WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican who has been one of President Trump's most outspoken backers, expressed frustration about the new president's slow progress in appointing people to federal judgeships and jobs – including those in Western New York.
"We are actually hearing they may not fill some of these positions this year in New York," Collins said in an interview.
If that were to happen, one of the two Buffalo-based full-time federal judgeships would remain vacant – a problem in a court with a backlog of cases.
Meantime, a career prosecutor – James P. Kennedy Jr. – would continue to serve as acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York rather than a Trump nominee. Similarly, the U.S. Marshal's Service in Western New York would continue without a marshal appointed by Trump.
The new president has not yet put forward any local nominees despite intense interest among several Republican legal figures in the Buffalo area.
Amy Habib Rittling, an employment attorney and a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman, and Lancaster Town Justice Jeremy A. Colby have expressed interest in the federal judgeship. And Colby is one of several local Republican lawyers who, party leaders have said, could be appointed the region's top prosecutor.
But not yet.
"The U.S. attorney, the U.S. marshal and the federal judge in the Western District - let alone the Northern, Southern and Eastern - there's nothing moving," Collins said.
White House officials recently interviewed one of the candidates Collins recommended for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District, which is based in New York.
"So I think they are moving on that – but they don't have a Schumer strategy," Collins said.
In other words, the Trump White House doesn't have a plan to contend with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat who could oppose Trump nominees in New York and across the nation.
"It's clear that Schumer has no relationship with anyone at the White House, and vice versa," Collins said.
While Trump has been able to get most of his cabinet nominees and Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch past Schumer's opposition, senators can use a "blue slip" veto to block judicial nominees from their home state. That tradition gives Schumer and other Democratic senators more leverage over home-state federal court appointments.
Schumer declined to comment for this article, but he has remained adamant that the judicial nominee he recommended to then-President Barack Obama for the post in Buffalo, Kathleen Sweet, be confirmed as Buffalo's next federal judge.
"Sen. Schumer continues to support her candidacy," Jason Kaplan, a spokesman for Schumer, said earlier this month. "He believes that Kathleen Sweet, a talented lawyer who has a deep commitment to Buffalo, a city where she was born and raised, would still be an outstanding nominee."
Collins said Schumer has "slow-walked" the process for Senate confirmation of cabinet secretaries and other high-level appointees, but the congressman also said it was problematic that that the president had not announced many appointments.
Collins was involved in that process during Trump's transition, helping to set up a database of names from which the president could fill the 4,000 or so political jobs in his new administration. Now, Collins said, his office routinely fields calls from Republicans who applied for those jobs who are wondering what happened.
"I'm not sure how many they've filled at the White House but probably less than 100 positions out of 4,000," Collins said. "And we're coming up on 100 days."
Politico reported last week that of the 553 top political appointments that require Senate confirmation, Trump had nominated 24 people and 22 of those had been approved by the Senate. Former President Barack Obama had 54 top officials appointed and confirmed at the time of his confirmation.
According to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service – the source of Politico's data – "the top 100 leadership positions, including the Cabinet secretaries, should be filled soon after the inauguration."
That hasn't happened, Collins said, because of differences of opinion inside the White House.
"I think in some cases – and we're all reading about it – there are different philosophies of the role of government and you know, on the personnel side, we're all reading about different spheres of influence," Collins said. "And I think sometimes that if there's not agreement, the easiest thing is procrastination or simply not moving."
Two Trump advisers – chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law – have been, according to multiple media reports, clashing over many matters. And while Collins did not name names when discussing the White House's torpor in filling federal jobs, he portrayed the Trump White House as one filled with conflicts on personnel matters.
"Different people are throwing different names at them, and then all of a sudden, for a given position, there's 10 names for one position," Collins said. "Who's going to go through those 10 names and say: 'This is the one I want?' I think in some cases that happens. And then someone else says: 'Well no, this is the one I want.' And someone else says: 'Well now, this is the one I want.' And they don’t have unanimity, and so nothing gets done."
The delay in filling those positions has consequences, though, Collins said.
"You have a lot of career bureaucrats filling in in an acting position, and many of them are not about reform," Collins said. "Even if you’ve got a secretary, if the next 12 positions under him are empty, it's awkward. It's not good for progress, and it's certainly frustrating to us."
Officials in Trump's Office of Media Affairs did not respond to an email seeking comment.
That office – which deals with inquiries from regional newspapers such as The Buffalo News – is one of those in the Trump White House that has been slow in filling out its staff.
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