Christina Kinane - American Politics Speaker Series


Friday, November 8, 2019, 9:00am to 10:30am


K262, CGIS Knafel Building, 1737 Cambridge St.

Christina Kinane, Yale University

"Control without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments"

Abstract: Separation of powers models typically assume executives are constrained by the need for legislative approval when placing agents in unelected office. In practice, vital policymaking positions are often filled with temporary officials---or left empty entirely--without Senate confirmation.  I show that these vacancies are calculated choices presidents make, within their larger nomination strategies, to advance their policy priorities. Critically, our current theories of appointments focus on the ways in which the Senate limits presidential preferences, which implicitly assumes that presidents will always seek advice and consent. Presidents, in fact, do not; and here, I examine the key reasons why. I test a novel theory of appointments that corrects our conception of vacancies to differentiate between empty positions and interim appointees. By incorporating the president's power to not appoint and not nominate, this theory identifies conditions under which presidents capitalize on their first-mover advantage to subvert the Senate's power to refuse confirmation. A key finding predicts that, when presidents prioritize policy expansion, they are more likely to use interim appointees to fill positions with a high capacity to control policy outcomes. Using an original dataset on vacancies and appointments, across all fifteen executive departments from 1977 through 2015, I provide evidence that, as predicted, the likelihood of interim appointees increases when presidents prioritize expansion. My analysis suggests that, indeed, presidents strategically use vacancies -- and specifically interim appointees -- to expand their executive power and achieve their policy priorities.

This talk is free and open to the public.

The  American Politics Speaker Series (APSS)  invites speakers from outside Harvard to present research in American politics. Sponsored by the Center for American Political Studies, the Harvard Department of Government, and Harvard Kennedy School, the series is co-organized by Profs. Jon Rogowski, Ben Schneer, and Maya Sen. 

See also: Seminar