Obama Backs Away from Recess Appointments . . . For Now

The White House released a short statement from the President late on Thursday following action by the Senate to confirm — by unanimous consent — twenty-seven executive nominees before leaving for the President's Day recess.

Today, the United States Senate confirmed 27 of my high-level nominees, many of whom had been awaiting a vote for months.

At the beginning of the week, a staggering 63 nominees had been stalled in the Senate because one or more senators placed a hold on their nomination. In most cases, these holds have had nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications or even political views, and these nominees have already received broad, bipartisan support in the committee process.

Instead, many holds were motivated by a desire to leverage projects for a Senator’s state or simply to frustrate progress. It is precisely these kinds of tactics that enrage the American people.

And so on Tuesday, I told Senator McConnell that if Republican senators did not release these holds, I would exercise my authority to fill critically-needed positions in the federal government temporarily through the use of recess appointments. This is a rare but not unprecedented step that many other presidents have taken. Since that meeting, I am gratified that Republican senators have responded by releasing many of these holds and allowing 29 nominees to receive a vote in the Senate.

While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess. If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.

The 27 confirmed today form part of the over 60 executive nominations that had been placed on hold by one of more Senators. Earlier this week, Republicans blocked the confirmation of Craig Becker, a labor lawyer, to a seat on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which has been operating with only two of its five members for a few years.

The White House statement seems to signal that the President will not use a recess appointment to appoint Craig Becker to the NLRB. The President did reserve his right to use his recess appointment authority in the future if the Senate does act on his nominees.

The list of the confirmed nominees is below the fold.

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Senator Shelby Places a Blanket Hold on Executive Nominees

On day one of their new 41-59 majority, Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama placed a blanket hold on pending executive nominations on the Senate calendar in an effort to win concessions from the Obama administration. By placing a hold, a single senator can stop the Senate from taking up consideration of a particular nomination. Holds can be overcome, but it takes 60 votes to do so.

According to the Federal Times, Senator Shelby is upset over the handling of an Air Force refueling tanker contract worth up to $35 billion which was originally awarded to a consortia led by Northrop Grumman and EADS (Airbus) last year, but later voided after a bid protest was filed by Boeing. Northrop Grumman has an assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama.

In a written statement, Senator Shelby complained Air Force efforts to build new tankers have been stalled for nearly 10 years and "we still do not have a transparent and fair acquisition process to move forward." The senior Senator from Alabama who was first elected in 1986 as a Democrat (he switched parties in 1994)  also wants the Obama Administration to release funds so the FBI can build a Terrorist Explosive Devices Analytical Center in Alabama, the statement said.

While individual holds are not unusual, Congressional scholar Gary Jacobson, a Professor of Political Science at the University of California at San Diego, said he knew of no previous use of a blanket hold.

This isn't government, this is hostage-taking.


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What's the Holdup?

Well, in a word the GOP, the party of obstructionism. If you can't get your way, paralyze government. Here are some of the holdups:

Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky is holding the nomination of Miriam Sapiro for U.S. trade representative because the Canadian Parliament is considering a ban on adding candy flavorings to cigarettes; Senator George V. Voinovich is blocking Robert Perciasepe for deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency because according to the Senator the agency is underestimating the cost per household of proposed climate-change legislation; and the master of obstructionism Senator Jim DeMint is holding up  the vote on Erroll Southers to head the Transportation Security Administration over concerns the nominee would undermine safety by allowing airport security screeners to unionize.

Republicans also are tying up the nominations of Martha Johnson for administrator of the General Services Administration, Tom Shannon for ambassador to Brazil, Alan Solomont for ambassador to Spain and Paul Anastas for EPA assistant administrator.

More background on the Southers holdup from the Washington Times:

Sen. Jim DeMint has locked a "hold" on President Obama's pick to head the Transportation Security Administration over concerns the nominee would undermine safety by allowing airport security screeners to unionize, the latest in a series of appointments stymied by Republican objections that are increasingly frustrating the Senate's Democratic majority.

The South Carolina Republican single-handedly put the brakes on the nomination with a "hold" - an informal practice by which a senator can keep a nomination or legislation from going to the Senate floor. It is virtually the only weapon left in the minority's arsenal to affect the chamber's business now that Republicans don't have enough votes in their caucus to mount a filibuster on their own.

Mr. DeMint blocked the vote on Erroll Southers, a top cop at Los Angeles International Airport, because he says the nominee is ducking questions about whether he would consider reversing current policy by opening the door to unionizing the security screeners.

Critics say the change would jeopardize national security by imposing union work rules that could hamstring the government's ability to quickly adapt to evolving terrorist threats.

"It's very simple. Giving union bosses control over security at our nation's airports is dangerous and will harm our ability to respond to serious threats," Mr. DeMint said. "If President Obama's nominee will not commit to putting homeland security above the whims of union bosses, it should give everyone serious concern."

Mr. Southers, assistant chief in charge of security and intelligence at the Los Angeles airport's police department, pledged he would not support any policy that compromised security. But he has avoided giving the "yes or no" answer Mr. DeMint wanted on the union question.

Mr. DeMint, ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's aviation operations, safety and security subcommittee, has kept his hold on Mr. Southers tightly focused on the nominee's reluctance to address the union question.

Mr. Southers avoided giving a definitive answer on the subject at a confirmation hearing and in an exchange of letters with Mr. DeMint.

While not saying whether he supported unionization, and noting he had previously worked as a chief officer in a unionized law enforcement agency, Mr. Southers pledged in an Oct. 14 letter to Mr. DeMint that he would put safety first in all decisions at TSA.

He said in the letter that he would not "support, recommend or endorse any system, practice or procedure that would potentially compromise the safety and security of the flying public."

Mr. DeMint characterized the response as an attempt to "hide behind rhetoric."

And Senator DeMint is attempting to disguise his visceral hate of unions as a matter of national security.

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Senator Shelby Places a Blanket Hold on Executive Nominees


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