Leahy Encourages Recess Appointments

Posted February 11, 2010 at 4:00pm

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined the chorus of Democrats encouraging President Barack Obama to use the upcoming Congressional recess to bypass the Senate confirmation process and appoint long-stalled nominees.

“I prefer that people have a straight up-or-down vote,” Leahy said Thursday.

But with the slow pace to confirm Obama’s executive branch picks, and the frequent use of procedural rules to overcome Republicans’ objections, Leahy suggested that Obama exert his executive powers to make recess appointments.

“If the person’s going to have a vote, then we ought to have a vote,” Leahy said. “But if they’re being blocked for a vote, than there ought to be some movement.”

Added Leahy: “I’ve never seen a time where you consistently have to have 60 votes” to install a nominee.
Leahy said it did not make a difference whether Obama chose to install noncontroversial and lower-level nominees or ones that have drawn more Republican opposition, such as Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen.

“If they don’t want her, they can vote against her,” Leahy said.

Leahy pushed off committee action on voting on Johnsen’s nomination until after the Presidents Day recess amid low GOP turnout.

The Judiciary panel has voted out 108 executive and judicial nominees this Congress, and the full Senate approved 77 of those. Leahy has regularly spoken out against GOP holds and the Senate’s slow pace to confirm Obama’s picks. The issue has gained steam in recent weeks, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) calling on Obama on Tuesday to clear the decks over the upcoming Congressional recess.

“The Republicans are holding these people up for reasons that have nothing to do with their background, their morality [or] the competency of these people,” Reid said on the floor Tuesday.

Despite those calls, Reid in the past has been a staunch opponent of the tactic. In November 2007, Reid began keeping the Senate in pro forma session during recesses to prevent the Bush administration from installing stalled appointees via a recess appointment.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Thursday that he was unsure whether Obama would use the recess to install Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. The Senate voted down Becker’s nomination 52-33 Tuesday.