January 2017

By Jeremiah Baronberg and Molly Magnarelli

With the November 8, 2016 United States Presidential and Congressional elections concluded, the U.S. is now in the midst of a federal government transition process that will culminate with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017. The incoming 115th Congress has just begun its tenure, which will last from January 3, 2017 to January 3, 2019, and will operate during the first two years of the four-year presidential term. The 2016 elections resulted in continued Republican Party majority control of both houses of Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate.


Photo: The United States Capitol on Inauguration Day.

U.S. Administration and Presidential Appointees

While he has not yet officially taken office, President-elect Trump is currently exercising his Constitutional authority during this interim transition period to nominate senior level Executive branch leaders and advisors, including a presidential “cabinet” comprised of the appointed officers who will serve as the heads of their respective federal departments and agencies. As established in Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, the cabinet’s function is to advise the president on any and all subjects related to the duties of each cabinet member’s respective office.

Every cabinet appointee, as well as many other senior level presidentially-appointed positions, must undergo a very strict and defined vetting process and official confirmation vote by the Congress (Senate) before they can serve in their roles in the administration. This confirmation process has only just begun and no cabinet appointees have yet been confirmed. The Senate confirmation process itself can be a lengthy and often contentious political and policy debate during which the views and backgrounds of nominees are brought to light and where senators grill nominees in highly publicized committee hearings on their suitability to their respective positions.

The mandated confirmation process begins with nominees first being subject to strict legal, financial, and other conflicts investigations by the White House, Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), and Office of Government Ethics (O.G.E.), including handing over forms detailing financial disclosures, criminal background checks, and links to foreign governments. Next, the nominee’s name together with this background is submitted by the president-elect in writing to the Senate which then refers the nominee to the relevant committee with jurisdiction over the position or the agency in which the position exists. Committees may then choose to hold a hearing to debate and question the nominee directly and can subsequently either vote to “move” the nomination to the full Senate floor for consideration—requiring a simple majority vote to pass—or not move the nominee at all, effectively “killing” the nomination. Committees may also vote to “report” the nomination favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation.

While historically most nominees have been confirmed, the process itself does not guarantee this outcome and is no mere formality. It is an important exercise during which senators can make use of well publicized confirmation hearings to directly influence and impact the future policy making process of the incoming administration, including by conditioning their support for nominees to specific pledges and commitments.

Current Democratic and Republican Party leaders have clashed over the Trump nominations process, which includes concerns that several of the nominees had not completed required ethics reviews prior to their scheduled hearings. New incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) reportedly asked for additional disclosures and records and demanded adequate time to review them before confirmation hearings were scheduled, saying, “Bottom line is we believe that these nominees need a thorough vetting.” The OGE also expressed dismay about the confirmation schedule proceeding before its ethics screening reviews could be fully completed.

In this evolving context, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indeed moved to slow down the cabinet confirmation process. What was originally supposed to be a hectic week of 10 confirmation hearings has been significantly scaled down, with four hearings delayed. Mr. McConnell has stated the goal to have up to six or seven cabinet picks confirmed by Inauguration Day on January 20, the same number that incoming President Obama had by that juncture in 2009. Still, with continued conflict between Democratic and Republican Party leaders over several nominees, some estimates suggest that the entire confirmation process could take as long as two months to complete, if not more.

The current schedule of Senate confirmation hearings is:

January 10

Attorney General—Jeff Sessions (Committee on the Judiciary)

Secretary of Homeland Security—Gen. John Kelly (Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs)

January 11

(continued) Attorney General—Jeff Sessions (Committee on the Judiciary)

Secretary of State—Rex Tillerson (Committee on Foreign Relations)

Secretary of Transportation—Elaine Chao (Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)

January 12

Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) Director—Mike Pompeo (Select Committee on Intelligence)

Secretary of Defense—Gen. James Mattis (Committee on Armed Services)

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—Ben Carson (Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs)

(continued) Secretary of State—Rex Tillerson (Committee on Foreign Relations)

January 17

Secretary of Education—Betsy DeVos (Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions)

Secretary of the InteriorRyan Zinke (Committee on Energy and Natural Resources)

January 18

Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) Administrator—Scott Pruitt (Environment and Public Works)

Secretary of Commerce—Wilbur Ross, Jr. (Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)

Secretary of Health and Human Services—Tom Price (Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions)

U.N. Ambassador—Nikki Haley (Committee on Foreign Relations)

February to be determined

Secretary of Labor—Andrew Puzder

Click here to stream live web-cast video or listen to audio here of the hearings.

Cabinet Composition and Additional Senior Level Positions

In recent years, a president’s cabinet has been comprised of the elected vice president, together with the appointed heads (“secretaries”) of 15 federal executive departments: Agriculture; Commerce; Defense; Education; Energy; Health and Human Services; Homeland Security; Housing and Urban Development; Interior; Labor; State (Foreign Affairs); Transportation; Treasury; and Veterans Affairs; as well as the Attorney General.

Seven additional appointed positions also hold the status of cabinet-rank: White House Chief of Staff; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator; Office of Management and Budget Director; United States Trade Representative; United States Mission to the United Nations Ambassador; Council of Economic Advisers Chair; and Small Business Administration Administrator. Beyond the cabinet are over 1,200 key senior level appointed positions that require Senate confirmation (e.g. agency directors, deputy and assistant secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsel, ambassadors, and federal judicial vacancies) as well as over 450 senior level appointed positions that do not require confirmation. In total, a presidential transition team may need to find appointees to serve in up to approximately 4,100 positions.

To date, President-elect Trump has nominated most of the members of his cabinet and a number of non-cabinet senior level appointed positions requiring Senate confirmation as well as additional senior White House staff and Executive Office of the President officials that do not require confirmation. President-elect Trump's nominees currently include:

[Click here, here, and here for additional details and background on each nominee.]

Cabinet and Cabinet-level—Require Senate Confirmation

Attorney General—Jeff Sessions

Secretary of Agriculture—Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Commerce—Wilbur Ross Jr.

Secretary of Defense—Gen. James Mattis

Secretary of Education—Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Energy—Rick Perry

Secretary of Health and Human Services—Dr. Tom Price

Secretary of Homeland Security—Gen. John Kelly

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—Dr. Ben Carson

Secretary of Interior—Ryan Zinke

Secretary of Labor—Andrew Puzder

Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs)—Rex Tillerson

Secretary of Transportation—Elaine Chao

Secretary of Treasury—Steven Mnuchin

Secretary of Veterans Affairs—Dr. David Shulkin

Council of Economic Advisors Chair—not yet named

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator—Scott Pruitt

Office of Management and Budget Director—Mick Mulvaney

Small Business Administration Administrator—Linda McMahon

United States Trade Representative—Robert Lighthizer

United Nations Ambassador—Nikki Haley

Cabinet-level—Do not require Senate Confirmation

White House Chief of Staff—Reince Priebus

Non-Cabinet-level—Require Senate Confirmation

Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) Director—Mike Pompeo

National Intelligence Director—Dan Coats

Secretary of the Army—Vincent Viola

Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) Commissioner—Jay Clayton

United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.) Administrator—not yet named

White House Office and Executive Office of the President—Do not require Senate confirmation

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism—Thomas Bossert

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator—Seema Verma

Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor—Stephen Bannon

Counselor to the President—Kellyanne Conway

Deputy Chiefs of Staff—Rick Dearborn, Joe Hagin, Katie Walsh

Deputy National Security Advisor—Kathleen Troia (K.T.) McFarland

Director of Trade and Industrial Policy (National Trade Council)—Peter Navarro

National Economic Council Chair—Gary Cohn

National Security Adviser—Michael Flynn

Council on Environmental Quality Chair—not yet named

Office of National Drug Control Policy Director—not yet named

Office of Public Engagement Director—not yet named

Office of Science and Technology Policy Director—not yet named

Press Secretary and Communications Director—Sean Spicer

Senior Advisor to the President—Jared Kushner

Senior Advisor to the President for Policy—Stephen Miller

Special Advisor to the President on Regulatory Reform—Carl Icahn

Special Representative for International Negotiations—Jason Greenblatt

White House Counsel—Donald McGahn

115th Congress *

In addition to the presidential and Executive branch transition, the U.S. Congress is undergoing its own transition. The November 2016 Congressional election resulted in the Republican Party retaining majority control of both the House of Representatives (241 Republicans; 194 Democrats) and the Senate (52 Republicans; 46 Democrats; 2 Independents). In 2017, the 115th Congress will meet from January through December, punctuated by intermittent recesses. Click here for the House calendar and here for the Senate calendar.

As part of this Congressional transition, both political parties have announced changes to their senior leadership teams as well as to their leadership of various committees (chair=majority party; and ranking member=minority party).

In the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will continue to serve as Republican Majority Leader while the Democratic Party in November 2016 elected Charles Schumer of New York to his new role as Minority Leader, following Democrat Harry Reid’s (Nevada) retirement from Congress at the end of his fifth term of service. Mr. Schumer quickly moved to expand his leadership team by adding new voices from senators such as Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin as well as elevating Patty Murray of Washington to the third ranking position. In the House, both parties will continue with their same senior leadership teams, while the Democratic Party elevated Joseph Crowley of New York and Linda Sánchez of California to caucus chair and vice chair, respectively.

Senate Republican Party—Majority Leadership

Republican Leader—Mitch McConnell (Kentucky)

Assistant Republican Leader—John Cornyn (Texas)

Republican Conference Chair—John Thune (South Dakota)

Republican Conference Vice Chair—Roy Blunt (Missouri)

Republican Policy Committee Chair—John Barrasso (Wyoming)

Republican Senatorial Committee Chair—Cory Gardner (Colorado)

Senate Democratic Party—Minority Leadership

Democratic Leader and Chair of the Conference—Charles Schumer (New York)

Minority Whip—Richard Durbin (Illinois)

Assistant Democratic Leader—Patty Murray (Washington)

Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair—Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)

Democratic Conference Vice Chair—Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)

Democratic Conference Vice Chair—Mark Warner (Virginia)

Steering Committee Chair—Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota)

Outreach Chair—Bernie Sanders (Vermont)

Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Vice Chair—Joe Manchin (West Virginia)

Democratic Conference Secretary—Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin)

Campaign Committee Chair—Chris Van Hollen (Maryland)

House Republican Party—Majority Leadership

Speaker of the House—Paul Ryan (Wisconsin)

Majority Leader—Kevin McCarthy (California)

Majority Whip—Steve Scalise (Louisiana)

Republican Conference Chair—Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington)

Republican Policy Committee Chair—Luke Messer (Indiana)

House Democratic Party—Minority Leadership

Democratic Leader—Nancy Pelosi (California)

Democratic Whip—Steny Hoyer (Maryland)

Assistant Democratic Leader—James Clyburn (South Carolina)

Democratic Caucus Chair—Joseph Crowley (New York)

Democratic Caucus Vice Chair—Linda Sánchez (California)

Democratic Campaign Committee Chair—Ben Ray Luján (New Mexico)

Key Committee Leadership

Among the 115th Congress’ key committee leadership changes in the House of Representatives include: Representative Greg Walden (Oregon) succeeding Representative Fred Upton (Michigan) as Republican Party chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Representative Richard Neal (Massachusetts) taking over as the new Democratic Party ranking member on the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means, succeeding Representative Sander Levin (Michigan), who is stepping down from his long-time leadership role on the committee, including as both chair and ranking member. The Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on the Budget have also each announced new Republican Party chairs.

In the Senate, many of the key committees such as Foreign Relations and Finance will retain their same leadership. Among the important changes include: Senator Mike Crapo (Idaho) succeeding Senator Richard Shelby (Alabama) as the new Republican Party chair of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; and Senators Patrick Leahy (Vermont) and Claire McCaskill (Missouri) taking over as Democratic Party ranking members on the Committee on Appropriations, and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, respectively.

House of Representatives Committees

Committee on Agriculture

       Chair Michael Conaway (Texas)

       Ranking Member Collin Peterson (Minnesota)

Committee on Appropriations

       Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (New Jersey)

       Ranking Member Nita Lowey (New York)

Committee on the Budget 

       Chair Tom Price (Georgia) (Nominated for Secretary of Health and Human Services)

       Ranking Member John Yarmuth (Kentucky)

Energy and Commerce Committee

       Chair Greg Walden (Oregon)

       Ranking Member Frank Pallone (New Jersey)

Financial Services Committee

       Chair Jeb Hensarling (Texas)

       Ranking Member Maxine Waters (California)

Committee on Foreign Affairs

       Chair Ed Royce (California)

       Ranking Member Eliot Engel (New York)

Committee on Homeland Security

       Chair Michael McCaul (Texas)

       Ranking Member Bennie Thompson (Mississippi)

Small Business Committee

       Chair Steve Chabot (Ohio)

       Ranking Member Nydia Velázquez (New York)

Committee on Ways and Means

       Chair Kevin Brady (Texas)

       Ranking Member Richard Neal (Massachusetts)

Senate Committees

Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

       Chair Pat Roberts (Kansas)

       Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (Michigan)

Committee on Appropriations

       Chair Thad Cochran (Mississippi)

       Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (Vermont)

Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs

       Chair Mike Crapo (Idaho)

       Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (Ohio)

Committee on the Budget

       Chair Mike Enzi (Wyoming)

       Ranking Member Bernie Sanders (Vermont)

Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

       Chair John Thune (South Dakota)

       Ranking Member Bill Nelson (Florida)

Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

       Chair Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)

       Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (Washington)

Committee on Finance

       Chair Orrin Hatch (Utah)

       Ranking Member Ron Wyden (Oregon)

Committee on Foreign Relations

       Chair Bob Corker (Tennessee)

       Ranking Member Ben Cardin (Maryland)

Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

       Chair Lamar Alexander (Tennessee)

       Ranking Member Patty Murray (Washington)

Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

       Chair Ron Johnson (Wisconsin)

       Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (Missouri)

Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

       Chair Jim Risch (Indiana)

       Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire)

Joint Committees

U.S. Helsinki Commission on Security and Cooperation In Europe

       Chair Representative Chris Smith (New Jersey)

       Co-Chair Senator Roger Wicker (Mississippi)

       Ranking Member Representative Alcee Hastings (Florida)

       Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin (Maryland)

*Explanation of Titles and Roles

Speaker of the House—Elected by the whole of the House of Representatives, the Speaker acts as leader of the House and combines several roles: the institutional role of presiding officer and administrative head of the House, the role of leader of the majority party in the House, and the representative role of an elected member of the House. The Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the President, after the Vice President.

Majority Leader—Represents Republicans on the House floor.

Majority Whip—Assists leadership in managing party's legislative program.

Republican Conference Chair—Heads organization of all Republican Party members in the House.

Republican Policy Committee Chair—Heads Conference forum for policy development.

Democratic Leader—Represents Democrats on the House floor.

Democratic Whip—Assists leadership in managing party's legislative program.

Assistant Democratic Leader—Works with caucuses and as liaison to Appropriations Committee.

Democratic Caucus Chair—Heads organization of all Democratic Party members in the House.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chair—Assists the Chair; Second in command of the House Democratic Caucus