Which begs the question: Why did Trump tap this woman for another term? He didn’t. Not really. Chuck Schumer did—which may sound oddly bipartisan for these turbulent times but is in fact standard operating procedure. At bipartisan agencies like the EEOC (the FEC, the SEC, and so on), a certain number of seats go to the party that holds the presidency while a slightly smaller number are reserved for the party out of power. For the five-member EEOC, this currently means a 3 to 2 split in Republicans’ favor.
When filling opposition seats, the president typically relies on recommendations from that party’s Senate leadership. Then, depending on how many vacancies need to be filled, a slate of the combined picks from both teams are sent to the Senate, where the entire shebang is put up for a Unanimous Consent vote (a fast-track procedure that bypasses the endless hoops of a regular confirmation).
But that’s only if no senator puts a hold on the nominations. Which, in Feldblum’s case, at least one has: Utah’s Mike Lee, who, in the name of religious liberty, has been a loud, proud opponent of Feldblum.
To get the EEOC train rolling again will now take one of two moves: 1. Trump can pull Feldblum’s nomination. But that would blow up the slate and put Democrats in no mood to send him a more palatable alternative recommendation, much less wave through subsequent nominees. 2. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell could break apart the package and ram through each nominee separately. Again, Democrats would respond unpleasantly, killing any possibility of a Unanimous Consent vote. In such a closely divided Senate, who needs that kind of headache? Unsurprisingly, McConnell is focusing on clearing higher-profile, higher-priority nominees.
While one might assume that Feldblum-resisters like Lee would be heroes to the conservative cause, there is one further wrinkle to consider. Because of multiple vacancies, the EEOC is currently dominated (2 to 1) by Democrats, who are running around enforcing anti-discrimination laws the way they see fit. The nomination package being held up contains Feldblum and two Republicans—which, if approved, would shift the power balance back to the GOP. For this reason, some conservatives are eager to move things forward, even if it means stomaching Feldblum. Late last month, Carrie Lukas, president of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, publicly called on Senate conservatives to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good and fill these seats ASAP. (Read: before midterms potentially blow everything up.)
So as things now stand, social conservatives are up in arms about their president embracing Feldblum. (As Perkins grumped: “Even if the commission is required to have a certain number of Democrats, the White House doesn’t have to take just anyone (or, in this case, the worst possible option).”) At the same time, other pockets of conservatives are getting testy that, thanks to Lee’s hold, the EEOC remains in Democratic hands even as the potentially devastating midterms loom.
Democrats, meanwhile, are kicked back watching the storm, for once being slammed by no one for gumming up the works. One might almost suspect they’re enjoying themselves.