By Juan Williams - 04/15/13 09:00 AM EDT
At the top of the official spring list of priorities for the House GOP, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) has an odd but telling item — crippling the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Just as GOP filibusters have stalled President Obama’s legislative agenda in the Senate, the party is pursuing a parallel strategy of preventing the administration from governing by blocking nominees for boards and agencies.
Destroying the NLRB is only a secondary effort in the overall GOP strategy.
The more audacious move is to choke off the president’s power to put people of his choosing on the federal courts.
There are now 17 appeals court vacancies and Republicans in the Senate have blocked confirmation votes for six nominees.
That strategy is so brassy that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has written a bill to cut the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit from 11 to eight. His clear intent is to stop Obama and the Democrats from ever having a majority on the court.
Blocking the second highest court in the nation from properly functioning is a double win for the GOP. Not only do the Republicans keep the White House nominees off the court but they are also halting rulings on the activities of federal agencies. Without court decisions to back them up, the agencies can be blocked at any turn by threats of litigation.
The D.C. Circuit, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recently explained, is responsible for much of the litigation centered on federal regulatory agencies. For example, the courts often have the final word on the EPA’s controversial rulings on air and water quality. Those are major targets of GOP obstruction.
Next to the federal courts, the NLRB is the focus of Republican efforts to defeat the president’s power because the GOP sees fundraising gold in telling the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and big corporations that they are preventing Democrats from giving unions the right to more easily organize.
The unions, with their falling membership numbers, want the NLRB to approve “Card Check,” a plan that allows employees to simply check off a desire to join the union instead of participating in a secret organizing vote.
The unions, major financial contributors to Democrats, argue that corporations control the supposedly secret elections because they can set up meetings to oppose union organizing during business hours and can compel workers to listen to anti-union messages from supervisors.
To the contrary, big business contends that since “Card Check” is often done in public — not in secret — it allows unions to intimidate workers who otherwise do not want to join any union.
The heart of the Republican effort to handcuff a likely pro-union Democratic majority on the NLRB is a bill introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). The bill, which passed the House last week, will actually shut down the NLRB.
The congressman justifies that extraordinary step by arguing that a January court decision makes any ruling by the NLRB illegal. The court found that Congress was not technically in recess when Obama, in an effort to get around Republican filibusters of his nominees, made recess appointments to the board.
Roe is clear about the politics behind his efforts to tie the NLRB’s hands:
“The NLRB has taken a sharp turn to the left instead of acting as an impartial umpire,” he wrote in The Hill last week. “We must protect workers and employers alike, and continued Board activity does the exact opposite.”
The problem for Roe is that Obama nominated two Republicans to the NLRB in early April. Putting “qualified individuals,” including some Republicans, on the board is exactly what the GOP leadership , including Cantor, asked the president to do in a letter sent to the White House after the court’s January ruling.
The president’s decision to include Republican nominees to meet the GOP’s call for “qualified individuals,” on the NLRB weakens the GOP’s charge that this White House wants a hyper-partisan NLRB.
At the moment the Republicans are wide open to attacks that they are so preoccupied with partisan politics that they have forgotten about the need for the government to enforce the nation’s labor law.
Nevertheless, Republicans have chosen to ignore the president’s new nominees and instead remain focused on breaking the agency.
At some point Reid will have to confront the success of GOP legislative filibusters and the refusal to vote on nominees.
At some other point, it is likely to occur to GOP members that they are setting a precedent for Democrats whenever the next Republican is voted into the White House.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.