Republican lawmakers begin pushback against Obama recess appointments

Congressional Republicans are looking to employ a number of tactics, both conventional and novel, to push back against President Obama for his recent quartet of recess appointments.

GOP lawmakers are still steaming over the White House decision to ignore brief pro forma Senate sessions to single-handedly name three members to the National Labor Relations Board and Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Republicans have almost unanimously criticized the move as an unprecedented power grab that upturns nearly a century of precedent. But beyond irate statements, lawmakers are taking varied approaches to actually challenging the appointments.

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Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (R-Utah) vowed Thursday that he would now be a consistent thorn in the administration’s side when it comes to future nominations.

“Given this President’s blatant and egregious disregard both for proper constitutional procedures and the Senate’s unquestioned role in such appointments, I find myself duty-bound to resist the consideration and approval of additional nominations until the President takes steps to remedy the situation,” the freshman Republican told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Lee did not lay out exactly how he planned to get in the way of the president’s nominations, but rather is considering all possible ways to be disruptive, up to and including placing holds on certain selections, according to his spokesman.

“It could mean something as little as he just refuses as a protest vote for any of the nominees or it could mean more significant action to block the nominees going forward,” said Lee’s spokesman, Brian Phillips.

Lee’s motivation is “putting the president on notice,” and future holds on nominees “is on the table,” he added.

With key executive branch positions either empty or being temporarily filled by acting officials, a broad GOP blockade on future picks could make work substantially more difficult in multiple areas. In particular, several top spots at financial regulators remain unfilled, even as those agencies are scrambling to implement the sweeping Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

In the House, lawmakers have less direct methods to frustrate the administration, but instead have employed a time-tested method of applying public pressure on an issue – probing hearings. The same day Cordray was appointed to his position, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) asked him to testify before his House Oversight subcommittee panel. When Cordray appeared Wednesday, the hearing was less about Cordray’s plan for his agency, and more an opportunity to further bash the president in a public setting for the decision.

The full Oversight Committee plans to keep the issue in the spotlight with another hearing Wednesday on the president’s recess appointment decision. Specifically, this hearing will focus on the fallout for businesses regulated by the CFPB and NLRB, given the existing and expected legal challenges to the appointments, and what uncertainty that might create.

The Senate is holding its own hearings tied to the issue, as Cordray is slated to appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. But one lawmaker who will not be there to grill the new director is Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Hillicon Valley: Democratic state AGs sue to block T-Mobile-Sprint merger | House kicks off tech antitrust probe | Maine law shakes up privacy debate | Senators ask McConnell to bring net neutrality to a vote Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach MORE (R-Miss.). Wicker is taking the novel approach of publicly boycotting the hearing, as he argues that since Cordray was not legitimately appointed, he cannot be legitimately questioned as a director.

"I will not provide the administration with the appearance of legitimacy in this action, and I will therefore not be in attendance at next Tuesday's hearing,” he said on the Senate floor.

Another option for combating the appointments lies in the courts. Republicans and business groups immediately warned of legal challenges to the appointments. Earlier this month, the National Right to Work Foundation filed a motion challenging the legality of the move. While the Cordray appointment has yet to be challenged in court, many believe it will just be a matter of time.

For its part, the White House argues that the president’s move was justified and defensible. Cordray’s nomination had been stalled in the Senate even before he was selected, as most Senate Republicans announced in May they would block any director for the CFPB unless several changes were made to the agency’s structure. And the new agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law could not fully realize its new powers without a director in place.

The NLRB was stuck without a quorum before the Obama appointments, making it impossible for the labor watchdog to issue rules and regulations.

A few days after the appointments the Justice Department released a memo arguing that the recess appointments were valid. Since the pro forma sessions last just a few seconds, they do not constitute a legitimate work period for the Senate and can be ignored for the purpose of recess appointments, the memo stated.