Updated: 5:13 p.m.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said today that Republicans are weighing their options on how to take a stand against the White House and Democrats over four controversial recess appointments earlier this month.
“We will be telling you more about what is an appropriate response” to the recess appointments, he said at a press conference after the weekly GOP caucus lunch.
His comments come as other Republican Senators said they expected the issue to be covered at their retreat, scheduled for Wednesday at Mount Vernon. The retreat is set to begin at 9 a.m. and expected to run into the evening.
McConnell said the appointments were an effort to distract voters from the president’s record, which the Minority Leader said was marked by historically high unemployment, a 35 percent increase in the nation’s debt and passage of controversial legislation such as the 2009 stimulus package.
“I think this effort at the end of the year was designed to gratuitously pick a fight with Congress” and distract from President Barack Obama’s “record … over the last three years.”
McConnell declined to say whether Senate Republicans were considering a blanket hold on the roughly 70 outstanding Obama nominations.
In early January, Obama appointed Richard Cordray to be head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and filled three slots on the National Labor Relations Board, including one Republican NLRB position.
But Republicans question the legitimacy of the appointments and have charged the White House with overreach. They contend Congress was not in recess because they held short pro-forma sessions every three days during the holiday break. Those sessions should have precluded the president from making recess appointments. The White house argues that the pro-forma sessions were a gimmick and that Congress was not in town conducting business.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today that he did not know whether Republicans would retaliate for the recess appointments but that he hoped not.
Reid was the one who developed the pro forma strategy to stave off nominations from President George W. Bush.
Reid said Republicans could have avoided the recess appointments if they had worked with Obama as Reid did with Bush to negotiate about “500 of his nominations.”
“The reason President Bush didn’t test this in the courts is that we gave him basically most everything he wanted anyway,” Reid said. “He had no reason to do that. So I think that it would be really unfortunate if the Republicans held up all the nominations.”
Reid said he wants the conference committee charged with working out a compromise package that would extend the current payroll tax holiday to include an extension of a raft of more than 80 tax provisions that expired at the beginning of the new year, such as the ability to deduct tuition expenses, state and local taxes, and teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses. The conference held its first meeting today.
“All these [tax credits] are extremely important and are job creating in and of themselves,” Reid said. “I am afraid if we don’t do it now with this conference, we are not going to do it until the end of the year and a lot of businesses will be hurt.”
Reid also said Democratic conferees are expected to push for a millionaire’s tax to help offset the cost of the package that emerges. Democratic conferees include Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Benjamin Cardin (Md.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) as well as Reps. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Sander Levin (Mich.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Henry Waxman (Calif.).
“I think you will find [with] the conference that starts today that Sen. Baucus and his [Senate] conferees are going to push for them,” Reid said. “And I think that you will find that the [House Democratic conferees] will join them.”
Reid also said he doesn’t think the final deal should include a provision to hasten approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He acknowledged some Democrats, including Baucus, support the project and said he has given no instruction to Democrats not to include the provision in the final package.
Baucus “is certainly a free agent,” Reid said. “There are a number of states [that favor the project.] In fact, both Senators from Montana approve of that. We’ll just have to wait and see how that comes out.”
As part of December’s two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, Republicans inserted language that forced the president to make a decision within 60 days on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Recently, Obama announced he would have to reject the pipeline because he said his administration had not been given enough time to vet the project.
House Republicans are also riled up about the recess appointments. Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder this week seeking materials created before the Jan. 6 Office of Legal Counsel opinion on the appointments.
The OLC issued an opinion two days after the Jan. 4 appointments making the argument why they were legal. The opinion said that the president has authority to make the move and that the Constitution, precedent and practice support the White House position that the pro forma strategy does not count as a recess.