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January 04, 2012 3:25 PM Obama starts 2012 on an aggressive foot

By Steve Benen

President Obama raised quite a few eyebrows this morning when the White House announced a recess appointment for Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was an unusual display — congressional Republicans abused the rules and told the president to just accept it, and Obama effectively responded, “No.”

As it turns out, this more combative attitude goes beyond the CFPB. Greg Sargent has this scoop this afternoon.

Obama is also set to use recess appointments to install his picks to the National Labor Relations Board, according to White House officials and others familiar with ongoing discussions.

The move, which is arguably as important as the Cordray appointment, will ratchet up opposition from Republicans and make this an even bigger fight, since they have been attacking the NLRB regularly for its moves to streamline union elections and inform workers of their rights.

Obama is set to appoint Sharon Block, Terence Flynn, and Richard Grifin to the board — something unions have made a big priority for them in the new year.

Senate Republicans, true to form, have opposed all of these nominees for the usual reasons.

The larger context is hard to miss: President Obama is starting 2012 on a surprisingly aggressive foot. Republicans are accustomed to using obstructionism to simply tell the president how it’s going to be, and Obama, for quite a while, has tried to be accommodating, cooperative, and bipartisan.

But as this election year gets underway, it appears the president is turning over a new leaf. Indeed, I hardly recognize this combative, confrontational Obama, who seems comfortable antagonizing Republicans when they deserve it.

The risk, of course, is that GOP leaders will be even less prone to compromise, but since Republicans refuse to accept any concessions on any issue, the president very likely assumes — correctly — that he doesn’t have much to lose by flexing his procedural muscles a bit.

For that matter, there’s reason to believe the American mainstream, which has grown to hate Congress in ways we’ve never seen before, wants Obama to circumvent Capitol Hill to get things done, and has no use for GOP obstructionism.

If the White House keeps this up, 2012 will be quite a bit different than 2011.

Update: Travis Waldron notes that the last three Republican presidents also made recess appointments to the NLRB. Something to keep in mind when the GOP freaks out.

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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  • low-tech cyclist on January 04, 2012 3:32 PM:

    "The risk, of course, is that GOP leaders will be even less prone to compromise..."
    -Steve Benen

    "Everything is less than zero."
    -Elvis Costello

  • artsmith on January 04, 2012 3:33 PM:

    Serious question: how can the Repubs be "even less prone" to cooperate?

  • Danp on January 04, 2012 3:34 PM:

    Republicans (and the media) will spin the NLRB appointments as kowtowing to the base, but the response should be that they would have been confirmed by a majority had Republicans not used gimmicks to block them. And like the Cordray appointment, this is a case where Republicans aren't merely rejecting a nominee, but the whole existence of the agencies. Go Obama!!!

  • c u n d gulag on January 04, 2012 3:35 PM:

    "The risk, of course, is that GOP leaders will be even less prone to compromise,..."

    How can a brick be any less pliable?

    And good for Obama!

    He's not even running like Truman did against a "Do-nothing Congress."

    Obama's running against a "Do Worse Republicans House," and "The Dither, Delay, and/or Filibuster Republicans in the Senate."

    I'm glad he finally seems to have gotten the 'bipartisan crust' off of his eyes.

  • jjm on January 04, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Obama has managed to take all the headlines away from Romney and Santorum with this brilliant move.

    At the same time he challenges the perversion of Senate rules that the GOP has been forcing on us and he does it just after the 'big' primary, so that 1) it couldn't be an issue there and 2) he shows how a democratic leader can start to make democratic government that works for people actually start to work!

    His intensive strategy of 'accommodation' which the GOP refused to accept is now to be contrasted with him setting the GOP aside as basically IRRELEVANT to how our government is going to operate.

    Bully for him! their impotent rage must be so comforting to him--

  • TR on January 04, 2012 3:39 PM:

    Republicans will howl about this, but it's only going to serve to point out the depths of their obstructionism to low-information voters. Awesome.

  • Gummo on January 04, 2012 3:40 PM:

    The good news just keeps getting better today.

    THIS is the President I've been waiting to see for 3 years. Someone willing to stand up and FIGHT for what's right.

    Cynics can argue that it's just Obama back in campaign mode. So what? As long as he's fighting for the right things.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on January 04, 2012 3:48 PM:

    Just keep pointing it out.
    Republicans are against anything that is helpful to the middle class.
    When I hear them going off about the repeal of the health care laws that actually help Americans it makes me wonder ala Michele Bachman , Are they for or against America?
    Someone ought to investigate.

  • bigtuna on January 04, 2012 3:51 PM:

    Usage patrol. When one gives a 'reason' the definition, and implications, of the term are that there is some sound ogic, rational thinking, etc., behind it.

    Republicans do not have 'reasons' to oppose these appointments. They are making lame ass excuses

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 04, 2012 3:52 PM:

    I'm as happy as anyone that the President is, perhaps, finding his feet and getting tough. But let's not mischaracterize this as "good" news. It's still awful news. It's awful news that, to keep the government running at all, he has to play these games. Recess appointments are, overall, a bad thing. They're a sign of the hardening of the political arteries in the US system, and they concentrate power in the executive at the cost of the legislative. I fully recognize that the Republicans have invited this and, yes, the deprecation of the legislative owes more to them than to Obama.

    But it's still not GOOD news.

  • DAY on January 04, 2012 3:57 PM:

    It seems that Mr. Obama fully understands "timing" and its usefulness as a tool for reelection.

    I also believe that he is aware that the Rugged American People have a long history of applauding John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Ronald "fire the air traffic controllers" Reagan.
    Game on!

  • Gummo on January 04, 2012 3:57 PM:

    Bernard HP Gilroy, you are, in the larger scheme of things, correct, of course.

    But at a time when, for years, only one side was fighting, the sight of "our" side finally flexing its muscle is heartening.

  • SteveT on January 04, 2012 4:02 PM:

    If the White House keeps this up, 2012 will be quite a bit different than 2011.

    Pardon me for having low expectations, but I'm more worried that once the campaign is over 2013 will look just like 2010.

  • nerd on January 04, 2012 4:05 PM:

    You are correct, Bernard, that this is not a good thing.

    I think, though, that Obama's actions are appropriate beyond getting things done in that they make more visible how extraordinary the obstruction is that he is facing.

    Yes, the obstruction is bad. Simply letting the obstructionists win is even worse.

  • zeitgeist on January 04, 2012 4:15 PM:

    now if he'd just add Pete Diamond to the list. . .

  • FriscoSF on January 04, 2012 4:16 PM:

    ...Republicans are accustomed to using obstructionism to simply tell the president how its going to be, and Obama, for quite a while, has tried to be accommodating, cooperative, and bipartisan...

    Too bad Obama didn't start off 2009 on an 'agressive foot'

    at least he made a lot of nice, new Republican 'friends'

  • wvng on January 04, 2012 4:21 PM:

    Frisco SF said: "Too bad Obama didn't start off 2009 on an 'agressive foot'" I think a strong case could be made that if he had he would have had very few of the signature accomplishments that required cooperation of the ConservaDems. He can do this now because nothing can get done anyway and why not.

  • TCinLA on January 04, 2012 4:24 PM:

    For that matter, there�s reason to believe the American mainstream, which has grown to hate Congress in ways we�ve never seen before, wants Obama to circumvent Capitol Hill to get things done, and has no use for GOP obstructionism.

    The Romans were really happy when Caesar came along and neutered the by-then-useless Roman Senate, too. That lasted about to the end of Augustus' reign, after which things went "downhill." But the Roman Senate created the situation, just as the Republicans in the American Senate are doing the same.

    Provoking and antagonizing Republicans is always fun, until it gets as boring as shooting fish in a barrel.

    CAPTCHA: THE TUSIATI - are the Tusiati the moron secret society who get hired at the Washington Monthly to use @#$#@!! CAPTCHA?????

  • jim filyaw on January 04, 2012 4:32 PM:

    three years to grow a pair.

    better late than never.

  • T2 on January 04, 2012 4:39 PM:

    "the last three Republican presidents also made recess appointments " I suppose that's the point...technically the Senate is not in recess- so Obama is really saying "hey, you are trying to cheat and I'm going to find out if it's legal".
    I'm glad he's doing it.....but I'd rather he'd gone out on this type limb with the Debt Ceiling thing.
    Face it, a huge majority of the public considers this Congress a failure and despite their howling, the GOP has made their bed, so sweet dreams Tea Baggers!

  • g on January 04, 2012 4:41 PM:

    If McConnell doesn't like it he should allow for more nominees to come up for a vote. That would be a great way for him to stay Obama's "unprecedented" power grab.

    Note to Mitch - Bush 2 made 21 recess appointments per year. Obama's recprd os made 9.

  • Not Anonymous on January 04, 2012 4:50 PM:

    Checkmate in 8 moves and the stupid GOP thinks they're playing checkers.

    Good year for popcorn sales.

  • Chris on January 04, 2012 4:56 PM:

    The risk, of course, is that GOP leaders will be even less prone to compromise,...

    Another potential side-effect of Obama flexing his proverbial muscles is that GOP leaders will be more prone to compromise.

  • Michael on January 04, 2012 4:56 PM:

    Jim , you mean excellent timing in a bad republican created situation, you are correct, but growing a pair has never been the problem. It has been calculating a way to function in this dysfunctional congress.

    The health care reform and what he has passed so far have helped him to repair the economy such as it has, now is the time where his calculating to repair damage against the people is able to be accomplished.

    Being able to accomplish ANYTHING against the opposition he has faced, is nothing short of brilliant.

  • chi res on January 04, 2012 5:22 PM:

    three years to grow a pair.
    better late than never.

    I thought only teabaggers had such a fascination with testicles.

    What's your excuse, jim... late dropper? still waiting?

  • boatboy_srq on January 04, 2012 5:22 PM:

    The risk, of course, is that GOP leaders will be even less prone to compromise, but since Republicans refuse to accept any concessions on any issue, the president very likely assumes correctly that he doesnt have much to lose by flexing his procedural muscles a bit.

    I agree with the rest of the commentators: "less prone to compromise" and "refuse to accept any concessions on any issue" do not belong in the same sentence, and do not describe a group in any way willing to give an inch - not even to gain a light-year. How, exactly, is not "accept[ing] any concessions on any issue", being an absolute, likely to get worse from a policymaking perspective? I think my Captcha - "-0.03 arknort" covers both the percent likelihood and knee-jerk nature of GOP inability to become more receptive to responsible governing.

    @TCinLA: that would be the OBTUSIATI.

  • Stephen Stralka on January 04, 2012 5:24 PM:

    Good for him, and I don't see much downside. However much the Republicans bitch and moan about this kind of thing, it's only going to help call attention to their own obstructionism.

    This is admittedly far-fetched, but I do sometimes wonder if Obama's first two and a half years in office constitute an epic feat of political jujitsu. If his plan was to give the Republicans two and a half years to make complete asses of himself, and then start pummeling them with all the ammunition they've given him--well, again, I don't really think that's the case, but if it was his plan, he'd have to be pleased with how it's starting to bear fruit now.

  • Jamey on January 04, 2012 5:25 PM:

    Is McCain just throwing around words again without understanding them?

    In a word, yes...

  • smintheus on January 04, 2012 5:25 PM:

    Obama should have become more aggressive in making recess appointments years ago.

    Problem is, this is not a recess appointment since the Senate is not in recess. So by what authority is he claiming to be able to do this? If he has no legal authority, why are so many leftists crowing that Obama is flouting the law? They'll change their tune as soon as a Republican president starts making faux-recess appointments. True, Republicans have made Congress dysfunctional. That doesn't mean the president can appropriate its constitutional powers to himself.

  • N.Wells on January 04, 2012 5:26 PM:

    Unlike most politicians (and especially Romney), Obama has been unusually explicit and consistent in what he says and what he wants. When Obama campaigned, he said, "I don't want to pit Red America against Blue America. I want to be President of the United States of America," and "we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America." Earlier, he said, "Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us -- the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of 'anything goes.' Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- theres the United States of America. The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But Ive got news for them ........ We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America."

    This was what he wanted to achieve (it is, after all, one of the best ways for a successful community organizer to proceed), and I think it was what most voters wanted to see happen. He's gone way beyond what was required to try to make this happen, but the Republicans so want him to fail that they have even turned against their own ideas in an effort to deny him any success.

    However, there are multiple ways to skin a cat. I think at this point, Obama has largely insulated himself against charges of being partisan or failing to try hard enough for compromise solutions, even from the insistently centrist commentariat. He's going to get those complaints from Republicans nonetheless, but they aren't going to stick and the complainers are going to get laughed at. Part of this is timing: if Obama had been aggressively anti-Republican since they started deserving it, by now that position would be old-hat and he would be facing routine complaints from across the board about not playing nice and being just another partisan politician.

    Politicians can lead most easily when there is a groundswell pushing them in one direction, and I think the majority of voters are now pretty close to a "punish the republicans" mindset. (Community organizers know that you can make progress by finding common goals so that everyone wins, or by unifying nearly everyone against an unreasonable foe.) I don't know how vote suppression, redistricting games, and unlimited money are going to play out, but if Republicans continue to pull us over a cliff, we could be close to a broad and long-term repudiation of their party. (As I type, I'm listening to an NPR report (ATC, 5:13 PM) that could barely be better coverage for Obama if he'd written it himself.) I doubt that Obama has just woken up to Republican intransigence and "found his feet": I suspect he was simply hoping they would come to their senses while he was waiting to see the whites of their eyes. This should be an interesting election.

    Incidentally, http://www.notable-quotes.com/o/obama_barack.html is a very inspirational resource.

  • SteveT on January 04, 2012 5:34 PM:

    Michael said:
    . . . growing a pair has never been the problem. It has been calculating a way to function in this dysfunctional congress.

    Being able to accomplish ANYTHING against the opposition he has faced, is nothing short of brilliant.

    But if you aren't able to accomplish something at first, you should at least shape the debate to create a more favorable public opinion for your next attempt.

    Obama swept into office on an anti-Republican wave and proceeded to throw away his political advantages. Every time Obama talked about "finding a middle ground" he restored some the legitimacy to the Republican policies that American voters had overwhelmingly rejected.

    Admittedly, Obama would have had to walk a fine line to keep from being perceived as too partisan. But I believe that voters would have approved of Obama saying that he would work with Republicans, but only after they renounced "the policies that caused this economic catastrophe in the first place."

    Instead of expecting Republicans to come to him, Obama strengthened them by offering compromise after compromise. The worst failure was when Obama accepted the Republican's ridiculous meme that, with unemployment up near ten percent, the DEFICIT was the country's number-one economic priority. With that concession, he yielded the political high ground to Republicans and allowed them to control the agenda.

    It took the energy of Occupy Wall Street to wrest control of the debate away from the Republicans. And I don't have a lot of confidence that Obama won't give control back once the election is won.

  • MBunge on January 04, 2012 6:03 PM:

    "But if you aren't able to accomplish something at first, you should at least shape the debate to create a more favorable public opinion for your next attempt."


    That assumes that everything the President has accomplished, and it's quite a lot, is the bare minimum anyone could have accomplished. What if there had been no stimulus? No health care reform? No repeal of DADT? No bailout of the auto industry? Anyone who thinks Barack Obama and the Democrats would be in a better position today in that situation needs to stop fooling themselves.

    Mike

  • Anonymous on January 04, 2012 8:06 PM:

    Agree, @MBunge.

    The absolute minimization and belittling of Obama's very real accomplishments began on day one of his presidency, and came not only from the embittered GOP, but from self-appointed progressives (so-called).

  • MNRD on January 05, 2012 12:53 AM:

    N.Wells, you do a great job of explaining the underpinnings of President Obama's approach. His critics nearly always overlook the fact that he ran on a powerful theme of national unity.

    I understand why the President's progressive critics grew impatient with how long he stuck with the conciliatory approach. However, the fact that he COMPLETELY exhausted the conciliatory approach provides the proof that the confrontational steps he's now taking are NECESSARY. Thus, he can make these confrontational moves, and at the same time retain his full credibility as a leader who would be a uniter if the opposition wasn't so intransigent.

  • rickles58 on January 05, 2012 12:22 PM:

    Kevin Drum explained why this, and the NLRB, appointment is different than other recess appointments. I can't get back to his site, so no link, but the difference is that blocking these appointments amounts to nullification. The CFPC and the NLRB can't operate without these appointees, whereas the courts and other agencies can continue to operate. On these grounds he should be able to show, in court if necessary, how these appointments are different. The Senate is attempting to keep govt. organizations, established via legislation and presidential signature, from operating.

  • duh on January 07, 2012 12:55 AM:

    Who the hell is Travis Waldron - and the author, by the way, "left" out this tidbit:

    I had to keep the Senate in pro-forma sessions to block the [Steven G.] Bradbury appointment. That necessarily meant no recess appointments could be made, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said as he summed up the legal consensus in 2008. Mr. Obama was in the Senate at the time.

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