White House responds to obstructionism with six recess appointments

WHITE HOUSE RESPONDS TO OBSTRUCTIONISM WITH SIX RECESS APPOINTMENTS…. James Cole spent 13 years as Justice Department official, and is an accomplished attorney. When President Obama nominated him to be the deputy attorney general — the second highest-ranking position in the department, effectively Justice’s chief operating officer — few questioned Cole’s qualifications or abilities.

But conservative Republicans didn’t like him. In particular, Cole had criticized Bush/Cheney’s dubious national security tactics after 9/11, which drew GOP ire. Cole earned the support of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his nomination languished, waiting for a floor vote since July, the longest delay in history for a deputy AG nominee. The GOP decided it wasn’t enough to oppose Cole; it had to stop the Senate from voting at all.

Yesterday, the White House got tired of waiting.

President Obama said Wednesday that he intended to install six appointees — including James Cole, his controversial pick for the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department — while Congress is in recess. The move will allow them to serve without confirmation by the Senate, where their prospects will only grow dimmer once Republicans gain strength in January.

Mr. Obama, who is vacationing here on the island of Oahu with his family, made the announcement via news release, without any explanation or comment, other than to say that the posts have “been left vacant for an extended period of time.”

All six nominees — Cole, four ambassadors, and the official who runs the Government Printing Office — had the support of a Senate majority, but were blocked from receiving up-or-down votes.

Also of note is the president’s decision to appoint Robert Ford, a career diplomat, as the U.S. ambassador to Syria, a position that has been vacant since 2005. Republicans didn’t object to Ford, per se, but didn’t want the post filled at all. The administration insisted that having an ambassador to Syria was integral to U.S. diplomacy in the region.

In the larger context, Obama has shown considerable, almost frustrating, restraint when it comes to recess appointments — these six bring his total to 28 — in the face of a nominating process that has become paralyzed by unprecedented obstructionism. Indeed, the president could have been even more ambitious in this new announcement — there were 73 other administration nominees waiting for Senate floor votes who were denied confirmation and will have to be re-nominated.

I mention this, of course, because Senate Republicans are likely to throw a fit over these six appointments. It’s important that they realize that they broke this system, and left the White House with very little choice. The confirmation process wasn’t designed to work this way; it didn’t use to work this way; and it’s simply can’t work this way. The executive branch needs to function, and it can’t if key, high-ranking posts remain vacant because Republicans are unhappy about losing an election.

As is always the case with recess appointments, these six officials will be able to serve for one year, at which point they’ll either have to step down or go through the Senate confirmation process again.

Either way, I’m glad to see Obama use this power available to him. I’ve generally frowned on recess appointments, in part because the process is too easily abused, but under the circumstances, it’s become a necessary response to a very different kind of abuse at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.