Obama Makes Recess Appointments

The usage of the recess appointment process is just another example of the need for institutional reform in the Senate.

Like his predecessors, President Obama has used the recess appointment power to select a number of officials to serve in executive branch positions.

The list of appointees can be found at the White House website. The list includes The Printer of the United States (a position one has to wonder about the need for Senate approval), ambassadors to Azerbaijan, the Czech Republic, Syria and Turkey, and the appointment of James Cole to be Deputy attorney general (the most controversial of the selections). Jennifer Rubin at WaPo details the objections to the nominees, Cole in particular (short version: he has argued for fighting the war on terror as a law enforcement issue).

The underlying problem here is the inability of the Senate to properly perform its constitutionally mandated advise and consent role. The fact that a nomination can be made and the Senate is not compelled to act on it in a timely manner, either accepting or rejecting in a definitive fashions, is problematic. Indeed, it can be seen to be an abrogation of a basic responsibility. This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that nominations can be effectively blocked by the objection of a single Senator (with the act sometimes being done in secret). This really no way to run a government.

There is clearly something wrong with a process when the party that controls the White House and has a large majority in the Senate can’t manage to get key positions filled.

And, quite frankly, there are simply too many positions that require the process. Given that most of these appointees a) serve only for the length of time, at maximum, that the President who appointed them is in office, and that b) they are appointed to reflect the political preferences of the elected President, then a lot of what goes on in the confirmation process is superfluous.

The notion that the Senate should ensure that Presidents are not appointing unqualified cronies to positions of power makes sense. That a single Senator from the opposition party can block an appointment for political reasons does not (because the question of political control of the executive branch is settled every four years by elections).

Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. JazzShaw says:

    But… But… But… BUSH!!111!elventy!!1

  2. […] Cole appointment is sure to be the one to cause the most controversy on the right, as Steven Taylor notes in his own post on the subject. However, these actions are fully authorized by the Constitution: The President shall have Power to […]

  3. steve says:

    Give Congress 90 days to make a decision on every nominee. Failure to act results in a default approval. Straight up or down vote.


  4. Tlaloc says:

    Let’s see how many “the constiitution is king” tea baggers defend Obama on the grounds that this is entirely constitutional.

    …I see.

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Obama had a 18 seat advantage in the Senate. What was it about these appointees which caused them not to be put forth. Surely Harry Reid could have pushed them through the process. GOP blockage. Obama and for several months a filibuster proof majority. This speaks to either competence or ???

  6. Pug says:

    Obama had a 18 seat advantage in the Senate. What was it about these appointees which caused them not to be put forth.

    Maybe it was the simple fact that a single senator can hold up an appointment. The president could have a 99-seat majority and not be able to get a nominee approved.

  7. Wayne says:

    Three months is too short, especially if the nominee and\or administration is dragging its feet in giving appropriate information. Six months would be much better IMO. After which a up and down vote should be done regardless of who is in controlled of the Whitehouse. A default approval would be foolish. Those who want an approval without having to do a recorded vote could simply stall the nomination themselves.

    There are plusses and minuses with recess appointments. Sometimes they are appropriate and sometimes are not and it doesn’t depend on who is in office. If a Senate is dragging its feet and won’t vote on a nominee who has a good chance of being approved then it is appropriate for a President to make such appointments. If a person doesn’t have a good chance of being approved than it is not.

    If a single GOP Senator is somehow not allowing this nominee to go forward for political reasons then Obama is acting appropriately. If his 58 majority senators don’t not want to go on record voting for the nominee are don’t want the nominee to have to answer questions then Obama is not acting appropriately.

    Acting like recess appointments has to be either 100% appropriate or 100% inappropriate is being foolish or disingenuous. I will agree that the standards should be consistent regardless of who is President.

  8. Wayne says:

    Is there any evidence that a single Senator was holding up these appointments?

  9. Hangtown Bob says:

    This and just about everything else the wOn has done or tried to do since the November elections is nothing but a big F#@K YOU to the American people. I, for one, am getting VERY tired of it.

  10. PJ says:

    When George Washington made recess appointments, was that also, as you put it, “a big F#@K YOU to the American people”?

  11. floyd says:

    “”…I see.””
    I see the “I see” was written without waiting “to see”, you see?

    You’d think the “nickel baggers” would be a little more laidback and patient.

    Now “let’s see…. any “tea baggers” want to step up to the plate?

    C’mon….. don’t prove him right….

    …I see [LOL]

  12. An Interested Party says:

    “This and just about everything else the wOn has done or tried to do since the November elections is nothing but a big F#@K YOU to the American people. I, for one, am getting VERY tired of it.”

    Maybe you should write to your federal representatives to take some action on this…perhaps a big F#@K YOU is an impeachable offense…

  13. floyd says:

    They thought it was enough for Andrew Johnson!

  14. An Interested Party says:


    Although I suspect that people like Hangtown Bob who feel like the president is giving them a big F#@K YOU are in the distinct minority…

  15. laguna says:

    If the folks who feel the prez is giving them a big F#@K YOU are in the minority, perhaps you can explain how the Dam* Dems managed to get a “shellacking” in the Nov. elections.