Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

December 30, 2010

WHITE HOUSE RESPONDS TO OBSTRUCTIONISM WITH SIX RECESS APPOINTMENTS.... James Cole spent 13 years as Justice Department official, and is an accomplished attorney. When President Obama nominated him to be the deputy attorney general -- the second highest-ranking position in the department, effectively Justice's chief operating officer -- few questioned Cole's qualifications or abilities.

But conservative Republicans didn't like him. In particular, Cole had criticized Bush/Cheney's dubious national security tactics after 9/11, which drew GOP ire. Cole earned the support of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his nomination languished, waiting for a floor vote since July, the longest delay in history for a deputy AG nominee. The GOP decided it wasn't enough to oppose Cole; it had to stop the Senate from voting at all.

Yesterday, the White House got tired of waiting.

President Obama said Wednesday that he intended to install six appointees -- including James Cole, his controversial pick for the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department -- while Congress is in recess. The move will allow them to serve without confirmation by the Senate, where their prospects will only grow dimmer once Republicans gain strength in January.

Mr. Obama, who is vacationing here on the island of Oahu with his family, made the announcement via news release, without any explanation or comment, other than to say that the posts have "been left vacant for an extended period of time."

All six nominees -- Cole, four ambassadors, and the official who runs the Government Printing Office -- had the support of a Senate majority, but were blocked from receiving up-or-down votes.

Also of note is the president's decision to appoint Robert Ford, a career diplomat, as the U.S. ambassador to Syria, a position that has been vacant since 2005. Republicans didn't object to Ford, per se, but didn't want the post filled at all. The administration insisted that having an ambassador to Syria was integral to U.S. diplomacy in the region.

In the larger context, Obama has shown considerable, almost frustrating, restraint when it comes to recess appointments -- these six bring his total to 28 -- in the face of a nominating process that has become paralyzed by unprecedented obstructionism. Indeed, the president could have been even more ambitious in this new announcement -- there were 73 other administration nominees waiting for Senate floor votes who were denied confirmation and will have to be re-nominated.

I mention this, of course, because Senate Republicans are likely to throw a fit over these six appointments. It's important that they realize that they broke this system, and left the White House with very little choice. The confirmation process wasn't designed to work this way; it didn't use to work this way; and it's simply can't work this way. The executive branch needs to function, and it can't if key, high-ranking posts remain vacant because Republicans are unhappy about losing an election.

As is always the case with recess appointments, these six officials will be able to serve for one year, at which point they'll either have to step down or go through the Senate confirmation process again.

Either way, I'm glad to see Obama use this power available to him. I've generally frowned on recess appointments, in part because the process is too easily abused, but under the circumstances, it's become a necessary response to a very different kind of abuse at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (18)

Bookmark and Share

Cue the RepubliKlans:
"Here it is Christmas time, and look how the President treats us! He's jamming Cole down our throats!"
Stick it to 'em!!!

Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 30, 2010 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

Only six?

Posted by: martin on December 30, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an optimist-most Progressives are-so I hope the severely dysfunctional Senate will be repaired while the D's still wield the gavel.

-but then again, I am also a realist. . .

Posted by: DAY on December 30, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should make recess appointments of all his nominees that have not received up or down votes in over a year. He could claim it was an attempt to make a fresh start with the new Senate by removing backlog of work from the old one.
People inside the beltway would have a fit, but most Americans would agree that recess appointments are appropriate when nominees go over a year without a vote.

Posted by: david1234 on December 30, 2010 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

You write, "The executive branch needs to function."
I agree with this, but Republicans don't. What they really want is to make the executive branch NOT function, hoping that people will eventually get fed up with a dysfunctional government and choose to do away with most of its services. This is wrong, but it's a strategy that's been carried out around the world with tremendous success for quite a while. Margaret Thatcher used it to dismantle much of the British government in the 1980's. What's ignored by Republicans is that the functions of government didn't arise out of some devotion of liberals to government service. Rather, each function evolved in response to a perceived need (often as a result of a crisis) that only government could fulfill. It's one of the jobs of good journalism (of which The Washington Monthly is unfortunately the last shining example) to point out when the failures of government return us to that pre-government state (e.g., the mining disasters in West Virginia, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the failure of anyone to prevent the global financial crisis).
Ask the people of New York how much they want to live without government as they struggle four days after a snow storm to resume normal life. Life without effective government isn't pretty, but it's the Republican utopia.

Posted by: PhillyCooke on December 30, 2010 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

That was a misprint wasn't it. They really meant 60 didn't they?

Posted by: SW on December 30, 2010 at 8:42 AM | PERMALINK

david1234 has it straight to my way of thinking . Folks who have only the vaguest idea of what is going on will still insist that you be presentable during breakfast . We are easily at lunch now .
I too hoped that Obama would have given our dear friends on the right a bit more to chew on . Michelle Obama with her notion of attempting to look at morbid table habits reasonably and effectively , has deprived the right a feast of whine and poses .

Posted by: FRP on December 30, 2010 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Remember the "good old days", when George Bush said: "I'm the President, and I can do whatever I want!"?

Posted by: DAY on December 30, 2010 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

"...whine and poses."
I'm sooooooooooo stealing that one!
Uhm, er... liberating, yeah, yeah, not stealing.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 30, 2010 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

This would seem to indicate that Obama doesn't think the Senate is going to change the voting rules next month.

Posted by: R on December 30, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

I think the fact that he only made six recess appointments indicates that he thinks the Senate will do a better job of acting on appointments next year. Either because Democrats change the rules next week or because the Senate has nothing else to do given the gridlock between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate and White House.

However, even if the Senate starts acting on every nominee, it will take months to get through the backlog, any that he doesn't appoint duing the recess will have to be resubmitted by him, go through committee and brought to the floor as if they had never been nominated during the just completed Congress.

Posted by: tanstaafl on December 30, 2010 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Call the White House!

Tell them you'd support him filling all the open positions. Appoint them all! He's got another 4-5 days before the Senate comes back from its recess!

Posted by: zandru on December 30, 2010 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

I say fill all the open appointments. When the shoe is on the other foot, Democrats can actually vote for or against the nominees before they get to the recess-appointment point. You know, like the system is supposed to work.

Posted by: beejeez on December 30, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Often said truism - you get as good as you give - should cause a pause among our Republican friends, as they've been giving us a bit too much bull shit for the past two years.

They may end up with soiled suits! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on December 30, 2010 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

The only thing stupider than holding up the nomination for head of the Government Printing Office is that the position requires Senate confirmation in the first place. The GPO? Seriously?

Posted by: biggerbox on December 30, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

For what obscure, inane, ignorant reason would anyone oppose the nominee for the gov't printing office ????

Posted by: bigtuna on December 30, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Petulant ignorance takes the cake . . .

Posted by: Michael on December 30, 2010 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Seriously, why only 6 recess appointments? Aren't there literally dozens of Federal judicial appointments waiting for approval?


Posted by: Zorro on December 30, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly