Daschle calls recess sessions 'bogus' in defending Obama

Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) on Thursday defended President Obama’s recess appointments as “entirely justified” and called the Senate’s pro-forma sessions “bogus.”

Daschle acknowledged that Obama’s appointment of Richard Cordray to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members of the National Labor Relations Board broke with precedent. But he said that is sometimes necessary to do.

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“We’re making it harder and harder and harder for nominees to go through this incredibly laborious and painful and time-consuming process. And so that alone seems to me to be a factor in where do you draw the line,” Daschle said during an event hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The Obama administration has argued that pro-forma sessions held since Dec. 17 have not been real working sessions of the Senate and the chamber actually has been in an extended recess.

Daschle backed that view.

“Constitutionally, as I understand it, there isn’t any clear direction with regard to what is a real session. But these are bogus sessions, we know that,” he said.

“Now it does violate to a certain extent past precedent, but that isn’t the first time precedent has been altered in the course of doing the right thing,” he added. 

Some legal experts say that might be a difficult argument to make in court, noting the two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday was passed in a pro-forma session.

The Senate and House also met their constitutional obligation to convene on the third day of January by holding a pro-forma session.

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.), who served in the Republican leadership during Daschle’s tenure, disagreed and said a court will invalidate the president’s action.

“I think that it was wrong, he shouldn’t have done it, and I think there’s maybe a good chance the courts will rule that way,” he said at the Bipartisan Policy Center event.

Lott said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) himself honed the practice of scheduling pro-forma sessions during a Senate recess to block then-President George W. Bush from making recess appointments and suggested that Democrats have undergone a change of heart on the issue.

“I think Harry actually really turned it into a fine art to keep Bush from doing that,” he said. 

Daschle warned that it would not be in Republicans’ interests to bring the Senate to a standstill in retaliation for the recess appointments, as some insiders fear.

“It is in the interest of both parties and both bodies — the House and the Senate — to be able to demonstrate that they’ve accomplished a lot. That will be their biggest argument going back to the voter,” he said. “It’s going to be important for them to put past wars and battles aside and get on with the agenda and try to accomplish as much as possible.”

Lott suggested that lawmakers work more closely with the administration to negotiate which appointees are acceptable and which are not, predicting that the president would be less inclined to take drastic action if there were more give and take with nominees.

“We’d have these sessions at the end of the session. Quite often it would be hundreds of nominees. We would work through the list. We would say to Clinton’s people, the congressional relations people, or Erskine Bowles or whomever it was, ‘Look, you can go ahead and do these 100 or so, but these six we have a problem [with] and this one in particular if you do it, the roof is going to blow off,” he said, referencing President Clinton and Clinton’s former chief of staff.