President Trump threatened Wednesday to circumvent the Senate and unilaterally name people to federal posts using recess appointments during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump said he has the power to declare that both chambers of Congress are in recess so that he can make appointments and curtail Democratic opposition that has delayed judicial and other confirmations.
“The Senate should either fulfill its duty and vote on my nominees or it should formally adjourn so that I can make recess appointments,” Trump said in a White House press conference.
“It’s always roadblocks and a waste of time. If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress. The current practice of leaving town, while conducting phony pro forma sessions, is a dereliction of duty.”
The Democratic-held House and Republican-led Senate technically are still in session, though most lawmakers have left town. Both chambers are holding pro forma sessions until at least May 4, with most lawmakers not attending to pass legislation. These sessions prevent the president from making recess appointments.
Trump cited examples of holdups, saying he was outraged that Michael Peck’s nomination is still pending to lead the Broadcasting Board of Governor, whose Voice of America division Trump said is responsible for “disgusting” news coverage.
“If you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. What things they say are disgusting toward our country,” Trump said. “And Michael Peck would do a great job, but he’s been waiting now for two years.”
Trump cited other pending nominees, but not by name.
“There are currently 129 nominees stuck in the Senate because of partisan obstruction,” Trump said. “The positions include the director of national intelligence to members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the assistant secretary of Treasury for financial markets of the United States. And the undersecretary of agriculture responsible for administering food security programs.”
Recess appointments were controversial under former President Barack Obama, and Trump’s threat could face legal trouble due to a unanimous 2014 decision from the Supreme Court, where liberal and conservative judges united to strike down three appointments made by Obama during a period where the Senate said it was in session.
The unanimous justices wrote: “For purposes of the Recess Appointments Clause, the Senate is in session when it says it is, provided that, under its own rules, it retains the capacity to transact Senate business.”
The office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), whose 47 caucus members can filibuster nominees, did not immediately offer comment.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose GOP caucus holds 53 Senate seats, said McConnell and Trump spoke on Wednesday about “Senate Democrats’ unprecedented obstruction of the president’s well-qualified nominees.”
McConnell “pledged to find ways to confirm nominees considered mission-critical to the COVID-19 pandemic, but under Senate rules will take consent from Leader Schumer,” the McConnell spokesman said.