The prospect of recess appointments

THE PROSPECT OF RECESS APPOINTMENTS…. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), just as an institutional matter, has generally frowned upon recess appointments. Reid wants to see the Senate do its job and give nominees up-or-down votes, rather than have the White House circumvent the Senate altogether.

But in the face of scandalous Republican obstructionism, Reid has decided some recess appointments are necessary. The Majority Leader “has decided that enough is enough and would support such a move,” spokesman Jim Manley said late Friday. In particular, Reid has told White House officials that he would endorse President Obama appointing Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to fill two longstanding vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board.

“Harry doesn’t like it, but he’ll tolerate it for the NLRB guys,” a senior Democrat said.

Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin want the president to go even further, using recess appointments to advance dozens of pending nominees.

The right has a different perspective.

Despite the inability to move on those nominations, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl said the GOP would react “very strongly” if Obama bypasses the upper chamber and installs appointees without its blessing.

“They’ve already broken a lot of rules and traditions around here to try to ram health care through with the sort of arrogance of power,” Kyl told POLITICO. “If they were to do that, it would make it very difficult to have bipartisan cooperation.”

Reminded of George W. Bush’s recess appointments, Kyl said, “It has to be done very sparingly” and should not be done on controversial nominees such as Becker.

Kyl is one of the Senate’s dimmest bulbs, and his threat of withholding “bipartisan cooperation” if the president uses his recess-appointment power is almost comically silly.

Nevertheless, here are a few relevant details Kyl may want to consider:

1. Health care reform passed through an entirely legitimate process. No rules were broken, no traditions were ignored. In short, Kyl doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. The only tradition that’s been ignored of late is the one that allows the Senate to vote on legislation, and it’s Kyl’s party that is ignoring the way the Senate used to, and was designed to, operate.

2. Recess appointments aren’t exactly new, at least not in recent years. Clinton made 139 during his two terms, and Bush made 179. Obama’s total thus far? Zero. Two recess appointments, in this context, hardly constitutes “arrogance of power.”

3. A majority of the Senate supports both Becker and Pearce. Kyl and his GOP cohorts want the president to ignore the will of the Senate — while demanding that Obama honor “the will of the Senate.”

4. Kyl considered Becker “controversial,” and thus ineligible for a recess appointment. But Bush used recess appointments on extremists like Charles Pickering and John Bolton, and did so with Kyl’s blessing.

I don’t doubt that Kyl & Co. will whine incessantly if President Obama uses his authority on this, but the truth is, they’re going to whine incessantly anyway.