Vacancy Politics: Presidential Appointments and the Strategic Evasion of Senate Consent
All presidential administrations experience vacancies in agency leadership. Separation of powers models typically assume that executives are constrained by the need for legislative approval when placing these agents in unelected office. Yet, in practice, these vital policymaking positions are often filled with temporary officials -- or left empty entirely -- without Senate confirmation. These unexpected outcomes raise the important question of why presidents choose to leave certain positions vacant while seeking the Senate's advice and consent for others. Even though much has been written on the president's strategies for choosing appointees in light of their potential for Senate confirmation, the president's use of vacancies is almost completely absent from the literature on presidential appointments. This absence is striking since presidents have perpetuated vacancies in their appointments, without submitting nominations, for decades.
In Vacancy Politics, I argue that vacancies in appointments that require Senate confirmation are calculated choices presidents make, within their larger nomination strategies, to advance their policy priorities. To do so, I develop and test a novel theory of appointments that corrects our conception of vacancies to differentiate between empty positions and interim appointees, while also incorporating the Senate's leverage to veto a nomination and the president's power to choose not to submit one in the first place. Two key findings predict that, first, when presidents prioritize policy contraction, persistently empty positions without nominees will occur even in unified government; and second, when presidents prioritize policy expansion, they are more likely to use interim appointees to fill positions with a high capacity to control policy outcomes. I assess these implications using an original dataset on vacancies and appointments, across all fifteen executive departments from 1977 through 2019; and find considerable support for my theory. Executive politics scholars claim that the Senate's refusal to confirm appointments damages the president's ability to exercise his authority and execute the law. However, this work identifies conditions under which presidents, when they use empty posts and interim appointments, capitalize on their first-mover advantage to subvert the Senate's power to refuse confirmation.
This book project builds on my dissertation research, available here.
Research in Progress
Christina M. Kinane. "Control without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments."
Christina M. Kinane. "Unilateral Inaction: Presidential Policymaking with Vacancies in Appointments."
Christina M. Kinane. "'Acting' in a Time of Crisis: Appointment Politics and the Government's Response to Epidemics."
Christina M. Kinane and Lauren Mattioli. "Serving the Law or Playing Politics? The Strategic Use of U.S. Attorney Appointments."
Jesse M. Crosson and Christina M. Kinane. "Overseeing Empty Chairs: Interest Groups, Congress, and Agency Inaction."