Senate blocks recess appointments with deal between Dems, GOP

Senate Democrats struck a deal Wednesday night with Republicans that will keep President Obama from making recess appointments while Congress is out of town campaigning for the midterm elections.

Democratic leaders have agreed to schedule pro-forma sessions of the Senate every week over the next six weeks, a move that will prevent Obama from making emergency appointments, according to Senate sources briefed on the talks.

Democrats agreed to the pro forma sessions to keep Republicans from sending Obama's most controversial nominees back to him while lawmakers are out of town. Such a move would have forced the president to resubmit the nominees to the Senate and Democrats to start their confirmation processes (including hearings) all over again.

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Democrats agreed earlier Wednesday to a Republican demand to cut spending levels for government agencies in order to pass a stop-gap spending measure.

They are eager to get back home to defend their record to voters and they couldn’t do that until the spending bill passed.

Under the law, the president can only make a recess appointment if the Senate is adjourned for more than three consecutive days.

By scheduling pro forma sessions twice a week, lawmakers can take away Obama’s ability to make recess appointments.

Obama had more than 110 executive- and judicial-branch nominees pending on the Senate’s executive calendar as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate approved 54 of Obama’s nominees late Wednesday evening, including a dozen ambassadors, 11 U.S. Marshals and six U.S. attorneys.

The Senate confirmed Sarah Raskin to serve as a member and Janel Yellen to serve as a member and chair of the Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve. The chamber also confirmed Maria Raffinan as an associate judge of the D.C. Superior Court, the only judicial nominee on the list.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had threatened to send Obama’s most controversial nominees back to the president if Democrats did not agree to schedule pro-forma sessions, according to a senior GOP aide.

Senate rules give McConnell this power.

McConnell sent a batch of nominees — including five controversial judicial nominees — back to the White House in August.

His move was seen retaliation for Obama’s decision to give Donald Berwick a recess appointment to serve as the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Under Senate rules, the chamber may only carry over pending nominees during an extended recess if senators agree by unanimous consent.

Senators rarely invoke this rule, but McConnell threatened to object unless Democrats agreed to prevent Obama from making recess appointments.

The deal saved several of Obama’s most controversial nominees from a reset.

Goodwin Liu, a nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit; Robert Chatigny, a nominee to the 2nd Circuit; and John McConnell, Jr., a nominee to the federal district court of Rhode Island, were in danger.

"They are among the most controversial nominees this White House has sent to the Senate and among the least likely to have anywhere near unanimous consent to remain on the calendar," said a GOP aide.

The House will stand adjourned until Nov. 15, a date designated by a concurrent resolution passed Wednesday.

The Senate will stand in recess or adjourned until Friday, Nov. 12.

Senators aren’t expected to return until Nov. 15, according to a Democratic leadership aide.

The Senate will convene in pro forma session on Tuesdays and Fridays from Oct. 1 to Oct. 29. It will also convene in pro forma session on Nov. 1, Nov. 4,  Nov. 8, Nov. 10 and Nov. 12.

This article was updated at 9:45 a.m. and 11:31 a.m. on Sept. 30.