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.
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