Politics is the usual grounds for rejecting a Cabinet nominee, but candidates have found themselves locked out of the Cabinet for other reasons, including revenge, arrogance, and just plain stupidity.
- Burned bridges. John Tyler made a lot of enemies when he became president. He’d been a member of the Whig party for years but, once in office, he vetoed several bills introduced by his own party. The Whigs responded by kicking him out of the party and rejecting four of his Cabinet nominees. Tyler was so determined to get his treasury secretary confirmed that he nominated him a second and third time on the same day. The senate rejected him all three times.
- Too much sugar. Charles B. Warren was rejected for the Attorney General’s position under Calvin Coolidge because of his ties with the powerful sugar industry. Opponents believed he would not enforce anti-trust laws.
- Bank error. Roger B. Taney was rejected for Treasury Secretary because, at President Andrew Jackson’s orders, he withdrew federal funds from the Second Bank of the United States, which put it out of business. Friends of the bank paid Taney back by rejecting his nomination. (Unfortunately, Jackson appointed Taney to the Supreme Court, where he caused untold trouble with his decision in the Dred Scott case.)
- No vacancy. After Lincoln’s assassination, Andrew Johnson tried to fire Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Johnson nominated Thomas Ewing to replace him, but Stanton refused to leave and the Senate refused to consider Ewing’s nomination.
- Permanent hiatus. When Andrew Johnson was impeached, his Attorney General, Henry Stanbery, resigned his post to defend Johnson. After the impeachment trial ended, Johnson re-nominated Stanbery, but the Senate was still angry with Johnson and wouldn’t let Stanbery resume his old position.
- Taxi evasion. Tom Daschle, President Obama’s choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, was criticized for problems with unclaimed income on his taxes, mostly related to free access to a limousine and chauffeur.
- Pompous and circumstance. President Eisenhower’s commerce secretary nominee, Lewis Strauss, was disdainful and condescending to the Senate. Moreover, he insisted on cross-examining witnesses and senators who opposed him, which turned even his supporters against him.
- Home maid headache. At least four nominees withdrew when it was learned they had hired undocumented domestic workers:
- Zoe Baird (Clinton’s Attorney General nominee)
- Kimba Wood (Clinton’s second Attorney General nominee)
- Linda Chavez (George W. Bush’s Labor Secretary nominee)
- Bernard Kerik (George W. Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security nominee)
- Wine, women, and wrong. Nominated by George H.W. Bush for Secretary of Defense in 1989, John Tower’s reputation was tarnished by accusations of heavy drinking and womanizing. Tower admitted he drank excessively, but vowed to quit if accepted. It wasn’t enough to win confirmation. This was the last time the Senate rejected a Cabinet nominee.
In 2013, Senator Harry Reid changed the rules of the confirmation process (the infamous “nuclear option”). Now, nominees only need the approval of a simple majority vote of 51 instead of the previous 60 required to break a filibuster, likely giving President Trump a clear path to confirmation for all of his nominees.