The White House new media team is very helpful. They send me a steady supply of press releases in addition to inviting me on both regular media conference calls and those reserved specifically for bloggers. They’re very responsive to questions, too, but that is a privilege I do not abuse. Tonight, they sent me a press release about the president’s response to the Senate confirmation of 27 nominees.


Office of the Press Secretary



February 11, 2010

Statement by the President on Senate Confirmations

Today, the United States Senate confirmed 27 of my high-level nominees, many of whom had been awaiting a vote for months.

At the beginning of the week, a staggering 63 nominees had been stalled in the Senate because one or more senators placed a hold on their nomination. In most cases, these holds have had nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications or even political views, and these nominees have already received broad, bipartisan support in the committee process.

Instead, many holds were motivated by a desire to leverage projects for a Senator’s state or simply to frustrate progress. It is precisely these kinds of tactics that enrage the American people.

And so on Tuesday, I told Senator McConnell that if Republican senators did not release these holds, I would exercise my authority to fill critically-needed positions in the federal government temporarily through the use of recess appointments. This is a rare but not unprecedented step that many other presidents have taken. Since that meeting, I am gratified that Republican senators have responded by releasing many of these holds and allowing 29 nominees to receive a vote in the Senate.

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.

Now, I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, the president put his foot down, made a threat, got the Republicans to respond to that threat, and now has 27 people ready to go to work in some very important positions. That’s good.

On the other hand, I am not impressed by Obama telling us that he reserves the right to make recess appointments in the future. Of course he reserves the right. It’s a right granted to him by the Constitution.

The President shall have power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

The recess appointment is a bit of an anachronism, in that it was written at a time when Congress only met for part of the year and people relied on horses to get around. The provision should probably be abolished. But it exists, and President Bush used it to put John Bolton in as ambassador to the United Nations after the Senate refused to confirm him. I don’t think Obama should recess appoint people who the Senate can’t get 50 votes to confirm. But he has every right to staff his administration if the Republicans are clogging the calendar as a matter of political strategy. And the reason the vice-president has the job of breaking ties in the Senate is because 50-50 splits are supposed to matter. If the Founding Fathers wanted a 60 vote threshold for appointments, they would have had the vice-president cast a vote in the case of a 59-41 split. Does that make sense? Of course not.

So, Obama should really get tougher. The Democrats are starting a coordinated effort to raise awareness of Republican obstruction. That’s great. But the language in this press release doesn’t strike me as tough. It strikes me as inadequate.

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