OBAMA’S RESPONSE TO SCANDALOUS OBSTRUCTIONISM…. It’s not like Senate Republicans gave President Obama much of a choice.

The White House has sent dozens of qualified nominees to the Senate for key government posts. If given up-or-down votes, the nominees would be confirmed, so Republicans have blocked votes at a rate unseen in American history. Consider: at this point in Bush’s presidency, there were five nominees pending on the Senate floor. For Obama, the number is 77.

The president had to decide whether to tolerate GOP obstructionism undermining the government’s ability to function. Obama made his perspective quite clear yesterday afternoon.

President Obama, making a muscular show of his executive authority just one day after Congress left for spring recess, said Saturday that he would bypass the Senate and install 15 appointees, including a union lawyer whose nomination to the National Labor Relations Board was blocked last month with the help of two Democrats.

Coming on the heels of Mr. Obama’s big victory on health care legislation, Saturday’s move suggests a newly emboldened president who is unafraid to provoke a confrontation with the minority party.

Just two days ago, all 41 Senate Republicans sent Mr. Obama a letter urging him not to appoint the union lawyer, Craig Becker, during the recess. Mr. Obama’s action, in defiance of the Republicans, was hailed by union leaders, but it also seemed certain to intensify the partisan rancor that has enveloped Washington.

“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disprove of my nominees,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis.”

The full list of nominees to receive recess appointments is online here. On average, the 15 nominees have waited seven months for an up-or-down vote, but Republicans have blocked them all, knowing that the will of the Senate would lead to their confirmation. This was the first time Obama has made use of this power

The president said in a statement, “I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government.”

It’s worth fully appreciating the extent to which the president’s move reflects deep animosity. Kevin Drum explained the context of the National Labor Relations Board move, in particular.

Years ago, after Republicans filibustered a Carter nominee to the NLRB, the two parties made a deal: the board would have three appointees from the president’s party and two from the other party. So after he took office Obama nominated two Democrats and one Republican to fill the NLRB’s three vacant seats and got support from a couple of Republicans on the HELP committee for the entire slate. But when it got to the Senate floor John McCain put a hold on Becker, and his nomination — along with the others — died.

Fast forward to today and Obama finally decides to fill the board using recess appointments. But what does he do? He only appoints the two Democrats. This is not what you do if you’re trying to make nice. It’s what you do if you’re playing hardball and you want to send a pointed message to the GOP caucus. You won’t act on my nominees? Fine. I’ll appoint my guys and then leave it up to you to round up 50 votes in the Senate for yours. Have fun.

Again, the patient president seemed reluctant to go down this road, but petty Republicans just kept pushing. Yesterday, Obama pushed back.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.