The Senate confirmed a huge group of administration nominees on Thursday, following a tense exchange between President Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
At a White House meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders on Tuesday, Obama warned that he would make recess appointments if the logjam over nominees wasn’t broken before the Senate left for the Presidents’ Day break.
“Mitch, this is unprecedented,” the president said, gesturing forcefully on the Cabinet Room table, according to aides. “If you don’t move any, I’m going to do some [recess] appointments.”
The 27 confirmations mean no recess appointments will be needed during this break, top administration officials said. Recess appointments, which a president can make when Congress is not in session, are temporary and generally last to the end of the year.
In a statement Thursday night, Obama said: "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. ... 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. ... 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."
Democrats say that McConnell blinked. Republicans contend that the list shows they’re not obstructionist.
A senior Senate Republican leadership aide said: "We cleared something like 35 nominees before the last recess, too. That’s what happens before a recess. This isn’t because anyone blinked."
According to an administration account, the president told McConnell that he was holding up an extraordinary number of appointments.
McConnell replied that the Democrats did the same thing when President George W. Bush was in office. Obama disagreed, saying that when Bush made his first recess appointments, a handful of nominees had been waiting for more than a month. Obama had more than 60 waiting.
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