WASHINGTON-As the nation's capital begins to thaw after a blizzard, so are the freezes on some of President Obama's appointees.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., had placed holds on about 70 of the president's nominees, preventing their Senate confirmation. He had voiced concerns over cuts to certain defense expenditures that would benefit his state-he wants an FBI counterterrorism center built in Alabama and is demanding changes to the bidding process for defense contracts, changes that could result in billions of dollars for contracts to build tanker planes in Mobile, Ala.
"If this administration were as worried about hunting down terrorists as it is about the confirmation of low-level political nominations, America would be a safer place," Shelby spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said in a statement last week. But Shelby lifted almost all of his holds on Monday.
On Tuesday, Obama held a meeting with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders and told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that if Republicans didn't release holds, he would make recess appointments-temporary appointments the president can make while the Senate is out of session. Recess appointees could hold office until the Senate's next session, which begins next year.
Thursday, the Senate confirmed 27 of the president's nominees. In response, Obama has indicated he won't make recess appointments this time-but he may in the future.
"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," the president said in a statement Thursday night. "If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future."
President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments during his two terms. Beginning in 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ensured that Bush couldn't make any further recess appointments by keeping the Senate officially in session during congressional breaks, and at the time he called those types of appointments "mischievous" and "an end-run around the Senate and the Constitution."
The Senate vote to confirm a controversial nominee to head the National Labor Relations Board, Craig Becker, failed on Thursday, 52-33. He needed 60 votes. Labor interests backed Becker and now many speculate as to whether President Obama may appoint him during a future recess, as Bush did for some of his controversial nominees.
The Senate goes into recess for the duration of next week.