On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Brian Benczkowski as head of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. Thus, a year and a half into the Trump administration, the Senate has finally confirmed one of Trump’s nominees to a key assistant attorney general position.
Three other such key positions remain vacant. They are head of the Civil Rights Division (Eric Dreiband), head of the Environment and Natural Resources Division (Jeff Clark), and head of the Civil Division (Jody Hunt). These nominees have cleared committee (twice), but are in limbo with no clear prospect of getting to the Senate floor for a vote.
Why did Majority Leader McConnell opt to invoke cloture on Benczkowski only? Probably because the White House prodded him to get the criminal division position filled. Trump apparently sees filling that job as a higher priority than filling the others.
I can understand Trump feeling this way. However, for conservatives focused on policy, confirming assistant attorney generals for civil rights and environment should, if anything, have been the priority.
It’s not that the criminal division isn’t extremely important. Obviously, it is. However, the criminal division is not an ideological battleground populated by leftists, at least not to the same degree as the civil rights and environment and natural resources divisions are.
Benczkowski said of his new job, “being head of the criminal division in the first instance is principally a management and leadership job.” Management and leadership are also important components of being head of the civil rights and environment and natural resources job too.
However, these two divisions need fighters who will lead in a new direction. The civil rights division is a bastion of the left. It has been on the wrong side of issues including racial preferences and quotas, voting, local police practices, religious freedom, transgender issues, and much more. If he is ever confirmed, Eric Dreiband will change the division’s direction decisively.
The environment and natural resources division is responsible for defending in court the regulatory rollback Scott Pruitt was able to achiever. Given the political bent of many of its attorneys, there is reason to fear that, absent the kind of vigilance Jeff Clark is specially qualified to provide, the defense may fall considerably short of optimal. Moreover, with Pruitt gone, Clark’s guidance on which additional regulatory reform to undertake becomes even more important.
Republicans control the Senate, as Benczkowski’s confirmation over strenuous objection by the Democrats once again shows. We have urged the Majority Leader to exercise that control on behalf of the Dreiband and Clark nominations, as well as judicial nominees, either by changing the rules so that debate on nominees is limited to a small fraction of the time (30 hours) now permitted or by requiring the Senate to work a full week and some weekends.
This hasn’t happened. McConnell did, however, cut back on the August recess. It’s my understanding that he will use much of this extra time to confirm judges, which makes sense. However, McConnell should also squeeze in Dreiband and Clark.
By the end of the recess, it will be around 15 months since these two were nominated. That’s ridiculously long for the Democratic minority to be able to obstruct nominees for any position, much less positions as important as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources.