of what is involved in Cold War nuclear energy policy.

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George H. W. Bush’s Administration:

9. John Towers: In 1989, President George H.W. Bush nominated former U.S. Senator John Towers as his Secretary of Defense. However, soon after the checks began, the New York Times posted a report that the FBI’s background check-marked Tower with drinking and female behavior.

Other issues also plagued his nomination. According to Carl Levin of Michigan, Towers’ relationship with the military industry was too personal, which made him a liability to this position. In the end, the FBI investigation was widely accepted and became the smoking gun for the Senate’s rejection of Towers for Secretary of Defense. The Senate rejected the Tower nomination by a vote of 47 to 53.

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