I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with a lawyer who had worked at the former Bush administration. This individual’s job was guiding and selecting presidential nominees for various posts in government. He was quite young; perhaps in his 30s or 40s. It was quite interesting listening to what he had to say.
Most nominations – around 90%, according to this lawyer – had almost no presidential involvement. This was due to how much stuff the president had on his plate; he generally only personally involved himself in those nominations which required Senate confirmation.
In general, the president gave an outline of what he wanted, such as an individual holding an ideological viewpoint similar to his. Then the staff did all the legwork of choosing, vetting, and sending through the nomination. The president only signed approval at the end. He might sign through multiple nominations, such as a list of eight nominees, at one time.
There is, of course, a background check. Generally the CIA or FBI goes around asking all the people you know for information. They then, with more important nominations, try to go around asking your contacts for more contacts.
Finally, the president prized diversity – something that was quite surprising but encouraging to hear. According to the former lawyer, this was not always very easy to achieve. It’s easy to find diverse candidates in places like New York or Los Angeles, he said. But in places like Minnesota or Missouri it’s a lot harder. The difficulty was multiplied by the fact that the president was looking for nominees of a conservative mind-set. Minorities, of course, are much more likely to vote Democratic and hold liberal views. Finding, for instance, a conservative non-white accomplished lawyer in North Carolina is actually a non-trivial task.
The lawyer told a story about a time they had submitted a list of eight candidates to the president to be signed. The first seven were white males; “we didn’t do it purposedly; it just happened to be that way,” he stated.
The eighth nominee was for Puerto Rico, and had a name similar to Eduardo Perez (I forget the exact name). After looking at the names and signing the president joked, “What, you couldn’t find another white male for Puerto Rico?”
All in all, the conversation was very interesting and informative. A lot of the day-by-day things that go into running the country are unrecorded by the media. It’s good to get some insight into what actually goes on inside things such as the nomination process.