WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans late Thursday declared victory in their effort to use a procedural maneuver to thwart the president from making any recess appointments during Congress' Memorial Day break.
Congressional aides say the Senate will not go on a formal recess but instead will technically stay in session, making it highly unlikely that the president would use his constitutional power to make appointments while the Senate is on break. The so-called recess appointments are usually reserved for longer congressional vacations that occur after the Senate has officially adjourned.
A group of conservative Republicans had urged the House to block the Senate from adjourning as a way to prevent the president from tapping his consumer advocate adviser Elizabeth Warren to head the controversial Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new consumer watchdog agency created by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.
"The House will not be sending an adjournment resolution to the Senate, we will remain in pro forma session, and no controversial nominees will be allowed to circumvent the confirmation process during the break," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), one of the 20 Republicans who urged the House to block the Senate from going on recess, in a statement Thursday night. When the Senate, controlled by Democrats, wants to recess or adjourn, the Republican-controlled House must approve a resolution allowing the break. The Senate can only recess for up to three days without consent from the House.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) concurred that Senate has not formally let out. "We weren't anticipating recess appointments, but we're in pro forma because the Republicans are blocking adjournment," said the spokesman by email.
More than a dozen Republican senators, in a letter Wednesday, urged the House to block the Senate from going on recess. In the letter, Sens. David Vitter (R., La.), Jim DeMint and others said the president is using recess appointments to circumvent the Senate and fill powerful positions "with individuals whose views are so outside the mainstream" that they could never win Senate approval.
They noted that in 2007, the Senate limited its recesses in an attempt to thwart President George W. Bush's recess appointment powers, and they urged Boehner to help them use the same procedural tactics to block Obama from circumventing the Senate nomination review process.
The proposed procedural tactic is the latest example of Republican ire over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key plank of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul that Congress approved despite objections from the financial industry and conservative Republicans.
"Given President Obama's indifference to the Senate's constitutional authority, and the American people's right to scrutinize his appointees through regular order of advise and consent, we urge you to refuse to pass any resolution to allow the Senate to recess or adjourn for more than three days for the remainder of the president's term," the senators said in the letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).
Republicans have sought to slash the consumer bureau's funding and blunt the agency's powers over the financial industry; the bureau will have authority over mortgages, credit cards and other financial products when it starts up this summer. Earlier this month, nearly all of the Senate's Republicans vowed to block any nominee for the consumer protection agency unless the bureau's governance structure and funding mechanism were overhauled.
That GOP pledge has made it more likely that the president will bypass the likely contentious Senate review process in order to install a director of the consumer bureau by its July 21 launch date.