Eight House Republicans are earning their stripes this month while blocking President Obama from making recess appointments.
The rest of their House colleagues are home in their districts for the traditional August recess, but the group first-term lawmakers has pledged to hold pro-forma sessions in the lower chamber every three days for the remainder of the summer, effectively blocking the Democrat-controlled Senate from adjourning.
For Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who brought his young son to Friday’s pro forma session, the responsibility of wielding the House’s gavel and serving as speaker pro tempore is as much a family affair as it is a duty to his political beliefs.
“As long as the president wants to bypass the usual processes and make recess appointments, that’s his power to make them and it’s our power not to recess,” said Harris in an interview with The Hill after returning to his Maryland home on Friday.
“If this is what it takes to make our feelings heard then that’s the way we’ll do it. And I brought my son with me today, which was nice, he got to watch his dad preside over the House, so we try to make a family thing of it whenever possible.”
Harris and the other freshmen were selected to preside over the chamber during the pro-forma sessions largely because most of them were among the 77 first-term lawmakers who sent a letter in June to House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio), Republican Leader Eric CantorEric CantorTrump nominates two new DOD officials Brat: New ObamaCare repeal bill has 'significant' changes Overnight Energy: Flint lawmaker pushes EPA for new lead rule MORE (Va.), and Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), asking for a promise to never allow President Obama to make another recess appointment while the GOP controlled the House.
“We understand that our request will very likely mean that the House of Representative will meet no less than once every three days for the remainder of 2011 and all of 2012,” wrote the group, headed up by Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.), who will preside over the House next Friday.
“To address this possibility, we stand ready to assist you in ensuring there are always sufficient members to cover the necessary pro forma sessions.”
The group of freshmen, which consists of Landry, Harris, and Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Trey GowdyTrey GowdyFive questions for the House's new Russia investigator Chaffetz decision stuns Washington Who will replace Chaffetz on Oversight? MORE (R-S.C.), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), Allen West (R-Fla), and three-term Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), has agreed to each take one of the nine remaining days over the course of the summer to preside over the House.
Aside from their unified political stance, the score of lawmakers also share another characteristic: they are from nearby states, which makes it easier for them to come back to the Capitol for a day.
The task of blocking presidential recess appointments has typically fallen to the Senate in past Congresses, when an opposite party of the White House’s controls the upper chamber.
This move by the House Republicans is unusual, said Senate Historian Don Ritchie, but the reasoning for their selection is the same: They’re from states nearby and they’re freshmen, which means they need to pay their dues and learn the parliamentary ropes of presiding over a chamber if they hope to fully understand Congress.
“Usually during these sessions of Congress it’s freshmen members of the majority party who are presiding,” said Ritchie in an interview, who added that if a member lives close to the Capitol, “they have the advantage that it’s easier for them to go home than it is for senators from Hawaii or Alaska, but on the other hand if home is that close then it’s easier to be called on.”
Harris said the 3-hour drive from Maryland isn’t that bad, and he’s hoping to bring his son along with one of his daughters when he returns to preside again on September 2. The real long haul will be Denham’s trek from northern California. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
The group has singled out their intent to stop Obama from appointing Richard Cordray as the director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Several of the freshmen used a similar maneuver over the July Fourth recess.
“Republicans are holding that hostage because they want changes in financial reform before they agree to an appointment there,” said Michele Swers, an associate professor in Georgetown University’s government department.
In years past the table has been turned, however. Democrats prevented President George W. Bush from making recess appointments when they controlled the Senate.
Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) famously gaveled the Senate into session each day over the winter recess in 2007 to prevent Bush from appointing Steven Bradbury to be the Justice Department’s top legislative counsel. Democrats objected to Bradbury’s alleged role in approving harsh interrogation techniques for the CIA to use on suspected terrorists. One of Webb’s sessions lasted nine seconds.
As Congress has become more politically divisive in recent years, the temptation for presidents to make recess nominations has grown substantially, said Swers.
“You see an increase in pro forma sessions and hold tactics on nominations now because of the polarization of Congress, which increases the likelihood of recess appointments by the president,” she said.
President Clinton made 139 recess appointments, President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments, and Obama has made 21 recess appointments.