Neustadt Principle in Action: Recess Appointments (updated)

More

Just now, the White House press office has announced a list of 15 recess appointments, who will serve until the end of the Senate's next term (or longer, if formally confirmed in the meantime). The announcement made clear that too many appointments had been held up by Bunning-style abuse of the Senatorial "hold" and filibuster rules:

"The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees.  But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,"  said President Barack Obama. "Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate.  At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government."...
  • President Obama currently has a total of 217 nominees pending before the Senate.  These nominees have been pending for an average of 101 days, including 34 nominees pending for more than 6 months.
  • The 15 nominees President Obama intends to recess appoint have been pending for an average of 214 days or 7 months for a total of 3204 days or almost 9 years.
  • President Bush had made 15 recess appointments by this point in his presidency, but he was not facing the same level of obstruction.  At this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor.  By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month.

On the merits, this is a welcome move IMHO, both because it is insane (whichever party is in power) to keep major positions in Treasury, Customs-Border Patrol, etc vacant; and because many of these nominees are really excellent choices. It is also significant as a process matter. I mentioned recently the principle of presidential power laid down by the late professor Richard Neustadt: success today greatly increases the chance of success tomorrow.  I don't know whether the White House would have issued these appointments if a handful of votes had gone the other way in the health-care showdown last weekend. But it's in stronger position to take this step with a big victory behind it than after what would have been a big defeat.

More, please. There are a lot more nominees still held up in Senate limbo.
___
UPDATE: Marc Ambinder mentioned several people on this recess-appointment list. Let me give another illustration from the list, showing the kind of appointment that was being held up for procedural tit-for-tat rules in the Senate:

   Six months ago, the Administration nominated Alan Bersin to head the Customs and Border Patrol operation (now part of DHS). Is he in any way qualified? Hmmm, let's see.

   Bersin was an all-Ivy star football player at Harvard. Then he went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Then he went to Yale Law School. Then he was a U.S. Attorney in California. Then he was head of a Justice Department unit overseeing US-Mexico border affairs. Then the head of the San Diego school system. Then the Secretary of Education for California, under Arnold Schwarzenegger. Recently he has been an Assistant Secretary at DHS. Last month the past three commissioners of CBP, including two from the GW Bush administration, wrote to Republican Senators asking them, please, to get Bersin into the job rather than leaving this very important agency leaderless.

   Instead the Republicans placed various holds on Bersin and the others and would not bring him to a vote. Thus, good for Obama in saying, Enough.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza


Video

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

From This Author

Just In