After the bruising battle over Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, Republicans are dreading a fight over replacing outgoing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. But there is a way President Trump could fill the top diplomatic post without it being confirmed by the Senate
Trump faces a dilemma in replacing Haley. He said Tuesday that Haley will leave her post by the end of the year, but whether or not that means before or after Election Day is unclear. The unknown timeline tees up a situation where the president can either: wait until after the midterms to choose a replacement, push a nominee through that aligns with his foreign policy views before Election Day, or use his authority to fill the position with an ambassador that is already Senate-confirmed.
If Haley decides to serve out her post until the next Congress is seated in January, she would likely give the president an easy path to confirm her successor. Republicans have more than an 80 percent chance of maintaining or adding to their 51-seat majority in the upper chamber. If those predictions prove true, Trump would have more leeway to put up a fresh nominee that is in line with his "America First" foreign policy agenda. That is, he wouldn't have to worry about losing two or more Republicans that would effectively tank his nominee with the current Senate makeup.
Alternatively, the president could take a more aggressive approach and barrel ahead with an unconfirmed nominee of his choosing. Choosing this particular strategy poses a number of obstacles. Primarily, the Senate's calendar does not allow for it.
If the Senate were in recess, it would allow the president to make a recess appointment. His nominee would then hold the position and could do so, not only the remainder of 2018, but through 2019. In holding pro forma sessions this month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not allowed for that option, opting instead to hold small, pro forma sessions that prevent the chamber form meeting recess requirements.
The final option Trump has if he decides not to wait until after voters take to the polls is to use the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to fill Haley's post, an option that would allow him to avoid another Senate confirmation.
Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the president can technically fill a post with anyone who is Senate-confirmed and meets a few other requirements. That means Trump could move forward with other potential candidates — including U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison — and bypass another high-profile Senate confirmation just before the November midterm elections.
The nominee would be subject to time limits, as was the case when Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney temporarily took over for Consumer Financial Protections Bureau Richard Cordray. The person Trump chooses could serve "no longer than 210 days beginning on the date the vacancy occurs” or “once a first or second nomination for the office is submitted to the Senate, from the date of such nomination for the period that the nomination is pending in the Senate."
The administration might view this strategy as a favorable option after Kavanaugh's brutally contentious confirmation process that only ended only a week ago. It is conceivably even more intriguing given that Senate Democrats have slow-walked hundreds of the president's nominees and are acutely focused on impeding the president's agenda.