The brutality of the Senate Confirmation Process

OPINION There is a federal government process that goes on in the nation’s capital that very few Americans know about, and even less have experienced:…

Senate Confirmation hearings can intimidate even the toughest of public administrators, but was that enough to scare away Maria Echaveste? (Shutterstock)


There is a federal government process that goes on in the nation’s capital that very few Americans know about, and even less have experienced:  The Senate Confirmation.

Yet, it’s one of the most important processes in our federal government, and it all has to do with the United States holding hearings and eventually (not always) confirming the president’s high-level appointees that will serve in his or her administration. This process is part of the Senate’s constitutional “advice and consent” responsibilities.

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Those of us that have experienced a “Senate confirmation,” know firsthand how intense and nerve wrecking the process can be. The idea of appearing in front of a group of Senators, some of who aren’t warm and fuzzy to begin with, and who are worse in their questioning, can be a scary thing indeed. Never mind that preparing for the hearings can be worse than preparing for college senior finals.

However, it usually boils down to this; you simply have to know why you want the position, what the position entails and how you plan to carry out your duties. To some this process is a “cake walk” especially if they have gone through the process before.

But for those of us going in for the first time, it’s definitely a sleepless night before hearing day and even more sleepless nights until the Senate vote comes in.

There is a federal government process in the nation’s capital that very few Americans know about and an even less number that have experienced; “Senate Confirmation.”

President Ronald Reagan with Mrs. Reagan talk to California governor George Deukmejian and his wife. (Shutterstock)

It was indeed an honor for me to be nominated by President Reagan to be the Director of the Community Relations Service at the Department of Justice. His announcement of my nomination was made in the Rose Garden of the White House, and it was if I may be so modest, a big deal.

The anxiety that accompanies a Senate Confirmation hearing

There were cameras positioned throughout the Rose Garden and both President Reagan and Vice President H.W. Bush were on stage with me and a few other top-level appointees.

But that was the easy part. Once the investigation of my background began it was if “all the dogs were let lose” to attack me and no one else.

Everything about me since the day I was born was fair game, federal agents called on old friends, neighbors, work colleagues even frightening some of my mother’s viejita neighbors who couldn’t understand why I was being investigated. But the investigation was nothing compared to the problems I faced from detractors that didn’t want to see me as the head of the Community Relations Service.

Unlikely enemies in during Senate Confirmation

It became a total shock to learn that those causing my confirmation problems were members of my very own Mexican-American community. They simply didn’t want me in that position because they wanted a friend of theirs instead. They wanted their friend to be the one to run the conflict resolution agency, and they were pulling all the stops to derail my nomination.

I am not the first nominee to endure such opposition, but to put up a fight for such a small agency against people from my own ethnic background was certainly a first and to say the least “shocking”.

It got to the point where I thought about withdrawing my nomination. But I figured that given that I had survived my challenging, mental and emotional childhood upbringing I could surely survive this, which I did.

But certainly it would never have happened had I not had the support of one particular senator who knew me much better than the others; he was my next-door neighbor and friend, former Senator Al Simpson of Wyoming. I was lucky, some nominees have no one to help them when they get in trouble during the confirmation process. Still others are so controversial no matter “who they know” that none will help them.

The “Senate Confirmation” process does not have to be so difficult, but it is for some and it is certainly not for the faint hearted. Like everything about Washington, D.C. politics, it’s a tough experience. Some make it through the confirmation, and some don’t.

The Maria Echaveste debacle

There is a federal government process in the nation’s capital that very few Americans know about and an even less number that have experienced;  “Senate Confirmation.”

Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste stands with John Podesta as he is named new Chief of Staff, replacing Erskine Bowles. President Clinton made the announcement in the Rose Garden, prior to his departure for the Mideast peace talks at Wye River. (Getty Images)

I was especially sad to hear that my old friend Maria Echaveste withdrew her nomination as President Obama’s pick to be our country’s Ambassador to Mexico. I wonder where was the Hispanic community during her fight—why weren’t they backing up her nomination and calling for senators to confirm her? Or was her nomination doomed in the new Republican controlled Senate?

Ms. Echaveste cited family concerns along with the short period of time left in Obama’s administration as the reasons for her withdrawal and to be sure those are valid considerations. However, the other side of the coin is that she would have been the first woman appointed as ambassador to her family’s native country and would have served her country well.

But here again, “Senate Confirmations” can be a brutal process that serves the masters more than the nominees. Hispanics didn’t fare well with Eschaveste, but they did with the confirmation of Dallas prosecutor, Sarah Saldana, thanks to Senator Ted Cruz’s naiveté of Senate proceedings.

In an attempt to force a vote on Obama’s immigration policies, he invoked a parliamentary procedure that didn’t go anywhere but it did allow the Democrats to keep the Senate in session allowing them time to confirm several of Obama’s nominees including Sara Saldana.

SEE ALSO: Congress works to avoid government shutdown

Interestingly, both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz opposed Saldana’s confirmation but Cruz who seems to talk more than listen these days, handed the Democrats a big win – its fair to say that it is most likely that none of these nominees would have won confirmation in a Republican controlled Senate and Ms. Saldana would have been out like Ms. Echaveste.

There you have it, an interesting process of our American government that very few experience but that is waiting for the next batch of well deserving Americans brave or lucky enough to see it through.