President Barack Obama on Saturday wielded his recess appointment powers for the first time, clearing 15 nominees to assume posts that have remained vacant for months due to insurmountable congressional roadblocks.
Among the 15 named just days before the Senate departs for Easter recess are Craig Becker and Mark Pearce, the White House's two, hotly contested nominees for the National Labor Relations Board.
Noticeably absent from the list, however, is Dawn Johnsen, the White House's nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Republicans have long excoriated Johnsen for being too much of an ideologue to run such an important wing of the Justice Department, though the Obama administration has repeated it remains confident in her leadership abilities.
Nevertheless, Obama attributed the need for recess appointments on the "unprecedented level of obstruction" in the U.S. Senate, led primarily by the chamber's Republicans.
The White House calculated that the 15 nominees named on Saturday have awaited confirmation votes for an average of 214 days, or seven months -- or, put differently, a combined total of 3,204 days, or nine years.
“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,” Obama said, noting all of the appointments must still be confirmed after this year.
“Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate," the president added. "I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government.”
Still, the president's recess appointments are likely to draw the ire of Senate Republicans, all 41 of whom warned Obama in a letter last week not to invoke the Constitutionally provided power, especially with respect to Becker.
The GOP has opposed Becker primarily because of his connections to labor groups and support for card-check legislation, which would make it easier for employees to form unions. But his nomination stalled in the Senate even when Democrats had a 60-vote supermajority, as some of the party's members -- including Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) -- felt he might be too aggressive for the job.
Consequently, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) condemned the administration's move on Saturday, adding that Becker's appointment "is yet another episode of [the president] choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition."
"The president previously held that appointing an individual in this manner meant that the nominee would have ‘less credibility,’ and that assessment certainly fits this nomination," the GOP leader said. "This is a purely partisan move that will make a traditionally bipartisan labor board an unbalanced agenda-driven panel.”
Yet, the appointment of both Becker and Pearce means the NLRB now has enough members to constitute a quorum for the first time since 2007. That should safeguard the board from additional legal challenges that could have ultimately shut down the agency indefinitely.
“I look forward to beginning work with them, and especially to addressing cases that have been pending for a long time,” Wilma Liebman, the board's chairwoman, later said in a statement.
But Becker and Pearce were not the only White House nominees named Saturday likely to anger GOP lawmakers.
Also appointed over recess will be: Jeffrey Goldstein as under secretary for Domestic Finance, Michael F. Mundaca as Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Eric L. Hirschhorn as an under secretary of Commerce, Michael Punke as deputy trade representative, Francisco "Frank" J. Sanchez as under secretary for international trade, Islam A. Siddiqui as chief agricultural negotiator, Alan Bersin for commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Jill Long Thompson as a member of the Farm Credit Administration Board, Rafael Borrae as under secretary for Management at the Department of Homeland Security, Jacqueline A. Berrien, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Chai R. Feldblum as commissioner of the EEOC, Victoria L. Lipnic as commissioner of the EEOC P. David Lopez as general counsel of the EEOC, as well as Becker and Pearce.