The U.S. constitution grants the chief executive (also known as the president of the United States) the power to select cabinet secretaries, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices, among other officials. But it would be a quite risky situation if that's where the founding fathers left matters -- world leaders with unchecked power don't tend to bode well for their country's citizens. Fortunately, the framers had the foresight to also place in the constitution the requirement that the U.S. Senate approve presidential appointees. That requirement exists as a means of checking the power of the executive branch, and it's known as the "advice and consent" clause.
The congressional review of the president's nominees, usually referred to as the confirmation process, allows the legislative branch to ask pointed questions of, and sometimes even reject, a president's choice for a particular post if the nominee is either thought to be too partisan or simply and clearly unqualified for the position.
The first step in confirming a presidential appointee is when the president notifies the senate of his choice for a position. Next, depending on the position, a particular senate committee will begin the process of vetting the nominee. The committee will require that he or she provide it with all kinds of personal and financial information. The process of gathering all of this material can take several weeks. Meanwhile, the FBI conducts its own investigation into the nominee's background.
The next step is for the vetting committee to make its recommendation to the rest of the senate. The senate committee has four ways to move on the nomination: It can vote for the nominee; vote against the person; take no action; or simply not report the nominee out of the committee (i.e., send him or her on for consideration in the full senate). The president is notified of the committee's decision and the nomination is then scheduled for debate by the entire Senate, if the nominee reaches that stage. For a nomination to be approved by the senate, only a simple majority is required.
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