Half of a President's suggestions, which theoretically carry the weight of orders, can be safely forgotten by a Cabinet member. And if the President asks about a suggestion a second time, he can be told that it is being investigated. If he asks a third time, a wise Cabinet officer will give him at least part of what he suggests. But only occasionally, except about the most important matters, do Presidents ever get around to asking three times.For those of you who have been following my Watergate posts, you've read how many times Richard Nixon had to repeat various directives (breaking into Brookings, getting the IRS to persecute rich Jews who supported the Democrats, selectively declassifying documents to hurt the Kennedys and other Dems), and as we know some of those things never did happen.
One of the outcomes, by the way, of the breakdown in the executive branch nomination process is that it puts presidents in an even worse position as he tries to get cabinet secretaries and others to do what he wants. One of the president's weapons in such fights (albeit one that can only be used infrequently even in the best of times) is to threaten to fire someone who doesn't follow administration policy. But if the Senate is unlikely to confirm anyone, then that threat isn't credible. And if they can't be fired, then why should they do what the president wants?
All of which is just a reminder that Barack Obama's greatest mistake has been letting the executive branch nominations process deteriorate without any kind of sustained fight. Yes, Republican obstruction is unprecedented, but Obama hasn't really even tried to contest it, and has never signaled to anyone, including Senate Democrats, that executive branch nominations are even a moderate priority. The result hasn't just been a bureaucracy that doesn't work as well as it should, but one that is a lot less responsive to Barack Obama than it might be.