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Michael Tomasky: Barack Obama Needs to Force Congress Into Recess, Make Appointments

Michael Tomasky:

Barack Obama Needs to Force Congress Into Recess, Make Appointments: I’ve been wondering lately the same thing as a lot of liberals in Washington: when and how will the president ever grow some backbone? Sure, the post-debt-deal polls show that he came out of the mess looking somewhat less terrible than the Republicans. But he looks weak, and he’ll keep getting pushed around until he throws down on something. I’m planning an occasional series about what that something could be, and here’s idea No. 1: force the Congress into recess and make a slew of appointments.

What? Force the Congress into recess? Yes. The president has the power under the Constitution to do exactly that. Read Article II, which is, of course, on the executive branch, Section 3, titled “State of the Union, Convening Congress.” It states in full about the president that:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States….

First, it must be an extraordinary occasion. Second, the two houses of Congress must disagree about the time of adjournment. Both can be finessed. On the first point, Obama can actually reasonably argue that the number of presidential appointments held up by Republicans (we’ll get to the numbers in a minute) is so large as to constitute an extraordinary circumstance. On the second, all that would take is for the Democratic-controlled Senate to force a “disagreement” with the House about when Congress should adjourn.

Too clever by half? Dirty pool? No cleverer or dirtier than what’s been going on with presidential appointments, which is a scandal and disgrace and gets almost no media attention….

[I]magine the Obama who invoked his constitutional power for a change, forced a congressional adjournment, and put Cordray—and a hundred other appointees doing the limbo—to work? Conservatives would howl that he was behaving like a dictator. But liberals would be enraptured, and I feel certain that most independents would be impressed that the guy finally drew a line in the sand over something…. [A] president doesn’t end partisan gridlock by letting the other party steamroll him. He ends partisan gridlock by trying to banish a practice that has become the epitome of partisan gridlock. It’s really not that complicated.

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