Senate Blocks Bush 'Recess' Appointments
November 24, 2007

WASHINGTON - Two days before Thanksgiving the Senate had a 22-second session, a fleeting moment in the life of an occasionally droning body but plenty of time for majority Democrats to keep President Bush from making "recess" appointments.

Senators have been taking turns standing sentry duty this week -- just to prevent Bush from circumventing the confirmation process by immediately installing people in federal posts while the chamber is in recess. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who carried out that less than glamorous task Tuesday, is a relative newcomer, a low-ranking freshman and a senator who lives just minutes from the Capitol; he wielded his gavel before an empty chamber Tuesday, devoid of senators and even the young pages who serve as messengers.

"I'd much rather be doing this than allow the president to skirt the confirmation process in the Senate," Webb said in a statement. "This is an exercise in protecting the Constitution and our constitutional process."

The Senate must confirm major presidential appointments and judicial nominations, providing a constant source of confrontation between the White House and Senate Democrats. But when the Senate is off, as it is now for the Thanksgiving holiday, the president can make recess appointments that are not subject to confirmation hearings. These appointees can serve until the end of the congressional session, which at this point would be until Bush leaves office.

Among the more controversial recess appointments Bush has made have included John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations and Sam Fox, a GOP fundraiser and contributor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign, as ambassador to Belgium.

Showing the level of distrust between the White House and the Democrats, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that he would employ, apparently for the first time, what are called "pro forma" sessions as a tactic to technically keep the Senate on the job and stop recess appointments.

A pro forma session, during which no legislative business is conducted, satisfies the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

These pro forma sessions will continue throughout the current holiday recess.

Reid blamed the president for the move, saying the White House had been stalling on Democratic-recommended positions to several independent agencies. Agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are by law required to have Democratic representation.

Reid, in a floor speech, last week, said he would confirm various appointments if the administration would agree to move on Democratic appointments. "They would not make that commitment."

White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said the Senate had failed to act on some 190 pending nominations, including key spots in the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs. "If the Senate would provide fair hearings and votes the question of recession appointments would never be a topic of discussion."

According to the Senate historian's office, Bush has made 165 recess appointments, putting him fourth in recent history behind Ronald Reagan with 243, Harry Truman with 195 and Dwight Eisenhower with 193. Bill Clinton made 140 recess appointments.

Webb's office said Webb was leaving for a trip to Iraq next week, and several other Democrats with homes in the Washington area would take the role of single-handedly running the Senate, if only for a few seconds.

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