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Recess redress: Obama is right to appoint his blocked nominees

Written by Susan Mannella on .

President Barack Obama's decision to make 15 so-called recess appointments to key positions in his administration, absent Senate action, was correct in terms of the interests of the American people.

The normal way that presidential appointments are made to important positions in the government of any president is that the president nominates the person, then the Senate meets, first at the relevant committee level, then at the level of the full Senate, to vote on the nominee.

If the nomination is approved, the person then serves in the position until he (or she) resigns, or the president fires the person, or the end of the administration comes, when the person is obliged by custom to resign, to permit the new -- or even returning -- president to either renew the appointment or make a new one to the position.

A recess appointment is one that the president makes when the Senate is not in session. It is valid only until the end of the congressional session, in the current case, until late 2011.

There are two problems with recess appointments. The first is that the Senate has not played the constitutional role -- called "advice and consent" -- that it is supposed to play in the installation in office of a senior appointee. That means, first, that the appointee's mandate is flawed: He or she does not have the stamp of approval that Senate confirmation of the appointment bestows. This absence can affect effectiveness in office.

The second problem is that the appointment has a time limit on it, probably in advance of the end of the administration in power. That means that the bureaucrats who work for the officeholder, and those doing business with that person who may have a differing point of view on a given issue, have an incentive simply to wait him out and hope for a more sympathetic successor.

The advantage of a recess appointment is that the president and the people have in office the person whom the president considers to be competent to carry out the duties of the job, even if for a limited period. President George W. Bush made 171.

The reason Mr. Obama made these 15 appointments is Republican senators' obstruction of the normal process. They have exercised their "right" by Senate custom to hold up some 77 of Mr. Obama's appointments. Sometimes Senate rejection of a candidate is appropriate. It recently blocked his nomination of Robert A. Harding, a retired Army major general, as head of the Transportation Security Administration because of Mr. Harding's company's questionable performance as a defense contractor. The objections senators made to Mr. Harding's appointment were pertinent and he should have been rejected.

However, many of the "holds" that senators have put on Mr. Obama's nominees have been much cruder than that, coming close to corruption when what senators are trying to get in return for removing the "hold" on an appointment is tied to the interests of their campaign contributors.

Mr. Obama was entirely correct to break out of this Senate-sponsored folly and disservice to the American people by making the recess appointments he has made so far. He should not hesitate to proceed. In doing so he is acting clearly in the interests of the American people whom the freed nominees will serve.

  

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