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January 06, 2012 11:10 AM GOP refuses to let House Dems speak

By Steve Benen

There was a bizarre scene on the House floor a couple of weeks ago, when Democratic lawmakers tried to bring up a bill, and House Republicans simply shut down the chamber. When Dems tried to at least have their say on the issue, GOP leaders shut off the cameras.

This morning, we saw a nearly-identical display.

The House is holding pro-forma sessions, apparently in the hopes of blocking President Obama’s recess-appointment power (which he’s choosing to exercise anyway). Since the chamber would be open for business anyway, Assistant House Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) decided he’d make some remarks about the payroll tax break.

But like two weeks ago, House Republicans refused to let him speak, banged the gavel, left the room, and again turned off the cameras.

The result is an odd GOP argument. When President Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling, congressional Republicans respond, “You can’t do that; we’re not in session.” When the White House wants to make recess appointments, congressional Republicans respond, “You can’t do that; we are in session.” And when James Clyburn wants to say a few words from the House floor, congressional Republicans respond, “You can’t do that; we’re not in session.”

I realize there have been some interesting legal, procedural, and semantics debates this week over what is and is not a “recess.” But if Republicans could just pick a line and stick with it, the discussion would be far more coherent.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • SadOldVet on January 06, 2012 11:21 AM:

    Just another example for David Brooks to sing his song of If only the democrats would be bipartisan we could all sing Kumbaya....

    Brooks is due for another column promoting centrism by democrats and bipartisanship by democrats. Can't have all of his columns like today's singing the lores of the moral values of Rick Santorum!

    Speaking of which...
    Rick Santorum-Linked Universal Health Services Facility: Fraud, Assault And Alleged 'Exorcism'
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/06/rick-santorum-uhs_n_1186443.html

  • Josef K on January 06, 2012 11:24 AM:

    Since when does the current Republican caucus care about offering "coherent" arguments about anything?

  • June on January 06, 2012 11:28 AM:

    This is the kind of childishness that makes me see red (no pun intended). And to think, House Republicans are making themselves supremely useless on our dime, while they also enjoy the best of "Obamacare." I truly hope they get swept out and marginalized this November.

  • Josef K on January 06, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Let's not even start on how childish this whole farce is. I'm to the point of wishing Cantor would unseat Boehner as Speaker; at least then we can jettison any pretense this caucus is serious about governance.

  • Ron Byers on January 06, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Obama's election strategy is crystal clear. He is going to run against the Republican congress. The leaders of the GOP in the house don't have the brains to get out of the line of fire.

    This election is about creating the largest coattails possible. The Republicans in Congress are very helpful.

  • square1 on January 06, 2012 11:37 AM:

    And how are the Democrats any more consistent? Both sides define "recess" to mean "when we don't want Congress (or at least the opposing caucus) to act" and "in session" to mean "when we do want Congress (or at least our caucus) to act."

    Could it be any clearer that neither side has any principles when it comes to the definition of a recess?

    BTW, lest someone accuse me of accusing the Democrats of being "just as bad" as the GOP, let me be clear that Republicans are far more likely to make up the rules as they go along. The problem is that, by failing to articulate clear principles and sticking to them, Democrats lose the moral high ground and then lose the ultimate war.

    President Obama will abuse the definition of "recess" to fill a handful of positions. The next GOP President may cite Obama's actions as precedent for filling a couple hundred positions.

  • james at home on January 06, 2012 11:44 AM:

    To square1 - The republican presidents have already done this, to the point with President Reagan of filling greater than 200 positions by recess appt.

    Simple answers for simple minds.

  • Bob M on January 06, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Uh, square, why should Dems stick with high-minded "principles" of being shafted when dealing with Republican fraudsters? True principles aim at outing evil, not going along with it.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 06, 2012 11:48 AM:

    Ron Byers: The leaders of the GOP in the house don't have the brains to get out of the line of fire.

    They most certainly have every intention of going down in flames. Now to which address shall we mail the kerosene?

  • June on January 06, 2012 11:49 AM:

    @square1 - what we see here on video is clearly an abuse of the system. We saw no such thing during the Democratically-controlled 111th Congress. And GOP presidents don't need any excuses to further abuse the system, that's part of their DNA.

  • nerd on January 06, 2012 11:49 AM:

    If the House is not in session for any other purpose than to obstruct the White House making recess appointments then the GOP is making obvious its intentions. If the House were in session for any business then the GOP's hand would be stronger.

    The GOP is hurting itself by its actions.

  • Caffiend on January 06, 2012 11:57 AM:

    Hey sqare1, save a little righteous indignation for the rest of us -- and save a little of your own for when it's actually, yanno, called for. You piss and moan no matter what, and it's tiresome as fuck. Are you sure you aren't Jane Hamsher's brother or something, because you sure can't stand it when a silver lining appears in your little black raincloud of Obama-bashing.

  • Holmes on January 06, 2012 11:59 AM:

    Lost in all this is the unprecedented level of Senate obstructionism Obama has faced. Republicans absolutely shattered the record for filibusters during Obama's first two years in office. That doesn't even count the number of holds/blocks that crippled the confirmation process.

    Furthermore, by blocking Cordray, republicans were trying to stop the CFPB from existing. It was/is nullification, which we haven't seen since the civil war era.

    The republicans behavior since Obama was sworn in is literally unprecedented. No Senate minority, republican nor democratic, has engaged in that type of behavior.

    So spare me the concern trolling and/or false equivalence/both sides bull****.

  • DAY on January 06, 2012 12:08 PM:

    When I was a lad, we had a "clubhouse" behind the barn, and a sign that said "no Girls Allowed".
    Many of our members went on to become Republican congressmen.

  • dmbeaster on January 06, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Square 1 - Here is a substantive response to your concern. Briefly, for even the pro forma sessions to work to allegedly prevent a recess from occurring (and therefore a recess appointment), it requires both houses of Congress to agree that a recess has not occurred. That is what occurred in the last two years of the Bush administration when Reid ran pro-forma sessions in the Senate. The Democratic House also concurred. And in fact, it takes the agreement of both houses for a recess to occur or to not occur.
    Currently, the House and Senate do not agree because while the Senate has recessed, the House is pretending to pro forma stay in session (despite the hilarity of also claiming to not be in session for other reasons). However, when the House and Senate do not agree on whether to recess, the president gets to decide that they are in recess. Read the Constitution, Art. II, sec. 3. The howling by the Republicans that the president has usurped his power to make a recess appointment when not in recess? Gonna be hard to sustain that one. Its about the talking point - not the substance.

  • TCinLA on January 06, 2012 12:12 PM:

    But if Republicans could just pick a line and stick with it, the discussion would be far more coherent.

    What? You expect Southerners (and today's GOP is principally the Party of the Old Confederacy) to have brains and be consistent? The only thing these inbred morons do well is lose. And I think 2012 is going to turn out to be the worse ass-kicking they've gotten since 1865.

  • Michael on January 06, 2012 12:20 PM:

    Square, please go suck on a rattle with all the other republicans...

  • Comrade Mary on January 06, 2012 12:37 PM:

    This strikes me as a brilliant setup (with maybe a hat tip to Jon Stewart and John Oliver on last night's Daily Show). Have a Democrat try to do some business during the pro forma session -- in this case, about the payroll tax rather than the Cordray appointment -- and catch the Republicans refusing to do business on camera. How can they possible argue that Congress is in session when they refuse to let anything concrete happen during this session?

  • citizen_pain on January 06, 2012 12:39 PM:

    Square 1 - I have to jump on the bandwagon here. I mean, you're one of the better concern trolls I've read in a while.

    You are defending the indefensible; you are trying to find some sort of justification for republican behavior. There is none. It's unprecedented, save for the political climate leading to the Civil War.

    The GOP is no longer a viable political entity with the interest of governing our country in a just and fair manner, two principles that define what America is. They are an elitist cult and nothing more.

  • CDW on January 06, 2012 1:01 PM:

    This is not "interesting". It's dictatorial and frightening.

  • g on January 06, 2012 1:09 PM:

    President Obama will abuse the definition of "recess" to fill a handful of positions. The next GOP President may cite Obama's actions as precedent for filling a couple hundred positions.

    And in doing that he'd be doing as presidents have done for decades.

  • Rick Massimo on January 06, 2012 1:11 PM:

    But if Republicans could just pick a line and stick with it, the discussion would be far more coherent.

    That's why they don't pick a line and stick with it. Because when the discussion is coherent, Republicans lose.

  • chi res on January 06, 2012 1:18 PM:

    @Square 1

    Um, never mind. It's all been said.

  • cmdicely on January 06, 2012 1:44 PM:

    President Obama will abuse the definition of "recess" to fill a handful of positions.

    I'm not sure that there is any basis for taking the position that "recess" means "recess" is abusing the definition of "recess".

    OTOH, the position that "recess" in the Constitution means a "recess of more than three days" is clearly abusing the definition of "recess".

    Now, its true that there is a tradition of reserving the use of the power for longer appointments, and being sparing with it even then. And under normal circumstances, that makes sense, not because it is Constitutionally mandatory based on any reasonable understanding of "recess", but because it is pragmatically sensible given the necessity of the President working with Congress on other issues. But that's only true so long as Congress is working with the President with something resembling good faith on other issues.

    I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a regular -- and even accelerating -- drumbeat of appointments as long as the complete logjam continues in the Senate.

    The next GOP President may cite Obama's actions as precedent for filling a couple hundred positions.

    The main checks on the recess appointment power are the fact that (1) Congress can limit pay to recess appointees (and has in many cases), and (2) the President has to get Congress to vote on his legislative agenda, (3) for Article III judges, the President's main ability to make an impact beyond his term, only appointees confirmed by the Senate make a durable impact.

    So, really, extraordinary use of the recess appointment power is only rational (in terms of maximizing acheivement of the President's goals) when you have a Congress as a whole that is unusually uncooperative on legislation and a Senate that is unusually uncooperative on appointees, particularly to the Article III judiciary. Usually -- no matter which party dominates either or both houses of Congress and which party is in the White House -- that is rarely the case.

    And, of course, ultimately, if the power gets really abusive, Congress' ultimate check on it is the power of impeachment.

  • square1 on January 06, 2012 1:53 PM:

    @dmbeaster:

    Thank you for the substantive response.

    for even the pro forma sessions to work to allegedly prevent a recess from occurring (and therefore a recess appointment), it requires both houses of Congress to agree that a recess has not occurred.

    I completely agree with this. My point is simply that BOTH sides are arguing inconsistently.

    The GOP: "We are not recessed, because we are having a pro forma session, but we are going to deny Democrats the right to speak because...we are not in session."

    The Democrats: "We are going to announce recess appointments because Congress is not in session, but we want a chance to bring up legislation because...Congress is in session!"

    That is what occurred in the last two years of the Bush administration when Reid ran pro-forma sessions in the Senate.

    Yes, and at the time I stupidly believed the Democrats when they said that Reid's pro-forma sessions* should prevent Bush from making recess appointments. Lo and behold, we flash forward a couple of years and Democrats are citing Teddy Roosevelt's recess appointments as proof that it's cool to make recess appointments any time both houses take a 10 minute coffee break.

    Contrary to silly accusations that I am somehow "defending" the GOP, I am actually pointing out that it makes it much harder to successfully criticize the GOP for their behavior when Democrats refuse to articulate any rules that they themselves will follow.

    For example, my understanding is that generally during these pro forma sessions no actual business is conducted. I'm sure that had Republicans tried to bring up bills during the Bush administration and had Reid shot them down, all the people now hysterically calling me a concern troll would have 100% had Reid's back.

    The reality is that I am just not a partisan. I believe in laws and rules. Generally the Democrats do a much better job of adhering to laws and rules, which is one reason that I generally favor Democrats. But I don't give them a pass when they pull stuff out of their butts like the GOP almost always does.

  • RalfW on January 06, 2012 2:08 PM:

    It seems to me (non-lawyer that I am) that shutting down the joint that way adds significant weight to Obama's argument.

    So thank you, GOP. You also look like the royal ass#@(*$ that you are.

  • square1 on January 06, 2012 2:28 PM:

    @cmdicely:

    I am simply not a fan of recess appointments. I like that the Senate has to sign off on Presidential appointments and nominations. I think it is a good check and balance.

    The historical purpose of recess appointments was simple practicality: In the 18th and 19th centuries, if the government needed a position filled, it simply wasn't always practical to wait until Congresspersons returned, by horse-drawn carriage, from their respective states. The President filled the position temporarily.

    Today, the recess appointment is a political solution, not a practical one: the President fills a position with a candidate for whom the Senate either wont vote or would vote against (e.g. John Bolton). IMO, this political use of the recess appointment power should be used extremely sparingly. Only when the Senate's failure to vote up or down immediately threatens the functioning of government (e.g. right now there are federal court districts that cannot keep up with their caseloads because of unfilled positions) should recess appointments be made.

    That's my primary concern. And it concerns me regardless of which party is in Congress or the White House. I do not share the eagerness of most of the commenters here to simply replace IOKIYAR with IOKIYAD. I saw too much blind loyalty from Bush supporters during 2001-2008 to trust Obama when he continues the expansion of Executive powers.

  • tamiasmin on January 06, 2012 2:40 PM:

    The House was in session for the sole purpose of having the Pledge of Allegiance "led by the gentleman from Maryland, Miss Edwards."

    I'm perplexed. If Donna Edwards (D-Md) is a gentleman, shouldn't she(?) be called Mr. Edwards? Or am I suffering from Consistency Syndrome?

    Also, was it necessary to turn on the lights in the House chamber for this recitation, when it would have been just as inspiring out on the Capitol steps in the sunshine?

  • Mitch on January 06, 2012 2:53 PM:

    @Square1

    "I am simply not a fan of recess appointments. I like that the Senate has to sign off on Presidential appointments and nominations. I think it is a good check and balance."

    I would agree with you, perhaps, if there were some balance in this checking. But let's face it, the Republicans have purposefully crippled the political process using every dirty trick that they can come up with. Dems are not, and have never been, anywhere near as ruthless or obstructionist.

    Given the amount of blocks the Repugs have made, Obama has to find anyway possible to overcome them. Is it dirty fighting? Yes. Is it illegal? Apparently not, even according to numerous Conservative lawyers.

    We have to fight to win. You've said as much yourself, more than once. Obama is finally fighting back, and I - for one - am thrilled. I'm starting to believe that there is nothing Obama and the Dems can do that will make you happy. I've defended you more than once, but it seems like the D's are damned if they do and damned if they don't in your eyes. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope so, to be honest.

    Your arguments would hold more weight if we faced sane and reasonable opponents in the GOP. But, given the vile way they use every dirty trick in the book to cause Obama to fail, we have to choice but to look for the loopholes that allow us to score some wins from time to time.

  • square1 on January 06, 2012 3:05 PM:

    @Mitch: Thank you for your response.

    But let's face it, the Republicans have purposefully crippled the political process using every dirty trick that they can come up with.

    Republicans have an agenda. And they are strong advocates for their agenda.

    Do the Republicans cross the line sometimes? Of course. But 90% of their obstruction occurs by simply using the legislative rules to their benefit. My criticism of the Democrats is largely derived from the refusal of the Democrats to define rules that will constrain the opposition.

    Recess appointments would be a historical anachronism if not for the filibuster: appointees would be voted up or down and we would move on. However, the filibuster allows appointees to never get a vote.

    If you don't want perpetual debate, don't have a rule that allows for perpetual debate. And if you do want perpetual debate, don't bitch when the opposition chooses perpetual debate. Democrats can whine all they want about the Republicans "abusing" the filibuster rule, but whining about "dirty tricks" isn't going to change anything. The only change will occur when the filibuster rule changes.

    And despite literally decades of evidence that Republicans will use every legislative tool in the toolbox to frustrate the Democratic agenda, Senate Democrats CHOSE to leave the filibuster rule in place.

  • Mitch on January 06, 2012 3:23 PM:

    I, for one, am not whining about dirty tricks. I am saying that we should use them to our advantage as well. If the GOP wants to play dirty, then Dems should be willing to meet them with equal force. Otherwise, we will lose, regardless of our strength on Capitol Hill. I've voiced this opinion many times; the Republicans take no quarter, while the Dems act like honorable gentlemen. It has been the prime weakness of the Dems for decades.

    Obama in this recess appointment, used the rules to his benefit. You might call it a misuse; I call it good tactics. He is being a "strong advocate" for his agenda. Finally.

    The GOP might kill the filibuster the next time they hold a lock on Congress; the Dems might kill it the next time they do. But these "mights" don't matter. The rules are in place. Neither side has the power to change the rules right now; so frustration over the filibuster is wasted energy.

    If "Republicans will use every legislative tool in the toolbox to frustrate the Democratic agenda" then so must the Democrats be willing to do the same. Otherwise, they're merely "caving" which you and I both have complained about more than once.

    All's fair in love and war, and right now politics is both. Republicans love their ideology enough to make war in every way possible; Democrats must be willing to do the same. To do any less is to fight with one hand tied behind your back. To do any less is to invite continual defeat.

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