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Obama & the recess appointments

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POSTED January 9, 2012 9:09 p.m.

Finally.

That’s all that needs to be said about President Barack Obama’s decision last week to stop playing footsy with GOP U.S. Senators and push through the recess appointments of his head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board.

Republicans are in a tizzy, saying Obama is establishing a bad precedent with the moves. But frankly, they need to shut up. It has been their shameful and callous actions in holding up countless presidential nominees that has led us to this precarious moment in political history.

But let’s not act like Senate Democrats are standing on firm moral ground. They were also obstructionists during the final few years of President George W. Bush’s second term, and they played the same game of hideaway as the Republicans are doing now, even though the GOP has taken to stalling to extraordinary heights.

As for President Obama, he has played nice for far too long, unwilling to load up his administration with his appointees through the constitutionally protected recess appointments.

It’s hilarious to listen to strict-constructionist conservatives talk about the U.S. Constitution as a hallowed document — only to hear their chagrin when someone actually follows it. Every president has the right to make recess appointments, and if you listen to the GOP critics, you’ll swear presidents George H.W. Bush and his son didn’t use the power of recess appointments to fill vacancies. But they did, specifically with the National Labor Relations Board, the same group the GOP has been blocking Obama from filling three open slots.

This is the silly partisan game that I can’t stand. Every president should be able to appoint a team to his liking. Yes, the U.S. Constitution says the U.S. Senate gets to “advise and consent,” but it says nothing about holding up in perpetuity.

It’s shameful when a president makes an appointment, and that person goes six months to nearly two years before he gets a hearing or an up-and-down vote. The U.S. Senate should be able and willing to move a lot faster when filling vacancies, but the partisan divide keeps that from happening.

With Obama in office, the GOP doesn’t want to see what they describe as liberal judges appointed to the federal bench, and if there is a Republican in the White House, Democrats voice their anger at conservative judges being appointed. Folks, that’s what happens in elections. There are consequences to winning and losing.

For Obama, his willingness to take on the Congress directly is a welcome departure from the reach-out-and-touch-someone philosophy that he operated by the last three years. Look, I understand bipartisanship, and we should have folks from both parties acting like grown-ups and getting along, but if you look at the overwhelming number of Obama’s appointees being held up, it’s clear that this system is broken.

Weakness is nothing to be happy about. And too often, Obama has operated more on the weak and meek side when dealing with Congress than the strong leader with conviction that I and others desire. This decision, coupled with the far more aggressive tone he has taken with his critics, has led to an increase in his poll numbers, and is the kind of fire in the belly his supporters are happy to see.

The fear is that the president will fall back in the mode of walking softly with a big stick. Sorry, when folks are misbehaving, you have to whack them upside the head with that big stick in order for them to get the message.

The GOP can crow all day about these appointments. They’re likely to lose if they challenge the president in court. Maybe their continuing intransigence will keep President Obama operating with a short fuse, ready to explode on the opposition when warranted.

Now that’s a change in attitude we can believe in.

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