Obama bypassing Senate to appoint key nominees

The Obama administration moved Saturday to fill 15 economic posts whose nominees are held up in Congress, bypassing the formal Senate confirmation process -- a decision that is sure to further anger and embitter Senate Republicans.

The move reflected the frustration within the White House about what they see as obstructionist actions by a Republican minority that is intent on blocking the administration’s agenda.

The Republicans saw the move as confirmation that President Obama had abandoned his pledges of trying to govern in a bipartisan way and further deepened their skepticism over the administration’s economic policy.

As the White House announced its intention to make the recess appointments, an administration official confirmed that Obama would name Donald M. Berwick, a pediatrician who has pushed hospitals to lower costs and improve care, to head a crucial agency overseeing parts of the new healthcare law.

Berwick, who would not be a recess appointee, has been tapped to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Many of the potential recess appointees had bipartisan support, White House officials contended, but had been caught up in holds placed by various GOP senators.

But at least one of the nominees, Craig Becker, a union lawyer nominated to the National Labor Relations Board, was deeply controversial. Union leaders, who have been disappointed with the White House’s failure to enact laws making it easier to organize workplaces, had demanded that the administration push Becker through.

All 41 Republican senators on Thursday urged Obama not to use a recess appointment for Becker.

“The president’s decision to override bipartisan Senate rejection of Craig Becker’s nomination is yet another episode of choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The White House said it had 77 nominees awaiting votes in the Senate -- 44 of whom have been waiting more than a month. At a comparable time in his presidency, George W. Bush had five nominees awaiting a vote, said Jen Psaki, White House deputy communications director.

Presidents are allowed to circumvent the constitutional requirement to seek the “advice and consent” of the Senate on nominations if Congress is in recess. Presidents of both parties have used the power to temporarily appoint controversial nominees or to try to clear logjams in the confirmation process.

In all, Bush made more than 170 recess appointments and President Clinton made about 140.

Bush used a recess appointment to install John R. Bolton as the U.N. ambassador over the objections of Democrats and liberal Republicans. Clinton used a recess appointment to install Bill Lann Lee to a key Justice Department job over the objections of many Republicans.

As a senator, Obama criticized the selection of Bolton and argued that, as a result of the recess appointment, the U.N. ambassador was “damaged goods.”

Besides Becker, the Obama administration appointments appear to be mostly technocratic, not ideological. They include undersecretaries in the Commerce and Treasury departments and posts in several agencies and boards.

15 economic posts