When Democrats took control of the Senate in 2007, they began blocking appointments such as George Bush’s nomination of John Bolton to the UN post. After Bush began using recess appointments to bypass the Senate, Harry Reid began holding pro-forma sessions every few days in order to keep the Senate from going into recess — and to keep Bush from access to the recess appointment mechanism. Now, with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, one might expect Reid to allow for recess appointments again, or at least the White House might expect it.
Senate Democrats agreed Wednesday night to a Republican demand to block President Obama from making recess appointments while Congress is out of town campaigning for the midterm elections.
Democratic leaders have agreed to schedule pro-forma sessions of the Senate every week over the next six weeks, a move that will prevent Obama from making emergency appointments, according to Senate sources briefed on the talks.
Democrats agreed earlier in the day to a Republican demand to cut spending levels for government agencies in order to pass a stop-gap spending measure.
Democrats are eager to get back home to defend their record to voters and they couldn’t do that until the spending bill passed.
That wasn’t the only card in play, however. Mitch McConnell apparently told Harry Reid that his caucus would block all of Obama’s controversial nominees after the recess if Reid didn’t schedule the pro-forma sessions during the recess. Because of the nature of the hold process as well as the filibuster, Republicans could have kept those nominees from ever getting an up-or-down vote, especially if the GOP manages to pull off a long shot and take control of the Senate in January.
But even that may not fully explain Reid’s retreat. Obama’s last recess appointment, Donald Berwick, came before Democrats even had a chance to schedule a hearing on his nomination to run Medicare. The move angered Republicans, of course, but also several Democrats in the Senate who considered it an abuse of the recess appointment power, and an end run around Congressional oversight.
Reid almost certainly didn’t volunteer to hold pro-forma sessions, but obviously Democrats have little interest in protecting Obama’s recess privilege any longer. This is a very public slap in the face to Obama and his administration, and a message that a President trods on Congressional privilege at his own peril regardless of party affiliation.