Democrats agree to block Obama nominees

By John Byrne
Thursday, September 30, 2010 7:43 EDT
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In a stunning alliance between Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, Senate Democratic leadership quietly agreed Wednesday evening to block President Barack Obama from making recess appointments while senators return home to campaign for midterm elections, according to a Congressional newspaper.

The move involves Senate leadership holding “pro-forma” sessions of the Senate every Monday and Friday to prevent Obama from filling vacant senior federal positions. By holding sessions every few days, Obama can’t slip his nominees through.

Recess appointments are valid through the end of a Congressional session, and typically must be reconfirmed in the next calendar year. They’re often used to appoint nominees that have been held up by the Senate. President George W. Bush nominated UN ambassador John Bolton through a recess appointment in 2005; Bolton had previously stated dismissively, “There is no such thing as the ‘United Nations,’” and he later resigned when it became clear he couldn’t be confirmed.

The Senate Democratic-Republican agreement was first reported by Alexander Bolton in The Hill.

Senate Democrats will schedule pro-forma sessions every week for the next six weeks, Bolton said.

“Under the law, the president can only make a recess appointment if the Senate is adjourned for more than three consecutive days,” Bolton wrote. “By scheduling pro-forma sessions on Mondays and Fridays, lawmakers can take away Obama’s ability to make recess appointments.”

Obama has more than 100 executive and judicial nominees pending for Senate confirmation. Scores of other positions also remain vacant.

According to Bolton, citing a top GOP aide, Republican leadership forced the Democrats’ hands by threatening “to send Obama’s most controversial nominees back to the president if Democrats did not agree to schedule pro-forma sessions.”

The decision to return Obama’s nominees would have been made by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Bolton notes:

The Democratic concession saved several of Obama’s most controversial nominees from a reset.

Goodwin Liu, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit; Robert Chatigny, a nominee to the 2nd Circuit; and John McConnell, Jr., a nominee to the federal district court of Rhode Island, were in danger. “They are among the most controversial nominees this White House has sent to the Senate and among the least likely to have anywhere near unanimous consent to remain on the calendar,” said a GOP aide…

The Senate will stand in recess or adjourned until Friday, Nov. 12. Senators aren’t expected to return until Nov. 15, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

That would have forced the president to resubmit the nominees to the Senate and Democrats to start their confirmation processes (including hearings) all over again.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) did the same thing to President George W. Bush in 2007.

The Senate convened for several pro-forma sessions in November 2007 to prevent Bush from appointing controversial nominees.

“Bush ha[d] made several controversial recess appointments, including John Bolton as U.S. representative to the United Nations in Aug. 2005, when the Senate would not confirm the individuals,” Politico reporter John Bresnahan noted. “Bolton later resigned from the U.N. post when the Senate refused to confirm his nomination.

“In April 2007, Bush appointed Sam Fox as U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Fox gave $50,000 to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign,” added Bresnahan. “Fox’s appointment infuriated Reid and other Democrats, including Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the target of the Swift Boat campaign. Reid vowed that, in the future, he would move to head off any more recess appointments, but the White House and Senate Democrats were able to work out a compromise to cover the August break.”

Note: An earlier version of this story stated inaccurately that “Bolton had previously made comments saying the UN didn’t exist.” We apologize for the misrepresentation of his remarks.

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