Depending on your perspective, the President either won a showdown last night or put into reserve a tool he should be using.
The Senate confirmed a huge group of administration nominees on Thursday, following a tense exchange between President Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
At a White House meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders on Tuesday, Obama warned that he would make recess appointments if the logjam over nominees wasn’t broken before the Senate left for the Presidents’ Day break.
“Mitch, this is unprecedented,” the president said, gesturing forcefully on the Cabinet Room table, according to aides. “If you don’t move any, I’m going to do some [recess] appointments.”
The 27 confirmations mean no recess appointments will be needed during this break, top administration officials said. Recess appointments, which a president can make when Congress is not in session, are temporary and generally last to the end of the year.
You can find a list of the nominees confirmed here. You’ll see an Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, a few key US Attorneys (DC, New York, California), a couple Assistant Secretaries of Commerce and Treasury, and a handful of others. You will not see on that list Dawn Johnsen, the nominee for the Office of Legal Counsel who Patrick Leahy just suggested should get a recess appointment, and Craig Becker, whose nomination for a member of the NLRB was stalled this week.
However, instead of pushing for all his nominees to be confirmed, including Johnsen and Becker, Obama released a statement reserving the right to make recess appointments in the future, which means that next week’s recess will go without appointments, and Johnsen and Becker will remain stuck in limbo.
While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess. If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.
Johnsen and Becker have been held up for many, many months, and key constituencies like the civil liberties community and labor would like to see them in their jobs. Clearly this is a major disappointment to these constituencies, both of which have been treated pretty shabbily by this Administration.
You can give the President credit for winning a stare contest with Republicans, but backing off when there are still over 30 nominees hanging out there seems weak to me.