Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) responded by allowing votes on twenty-seven of those nominees. Obama responded by, in essence, backing away from his threat:
Today, the United States Senate confirmed 27 of my high-level nominees, many of whom had been awaiting a vote for months.
At the beginning of the week, a staggering 63 nominees had been stalled in the Senate because one or more senators placed a hold on their nomination. In most cases, these holds have had nothing to do with the nominee's qualifications or even political views, and these nominees have already received broad, bipartisan support in the committee process.
Instead, many holds were motivated by a desire to leverage projects for a Senator's state or simply to frustrate progress. It is precisely these kinds of tactics that enrage the American people.
And so on Tuesday, I told Senator McConnell that if Republican senators did not release these holds, I would exercise my authority to fill critically-needed positions in the federal government temporarily through the use of recess appointments. This is a rare but not unprecedented step that many other presidents have taken. Since that meeting, I am gratified that Republican senators have responded by releasing many of these holds and allowing 29 nominees to receive a vote in the Senate.
While this is a good first step, there are still dozens of nominees on hold who deserve a similar vote, and I will be looking for action from the Senate when it returns from recess. If they do not act, I reserve the right to use my recess appointment authority in the future.
(Why 29? Either two get voted on today, or two got rejected by the Senate yesterday- that I don't know.)
The important points here are:
(1) Obama has, in this statement, essentially agreed NOT to use the recess appointment power during the coming two-week Presidents' Day recess.
(2) 63 - 29 = 34. That means Obama has, to all practical purposes, surrendered on getting up-or-down votes for over half his remaining appointees.
(3) And finally, Obama presents the recess appointment power as "a rare but not unprecedented step," when in reality it is absolutely nothing of the sort.
I generally have a low opinion of Ezra Klien over at the Washington Post, but this time he hits it right on the head:
As if to thank them, the White House promptly shot itself in the foot... At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush had made 10 recess appointments. Over the course of his presidency, he would make almost 200. Bill Clinton made about 150. In describing recess appointments as "a rare but not unprecedented step," Obama made it harder to actually make any, because he's defined the procedure -- which, unlike the hold, is a defined constitutional power of the president rather than a courtesy observed in the Senate -- as an extraordinary last-resort. He also promised, later in the statement, that he wouldn't make any appointments this recess.
. . .
Worse, why explain the recess appointment as some sort of emergency measure? At what point does the administration accept that its success is dependent on finding ways to avoid being filibustered? Reconciliation can't be considered a nuclear option and recess appointments can't be saved for special cases. George W. Bush understood this and used reconciliation and recess appointments routinely in his first year. That meant it was no story when he used the processes for his next seven years. Obama is making the very consideration of these measures a story, which means any decision to actually use them will be a big deal and will make the president look like a bare-knuckle partisan.
And this, I think, is the nub of the matter. Barack Obama's version of rolling back the imperial presidency is NOT divesting the presidency of the unconstitutional power seized by George W. Bush and his predecessors of both parties. Instead, it's an attempt to yield more power to Congress- power to craft legislation, power to approve or reject executive branch officials, power to- in essence- determine the whole agenda of the federal government.
Put another way, Obama believes that a president should not be a leader. He's extremely loathe to take the initiative on ANYTHING, and he will go out of his way, even damaging or outright repudiating his proclaimed policy goals, to leave decision-making power to Congress...
... which has demonstrated, repeatedly, that it CANNOT lead, CANNOT make decisions.
Obama is acting as if he's still a US Senator.
We need a PRESIDENT.
And I don't think we've got one just now.