By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - By now, David Tryon had expected to be a two-year veteran at the Small Business Administration, an agency at the heart of the U.S. government's coronavirus relief effort as it disburses more than $650 billion (£516.4 billion) in loans for struggling small companies.
But the Ohio attorney, nominated by President Donald Trump in October 2017 as the SBA's chief counsel for advocacy, has remained in limbo awaiting a Senate confirmation vote. In the meantime, the position - intended to advance the concerns of small businesses to the White House, Congress, federal courts and states - has remained without a Senate-confirmed occupant.
"There's so much discussion about how do we help small businesses survive in this environment," Tryon said in an interview. "And this is exactly what the office of advocacy should be doing now."
The pandemic has worsened an extensive backlog in the Senate's consideration of Trump's nominees for a long list of top administration positions. Senators left Washington in March amid broad stay-at-home policies imposed in most of the country intended to slow the spread of the virus. They are not due to return until next week.
The problem of important positions remaining unfilled can in part be blamed on partisan stalemates over nominees in the Senate, which is controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans.
But Trump also has failed to send the Senate nominees for 166 of the 750 key administration positions requiring confirmation, far more than the 79 others who have been nominated but not yet confirmed, according to a tracker from the Washington Post and non-partisan Partnership for Public Service.
Many high-level executive branch posts have remained without a Senate-confirmed occupant, including homeland security secretary for a year and director of national intelligence since August.
Tryon said the position to which he was nominated is crucial as millions of small businesses - which employ more than half of private-sector U.S. workers - struggle to stay afloat, many shuttered as Americans stay home to avoid spreading the virus.
"This is so important for our economy right now, so important for all the people throughout the country that have been hoping to again be employed," Tryon added.
There has been dysfunction surrounding nominations since Trump took office in 2017.
Republicans have accused Democrats of obstructing confirmation of nominees by insisting they be subject to hours of debate rather than quickly approved by voice vote. Democrats previously accused Republicans of obstructing confirmation of nominees made by Trump's Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
Republicans hold 53 seats in the 100-member Senate. Both parties have changed the chamber's rules in recent years to make it easier to confirm nominees.
Democrats, seeking to exert what limited power a minority party has in the Senate, have said many positions are too important to rush confirmation without a full vetting of a nominee. They also have said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump have not made executive branch appointments a priority.
McConnell, who blocked Senate consideration of an Obama Supreme Court nominee in 2016 so Trump could fill the vacancy, has made confirmation of conservative judicial nominees a top priority. The Senate has confirmed 193 federal judges nominated by Trump for lifetime appointments, moving the courts decidedly to the right.
Trump has touted his judicial appointments as he campaigns for re-election on Nov. 3. McConnell has called the Senate back to Washington on May 4 despite the city's stay-at-home order, promising to confirm more Trump-nominated judges.
Tryon, 61, was contacted about the SBA position in June 2017, and began wrapping up his 31-year law firm career after he was nominated that October. The Senate Small Business Committee held his confirmation hearing in February 2018 and sent his nomination to the full Senate in March 2018 on a 14-5 vote, with five Democrats voting no. The full Senate, however, has never held a confirmation vote.
Tryon said he believes he ultimately will be confirmed.
"President Trump has reaffirmed his commitment to me and his strong commitment to help small businesses," Tryon said. "I expect that the Senate will recognise the critical importance of this confirmation for the recovery of small businesses that are facing unprecedented pressure today because of COVID-19," the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Mary Milliken and Will Dunham)