President Obama exercised his constitutional power to temporarily appoint fifteen of his nominees to their jobs, including Craig Becker, a pro-labor attorney who has drawn the opposition of all 41 Republican Senators, and Chai Feldblum, an openly gay woman. Becker was nominated to the National Labor Relations Board and Feldblum to be a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In a statement, President Obama said that Republican "obstruction" tactics had forced his hand, noting that more than two hundred of his nominees have been pending for more than 100 days. The 15 appointments today include several nominees who were held up because of reasons unrelated to them.
The biggest name in the bunch is Craig Becker, a former lawyer for the AFL-CIO and the SEIU and and a labor law advocate. His nomination has been resisted by Republicans for more than 200 days, and the Chamber of Commerce warned businesses today to prepare for "radical" changes in labor law. By contrast, labor groups, who have long been pressing the White House to speed Becker's appointment, were joyful. (Obama also appointed Mark Pearce, a labor lawyer from New York. Three of the board's five seats have been open since 2008, creating an enormous backlog of cases that the two current members have been unable to resolve.)
An anonymous Republican Senator had placed a hold on Feldblum's nomination, and social conservative pressure groups launched a public campaign to portray her as too radical. Felbdlum is a professor of law at Georgetown who specializes in civil rights, employment and LGBT law, and who helped to draft the landmark 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act.
Obama's decision to use his recess power reflects the White House's confidence that the political environment after passage of health care reform is more congenial -- and a significant amount of frustration that critical homeland security posts were being held up as ransom.
Jen Psaki, a White House spokesperson, wrote on the White House website that "this opposition got so out of hand at one point that one senator put a blanket hold on all of the President's nominees in an attempt to win concessions on two projects that would benefit his state. And another nominee's confirmation was delayed by one senator for more than eight months because of a disagreement over a proposed federal building in his home state. When that nominee was finally given the vote she deserved, she was confirmed 96 to 0. When you attempt to prevent the government from working effectively because you didn't get your way, you're failing to live up to your responsibilities as a public servant."
Disappointing civil liberties advocates, Obama did not seat Dawn Johnsen, a civil libertarian, to her nominated post as head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.