Senate Blocks Possibility of Recess Appointments

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President Bush won't make any recess appointments during the Thanksgiving holiday while Congress in on a two-week recess. Under the U.S. Constitution he could name judges and agency heads. But the Senate met in a pro forma session so it wouldn't technically be in recess.


One thing President Bush won't be doing over the holidays is making any recess appointments. Under the constitution, he could take the opportunity to appoint judges and agency heads without lawmakers' consent while Congress is on a two-week break. But the Senate met fleetingly yesterday in pro forma sessions so it wouldn't technically be in recess.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: It was the same fanfare that always precedes C-SPAN's live broadcast of Senate sessions, but there was only one senator - Virginia Democrat Jim Webb - gaveling in yesterday's pro forma session.

Senator JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): The Senate will come to order. The court will read a communication to the Senate.

WELNA: What the clerk read was the day's only order of business.

CLERK: Washington, D.C., November 20th, 2007, to the Senate. Under the provisions of Rule 1, Paragraph 3 of the standing rules of the Senate, I hereby appoint the honorable Jim Webb, a senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia, to perform the duties of the chair. Signed Robert C. Byrd, president pro tempore.

WELNA: And with that, Webb brought the session to its swift conclusion.

Sen. WEBB: Under the previous order, the Senate stands in recess until Friday, November 23rd, 2007 at 10:00 a.m.

WELNA: Thus ended a Senate session that had lasted precisely 30 seconds. Moments later, Webb paused outside the Capitol to answer questions about the brief spectacle he just presided over.

Sen. WEBB: Okay.

NAYLOR: So what was the purpose of this thing that we just went through here?

Sen. WEBB: Preserving the Constitution, actually. You know, the propriety of the Constitution, I mean I think that this administration, just like in a number of other areas, is of abusing the goodwill of how the Constitution's supposed to work. I mean, they're not supposed to be appointing people for long-term tenure based on the Senate being out of session for a week. So we are making sure that doesn't happen.

WELNA: Democrats were especially concerned about a recess appointment of Surgeon General nominee James Holsinger, who's drawn criticism for his conservative views on homosexuality.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell went along with the pro forma sessions because he really had no other choice except working through the holiday, according to spokesman Don Stewart.

Mr. DON STEWART (Spokesman for Senator McConnell): Purely political - or purely procedural - excuse me - purely procedural.

NAYLOR: You started to say it was purely political. Do you think it is political?

Mr. STEWART: Maybe it was a Freudian slip. But they accomplished about as much today as they have in the entire last month on funding troops, so it's not really a surprise that it happened that way.

WELNA: Associate Senate historian Don Ritchie says Majority Leader Harry Reid may in fact be breaking new ground with these sessions.

Mr. DON RITCHIE (Senate Historian): I'm not aware of any one - any time in which they've had this situation where they did it deliberately to prevent recess appointments. But I know that during the Reagan administration, Congress was very unhappy with the way the president was making recess appointments.

WELNA: Recess appointments at that time were even being made on weekends. But if Democrats don't want any more of them under this president, they'll have to keep holding regular or pro forma sessions at least every four days.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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