White House accuses GOP of ‘unprecedented’ obstruction of nominees
In announcing 15 "critical" recess appointments, the White House said the Obama administration has faced "an unprecedented level of obstruction" in the Senate with regard to its nominees.
"The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis," Obama said on Saturday. "I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government."
Obama has 217 nominees pending before the Senate, and they have been on hold an average of 101 days, including 34 nominees who have been awaiting confirmation for more than six months. The recess appointments' nominations had been in limbo for an average of seven months.
The White House statement said at the same point of his presidency, George W. Bush made 15 recess appointments without facing the same level of obstruction. At this time in 2002, Bush had five nominees pending on the Senate floor, while Obama has 77 awaiting confirmation.
"One might say it would be appropriate for a president of the majority party to expect more out of the Senate than what Bush got as a minority party president, but he hasn't," said Terry Sullivan, co-founder and executive director of the nonpartisan White House Transition Project.
As of Jan. 20, Obama had announced 56 more nominees than Bush had at the same point in his first term, but the Senate had confirmed seven fewer of Obama's nominees.
Several issues, besides obstructionism, could be affecting confirmation delays, Sullivan said. During the first six months of any administration, the Senate is quick to take up nominations, according to the transition project staff. After June of a president's first year, however, the amount of time it takes the Senate to make a decision increases dramatically.
"The executive branch has an entire apparatus for handling nominees… but when you look at the Senate side, except for the Judiciary Committee, there is not staff allocation specifically aimed at nominees," he said. "What happens is the responsibility for vetting nominees falls on staff whose priority is policymaking. There's a slowdown on the Senate side because staff is being pulled in two different directions."
Sullivan said Obama's ambitious policy goals could be exacerbating this pattern, which has remained consistent during the past three administrations.
"The president's agenda has been quite substantial compared to predecessors," he said. "It's quite possible this [delay] is an indictment of the majority party as much as it is an indictment on the minority party in terms of evidence."