Several of President-elect Trump’s nominees for top Cabinet posts are in the spotlight as the Senate has started holding confirmation hearings in advance of the January 20 presidential inauguration.
Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, for example, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11 and took questions.
Though there is a formal step-by-step process for Senate confirmation, there’s also a lighter side.
Here’s a glimpse of some notable confirmation moments:
- First and fastest: Just minutes after George Washington sent his first Cabinet nomination to the Senate in 1789, Alexander Hamilton was approved as secretary of the treasury. Congress considered Treasury to be the most important Cabinet department. Today, the story of Hamilton is a Broadway sensation.
- Most at one time: During the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to get to work quickly, so he asked the Senate to confirm his Cabinet without hearings, and the Senate complied. FDR’s Cabinet was sworn in all at once shortly after his inauguration.
- First African American: Robert C. Weaver was selected as secretary of housing and urban development in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. A 10-story federal office building in downtown Washington is named after him.
- Few rejections: The Senate has only rejected nine Cabinet candidates. Nominees typically take their names out of the running if something embarrassing or controversial is discovered during the vetting process. The 10th president, John Tyler, had four of his picks rejected in 1843–44.
- First mention: The term “Cabinet” is never mentioned in the Constitution itself. James Madison was the first president to use the term, basing it on the British Privy Council.
- More than just Cabinet members: The Senate also confirms nonpolitical appointments and promotions in the military and other civilian positions. These routine nominations can number between 50,000 and 100,000.