WASHINGTON-At the nadir of the weekly news cycle-Saturday afternoon-President Obama announced the appointment of 15 nominees, just after the Senate began a two-week Easter recess.
The weekend announcement, overshadowed by the president's surprise trip to Afghanistan, drew protests from business groups. Among the 15 people Obama appointed was a controversial nominee that the Senate had already voted down: Craig Becker for the National Labor Relations Board. Becker formerly served as counsel to the nation's two largest labor unions: the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, groups that rallied behind Obama during his presidential campaign.
President Bush announced one of his most controversial recess appointments, John Bolton for ambassador to the United Nations, more flamboyantly: He held a press conference on a Monday with Bolton at his side.
The president has the power to temporarily appoint individuals without Senate confirmation when the body is out of session-a tactic that presidents have used more frequently to circumvent Senate opposition to a nominee. The Constitution granted this power to the president initially because Congress spent much less time in session than it does now-so the president needed to temporarily appoint in order to keep various arms of government functioning.
"I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government," Obama said in a statement upon the announcement of the recess appointments Saturday. The president held off on making appointments during the February recess, but said then that he would deploy that option if Republicans continued to block his nominees.
Bush complained of similar obstructionism when he appointed Bolton in 2005: "Because of partisan delaying tactics by a handful of senators, John was denied the up-or-down vote that he deserves." One of many differences between the Bolton and Becker controversies is that Becker did receive an up-or-down vote, and his nomination was denied 52-33 in the Senate. But Bolton faced opposition from both Republicans and Democrats at the committee level.
Business interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have fiercely opposed Becker's appointment. The Chamber hasn't opposed a nominee to the NLRB since 1993, and protested the appointment in a statement: "Overriding the will of the Senate and providing this special interest payback contradicts the president's claim to change the tone in Washington. The business community should be on red alert for radical changes that could significantly impair the ability of America's job creators to compete."
Groups like the Chamber of Commerce are especially concerned that Becker could enact certain elements of the Employee Free Choice Act (or "card check") administratively-since the future of the labor-friendly bill is uncertain in Congress.
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. At the time Reid called those types of appointments "mischievous" and "an end-run around the Senate and the Constitution."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following observation in 2005, after Bush appointed Bolton: "Typically senators who are not of the party of the president don't like recess appointments."