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Obama and Cordray (AP/Photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari)

An 'imperial presidency'

Politics | GOP presidential hopefuls blast President Obama for his latest power grab

WASHINGTON-Republican presidential hopefuls blasted President Obama on Thursday for circumventing the U.S. Senate this week by making controversial appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.

GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, appearing in Salem, N.H., ahead of next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, said that Obama is "engaging in crony capitalism" as a nod to the "big unions that helped out his campaign" by naming to the NLRB three new members who are "union stooges."

Newly anointed top challenger Rick Santorum said Obama " ran roughshod" over Congress to place "radicals who won't get confirmed" in some of the administrations' top regulatory positions. "You are not above the law, Mr. President," Santorum said during a stop in Manchester, N.H.

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While Santorum urged the Senate to take Obama to court over his recent moves, Newt Gingrich took a different tact, arguing on Thursday that Congress should cripple the new appointees by defunding the agency.

"You have a runaway, anti-jobs, anti-business, pro-labor union board, and now they'll have an absolute majority that has never been confirmed," said Gingrich while in Plymouth, N.H. He added that this week's moves by Obama are another example of an "imperial presidency."

The candidates join the chorus of congressional Republicans angered by Obama's Wednesday appointment of the three new members to the NLRB. The president also installed Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without the required Senate approval. Senators held up voting on Cordray's nomination last year over concerns about the undefined powers of this new regulatory bureau.

The actions continue Obama's strategy-complete with a "We can't wait" slogan-to move ahead without Congress (see "Do it my way," WORLD cover story, Jan. 14). But conservatives worry that the combination of executive orders and appointing regulatory heads without Senate approval threatens to undermine congressional oversight authority.

Obama argued that he made this week's appointments during a congressional recess, something that presidents have long been able to do. But Congress, in fact, has not gone into a recess of sufficient length throughout the holidays.

Instead, Congress has been holding brief pro-forma sessions every couple of days largely to prevent the president from unilaterally making the appointments like he did on Wednesday. Under a long-held precedent that even Obama's lawyers defended in 2010, a congressional recess has to be longer than three days before the presidential appointment power can work.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Obama's move "sets a terrible precedent that could allow any future president to completely cut the Senate out of the confirmation process."

McConnell called the NLRB appointments "particularly egregious" because the formal nominations did not occur until just days before the Senate adjourned last month, making vetting impossible. The brief time between nominations and Wednesday's appointments also undercuts the White House's argument that the president acted because Republicans had stalled hearings on the nominees.

Going into pro-forma sessions to prevent a president from bypassing Congress is a tactic that Democrats employed while George W. Bush occupied the White House.

"We don't let him have recess appointments because they are mischievous," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said about the pro-forma sessions Congress held under then-President Bush in 2008. But this week Reid released a very different statement, supporting Obama's tactic to make the four appointments even though Congress has been holding the brief sessions every few days.

The moves, coming the first week of the election year, leave no doubt the Obama plans to continue his aggressive push to implement policy without the help of a divided Congress.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that Obama "looks forward to working with Congress."

"We actually are fairly hopeful about the prospect of greater cooperation," Carney said.

But the president's bold appointment power grab speaks louder than his spokesman's words.

Congress and the White House ended 2011 on acrimonious terms. The fallout from these appointments promises that unhappy Republicans will remain fierce in their reluctance to work with a president who continues to tell the American people that he can do the nation's business without Congress.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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