Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Congress fails miserably: For Asian-Americans, immigration proposals are personal attacks Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (R-Iowa) is asking the Obama administration whether recess appointments overnight and on the weekend are possible after the president's decision this week to appoint four federal officials despite pro forma sessions by Congress. 

In a letter to Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderPavlich: The claim Trump let the mentally ill get guns is a lie Pennsylvania Supreme Court releases new congressional map 36 people who could challenge Trump in 2020 MORE, Grassley and seven other Republican senators on Friday pressed the Obama administration for more details about its decision to make the controversial recess appointments. 

Grassley's letter said the White House broke with 90 years of precedent on Wednesday when it appointed Richard Cordray to the head the Consumer Financial Protection Board (CFPB) and three others to the National Labor Relations Board.

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It also asks questions about what the change might mean in the near future, such as whether the president can make recess appointments during the weekend or in the evening after the Senate adjourns.

"The Justice Department and the White House owe it to the American people to provide a clear understanding of the process that transpired and the rationale it used to circumvent the checks and balances promised by the Constitution," Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement announcing the letter. "Overturning 90 years of historical precedent is a major shift in policy that should not be done in a legal opinion made behind closed doors, hidden from public scrutiny."

The letter outlined the history of that precedent, which started with a 1921 opinion from the attorney general that Senate adjournment for two days is not a recess, and that an adjournment of five or 10 days might also be enough. The letter notes that this opinion was reaffirmed in 1960, 1992 and 2001, and that the Department of Justice also argued before the Supreme Court in 2010 that "the recess appointment power can work in — in a recess. I think our office has opined the recess has to be longer than three days."

"Taken together, these authorities by the department clearly indicate the view that a congressional recess must be longer than three days — and perhaps at least as long as 10 — in order for a recess appointment to be constitutional," the letter states.

The letter then asks eight questions about how Justice got around this prior position. For example, it asked whether the original 1921 opinion was withdrawn to make way for the new opinion and whether other opinions were withdrawn.

It also asks whether Justice was asked to render a formal opinion, whether that opinion will be made public, and whether Justice believes this week's decision was constitutional.

Aside from Grassley, the letter is signed by Sens. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnPaul Ryan should realize that federal earmarks are the currency of cronyism Republicans in Congress shouldn't try to bring back earmarks Republicans should know reviving earmarks is a political nightmare MORE (R-Okla.), John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (R-Texas), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (R-Utah), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah) and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsUnder pressure, Trump shifts blame for Russia intrusion Overnight Tech: Judge blocks AT&T request for DOJ communications | Facebook VP apologizes for tweets about Mueller probe | Tech wants Treasury to fight EU tax proposal Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand MORE (R-Ala.).

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer BachusSpencer Thomas BachusBipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism Manufacturers press Senate to approve Ex-Im board members MORE (R-Ala.) also wrote to Holder Friday, asking many of the same questions.

Specifically, Bachus asked whether Justice provided any input to the decision and asked that written documents on the matter be made public. He also asked for the department's view on whether the Senate was in recess when Cordray was appointed, and whether this opinion was shared with the White House before the decision was made.

Bachus asked whether the CFPB position Cordray has filled was technically a "vacancy" that could be filled with a recess appointment, given that the position was newly created.

The White House has not released a technical explanation for its decision. However, White House officials explained this week that they based the appointments on a legal opinion that Congress is in recess despite Congress meeting in pro forma sessions because no work is expected until late January.