Republicans on Sunday excoriated President Obama for ignoring bipartisan opposition to a top Labor Department nominee and going ahead with a recess appointment after the Senate left Capitol Hill for spring break.
On Saturday, Mr. Obama made 15 recess appointments to fill key administration posts at the Departments of the Treasury, Homeland Security and others. Among them was Craig Becker, a former union lawyer tapped to head the National Labor Relations Board whose nomination has been filibustered by senators on both sides of the aisle.
"What it's called is checks and balances," Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander said on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "And what the president has done here is throw fuel on the fire."
But the White House defended the move, noting that the nominees had been pending in the Senate for an average of 214 days. Advisers also pointed out that former President George W. Bush had made 15 recess appointments by this time in his presidency.
"The Republican Party has taken a position where they're going to try and slow and block progress on all fronts whether it's legislation or appointments," senior White House adviser David Axelrod told CNN. "In a number of instances, there were filibusters to hold up appointments for weeks. And then when they finally were broken, a majority of Democrats and Republicans ended up voting for the nominees. It was just an exercise in obstructionism."
Nominations are perennially controversial, with the president's party accusing the opposition of slow-walking administration picks for Cabinet posts and the federal bench. Republicans similarly accused Democrats of stalling Mr. Bush's nominees when they were in control of the Senate.
The surprise victory of Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts, which gave the GOP 41 votes in the Senate, has made confirmation even more difficult for Democrats this year. Mr. Alexander warned that the recess appointments will backfire on Democrats come Election Day.
"What this is going to do is cause the election of a lot more Republican Scott Browns in November who are determined to come in and provide some checks and balances in Washington to stop the overreaching of the government," the Tennessee Republican said.
The Constitution gives presidents the power to appoint nominees who would otherwise require Senate confirmation while the chamber is in recess. The appointments expire at the end the next legislative session, which in this case means the end of 2011.
One of Mr. Bush's most notable recess appointments was John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Bolton was filibustered by Senate Democrats.
In its announcement Saturday, the White House cited "months of Republican obstructionism."
"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," Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Becker, a former AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union lawyer, has been the target of fierce opposition as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have warned he would pursue union interests at the expense of employers, including a stalled piece of legislation that would make union organizing easier.
"With today's recess appointment, President Obama has completely undone his own argument concerning job creation and traded away any credibility his administration might have on the economy," the Workforce Fairness Institute said in a statement Saturday. "Let's be frank about what Becker's recess appointment really is; it's a payoff to union bosses at the expense of America's employers and employees. Our nation's job creators will not soon forget that the country's chief executive turned his back on them in favor of rewarding political patrons advocating job-killing policies."
In addition to the departments of Treasury, Homeland Security and Commerce, the appointments included several nominees to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Farm Credit Board.
On Friday night, Mr. Obama's second nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration withdrew his nomination amid controversy over his work as a defense contractor.
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