Current Weather
The Spy FM

Congress Won’t Recess To Block Obama Appointments

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
December 9, 2011

Senate Republicans blocked confirmation votes on two of President Obama’s most high-profile nominees this week — one for a seat on a federal appeals court, the other to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Traditionally, the end-of-the-year holidays have allowed presidents to bypass Congress and give such thwarted nominees recess appointments. But an angry President Obama is quickly leaning that this might not be the case this year.

Obama insisted, “I will not take any options off the table when it comes to getting Richard Cordray in as director of the consumer finance protection board.”

The only way the president can make a recess appointment for Cordray is if Congress is actually in recess. And ever since late May, Congress has remained in permanent session, mainly because Republican lawmakers want to prevent any more recess appointments.

Donald Ritchie, the Senate’s official historian, says several presidents have used a constitutional provision that allows them to convene a session of Congress.

“But there is this other provision that says, well, if the two houses themselves can’t agree on an adjournment, the president can adjourn Congress,” Ritchie says. “It’s just that no president has ever exercised that constitutional authority.”

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch says taking such a measure “would be a very unwise political thing to do.”

Hatch doubts President Obama would actually exercise his constitutional power to adjourn Congress in order to make recess appointments.

“It would make him look like he’s stupid, because as much as he hates Congress, or … [as a] more fair statement, might hate Congress, he still needs it,” Hatch says.

It’s not likely the president would even have the option of adjourning Congress, because the only way he can do that is if one chamber adjourns and the other one doesn’t.

House Republicans intend to remain in pro-forma session throughout the holidays, and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says it’s likely the Senate will do the same.

Congressional expert Ross Baker of Rutgers University says the chief concern of the Senate’s top Democrat may be the 23 Democrats facing re-election bids next year.

“He’s really in a position where he’s trying to do everything he can to protect those 23 Democrats, so that may or may not coincide with the interests of President Obama,” Baker says.

The question of what constitutes a congressional recess has never really been settled.

Betty Koed, an associate Senate historian, says that in 1903, Teddy Roosevelt used an almost nonexistent congressional break to make recess appointments.

“When the presiding officer brought the gavel down to end one session, he simultaneously began the next session,” Koed says, “And in that split second it took the gavel to go down, Roosevelt appointed 193 people.”

Catholic University law professor Victor Williams says President Obama should show similar audacity.

“He should not ignore the pro-forma sessions,” Williams says. “He should explicitly, deliberately challenge them.”

If he doesn’t, Williams says, a pattern of pro-forma sessions shutting off recess appointments that began late in the Clinton administration will only continue, leaving key posts in the administration vacant.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, agrees.

“At some point, the abuse of process by my Republican colleagues means that the president should consider any constitutional legal means to make our government work for working Americans,” Merkley says.

But the president’s options, at this point, appear very limited. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9PM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center