The GOP attacks on President Obama’s decision to offer recess appointments to 15 stalled nominees–including labor lawyer Craig Becker, whose confirmation was successfully filibustered earlier this year–were swift, and predictably harsh. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “a purely partisan move that will make a traditionally bipartisan labor board an unbalanced agenda-driven panel.”
This is hardly the first time that the opposition party has decried a President’s decision to recess appoint nominees–Democrats were likewise furious at many of Bush’s nods. But there important differences between the two episodes. Despite facing record obstruction, Obama has until now refused to use his recess appointment power, to the chagrin of many of his own supporters. By invoking his power, Obama’s signaling to Senate Republicans that they can’t delay or block him from staffing up his administration and expect to get away with it.As the White House was careful to remind, Obama’s nominees have faced far more obstruction from the GOP minority than Bush’s did from Senate Democrats.
“Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate,” said Obama in a weekend statement. ” At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government.”
And on the official White House blog spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted, “[A]t this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month.”
Moreover, Obama was careful not to appoint more nominees than George W. Bush had at this point in his first term. And in addition to limiting the number of nominees he appointed, Obama almost entirely confined his picks to people he’s tapped to serve in key economic posts. Notably absent from the list was Dawn Johnsen, whom obama nominated to serve as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel over a year ago, and who’s been confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee not once but twice.
So he didn’t exactly go hog wild. But he did lighten Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s load a bit–and Reid is grateful for that. “Nominees under President Obama have fared worse than others in recent memory,” reads an official statement Reid issued this weekend.
Regrettably, Senate Republicans have dedicated themselves to a failed strategy to cripple President Obama’s economic initiatives by stalling key Administration nominees at every turn. With the recess appointments of these highly-qualified individuals, President Obama has shown that he is serious about getting the right team in place to create jobs and protect the American workforce, and I support his decision.
Republicans are particularly upset about Obama’s decision to appoint Becker. His nomination was filibustered by all Republicans and Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). On this, McConnell said “[t]he President’s decision to override bipartisan Senate rejection of Craig Becker’s nomination is yet another episode of choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition.”
But a bit of backstory is relevant here. Earlier in his first term, Obama struck a bargain of sorts with Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY)–the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Enzi agreed to support Becker, as long as Obama agreed to also appoint a business-friendly member to the NLRB. Enzi ultimately backed out of the agreement leaving Obama shy of the 60 votes he needed to break the filibuster.
As such, Obama appointed Becker…and a second pro-labor lawyer, Mark Pearce, to the NLRB.
The move, in other words, is meant to make the GOP pay a price for its tactics. The question is, will the GOP soften its opposition, or will Obama be forced to make more recess appointments as time goes on.