The struggle to add two commissioners to the SEC drags on, leaving SEC Chair Mary Jo White and two other SEC commissioners (Michael Piwowar and Kara Stein) to do the work of what is supposed to be a five-member commission. The most recent development in this saga came yesterday, when it was believed that nominees Lisa Fairfax and Hester Peirce would finally be approved. Nope! The WSJ reports that after a confusing voice vote, four Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee indicated that they opposed the nominees, leading Committee Chairman Richard Shelby to postpone the vote.
The surprisingly difficult task of adding two new SEC commissioners has moved forward in slow motion since mid-2015. In May 2015, SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher announced that he would would be departing the agency earlier than expected -- "as soon as a successor is confirmed by the Senate." Gallagher's planned departure coincided with that of his fellow commissioner, Luis Aguilar, whose term was set to expire in June 2015. As I wrote back in May 2015, it was "unclear whether Aguilar will agree to stay on past June  if his successor has not yet been confirmed by the Senate."
As months passed without any successors even being nominated, Gallagher and Aguilar wisely abandoned the idea of remaining at the SEC indefinitely until successors were confirmed. On September 4, 2015, Gallagher stated that his prior offer to stay on as a commissioner now had an expiration date: Friday, October 2, 2015. On that date, Gallagher left the agency.
Finally, on October 20, 2015, President Obama nominated Fairfax and Peirce to succeed Aguilar and Gallagher. According to Investment Advisor Magazine, both Fairfax and Peirce were "expected to be confirmed by the Senate by the end of 2015." Nope! At the end of December 2015 with no successor in sight, Aguilar left the agency, as well.
For whatever reason, Fairfax and Peirce did not even receive a hearing on their nominations by the Senate Banking Committee for five full months, until March 15, 2016. Although the questioning of the two nominees was at time reportedly quite "heated," both Fairfax and Peirce were expected to be routinely approved in yesterday's vote. Nope!
The WSJ reports that following a voice vote in which Chairman Shelby believed the nominees had cleared the committee (“the ayes have it," he said), it became clear that four Democrats on the Committee actually opposed the nominees. This led Shelby to postpone the vote. Although a Senate aide told the WSJ that the Committee may consider the nominations again in late April 2016, recent history suggests that the Commission will not be operating with all five members anytime soon.