On Recess Appointments, President Obama Can Fight and Win

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Date: December 29, 2011
Re: On Recess Appointments, President Obama Can Fight and Win

Since the American people elected him to office, President Obama has faced a level of obstruction on Capitol Hill, and especially in the Senate, that dwarfs anything in recent memory. Republicans have used procedural tactics to grind the Senate to a halt, filibustering virtually every piece of important business to make it to the Senate Floor.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the GOP’s eagerness to filibuster nominees to the federal courts and the executive branch. Under Senator McConnell’s leadership, the minority party has blocked nominees who they acknowledge are not at all controversial, refused to consider any nominees for some positions, and placed torturous delays even on Obama nominees with broad support within the Republican caucus.

But the Constitution provides the President with a powerful check against the Senate’s refusal to do its job: President Obama can and should make a slate of recess appointments before the start of the Senate’s next term. Not only would recess appointments allow important government bodies to do their jobs on behalf of the American people, they would push Republican opponents onto even shakier ground than they currently occupy, forcing them to explain why the government should not have the chance to work on behalf of the American people.

One prime candidate for recess appointment is Richard Cordray, President Obama’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Without a head, the bureau hasn’t been able to do significant portions of its work. Although Republicans admit they have no particular objection to Cordray, they’ve filibustered his nomination specifically to stop the agency from protecting consumers. Sidestepping Senate obstruction to put Cordray in the job would yield important policy results, and Democrats should welcome a fight in which Republicans’ only possible complaint is that President Obama has thwarted their efforts to protect Wall Street bankers from regulation.

Another obvious choice for recess appointments are nominees to the National Labor Relations Board. Without new members, the NLRB will no longer be able to issue rulings after the middle of next month, yet Republicans have refused to allow an up-or-down vote on Dick Griffin and Sharon Block, President Obama’s nominees to fill the board’s empty seats. There’s no question that Americans are angry about gridlock in Washington, and the NLRB is a crystal clear example of the President’s efforts to get government working and the GOP’s efforts to grind it to a halt.

Some observers have pointed out that Republicans could retaliate against President Obama by redoubling their intransigence in blocking the President’s judicial nominees, but this too is low ground for the GOP to try to defend. In the vast majority of cases, President Obama’s nominees have been approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support and the blessings of their home state Senators, regardless of party. Republicans have already come under fire for holding up the confirmation of nominees they actually support: no less than Tea Party hero Mike Lee of Utah has complained that nominees are not being handled in a timely manner, and Chief Justice John Roberts has called on Congress to fix “the persistent problem of judicial vacancies.” If Republicans are willing to vote against holding up or down votes on nominees that have no opposition, President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the Senate should not stand in their way. Democrats should relish the opportunity to continue framing the GOP as a party more concerned with political payback than addressing the real concerns of ordinary Americans.

Few opportunities in his first term in office have presented the President with the chance to engage in a fight he can so obviously win.  By making recess appointments in the coming days, President Obama can help the American people by making government work for them, while at the same time exposing the enormity of the Republicans’ efforts to play politics with America’s future.

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