Under the Constitution (Article II, Section 2, clause 2), the President and the Senate share the power to make appointments to high-level policy-making positions in federal departments, agencies, boards, and commissions. Generally, the President nominates individuals to these positions, and the Senate must confirm them before he can appoint them to office. The Constitution also provides an exception to this process. When the Senate is in recess, the President may make a temporary appointment, called a recess appointment, to any such position without Senate approval (Article II, Section 2, clause 3).
In order to extract concessions from the executive branch, senators from both parties routinely block nominees by informing their party’s leadership that they will place a “hold” — or object to a unanimous consent request to speed consideration of legislative business.
To overcome a hold, the Senate must invoke cloture, requiring 60 votes and several days of time-consuming debate. And thanks to Senator Scott Brown, everyone is well aware of what cloture is.
Now, I am not here to debate the merits of Craig Becker, the union lawyer up for nomination for the National Labor Relations Board. That is not the reason for this post.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used to consider recess appointments “an end run around the Senate and the Constitution” — so much so that he kept the chamber open during breaks to prevent President Bush from making any more of them. But now he’s singing a different tune.
During the Bush years, the President made many recess appointments – 171 to be exact (Bill Clinton made 139). What is at issue is the amount of hypocrisy that is running amuck.
Here are a few reactions from Democratic senators not so long ago.
“It’s sad but not surprising that this White House would abuse the power of the presidency…”
– Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
“I seriously question the legality of the President’s use of the recess appointment authority…”
– Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT)
The Daily Kos happily reminds us that “One year into the Bush administration, there were 70 appointees awaiting confirmation. One year into the Obama administration, there are 177.” But what it doesn’t tell its readers is that in the first year of the Bush presidency, the Senate was split even among Democrats and Republicans 50-50, with Dick Cheney breaking any ties. By contrast, the first year of the Obama presidency saw Democrats with a 60 seat super majority.
To reiterate, I do not oppose recess appointment, just hypocrisy in action.