WASHINGTON – The Obama administration moved Saturday to fill 15 economic posts whose nominations are held up in Congress, bypassing the formal Senate confirmation process – a decision 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 Obama has 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 President Barack Obama would name Donald M. Berwick, a pediatrician who has pushed hospitals to lower costs and improve care, to head a critical agency overseeing parts of the new health-care legislation.
White House officials contended that many of the nominees had bipartisan support, 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 that it has 77 nominees on the floor of the Senate awaiting a vote – 44 of them waiting more than a month. At a comparable time in his presidency, George W. Bush had only five nominees awaiting a vote, said Jen Psaki, the 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.
Besides Becker, the Obama administration appointments appear to be mostly technocratic, not ideological appointees. They include undersecretaries in the Commerce and Treasury departments and posts in agencies and on boards.