Last Friday, after Senate Republicans refused to allow the Senate to move forward with a vote on 90 pending nominees to federal positions, an exasperated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took to the Senate floor to suggest that drastic action might be necessary to meet this obstructionist force with equal force:
I think that the president did the minimal with his recess appointments — the minimal. I think he’s waited far too long. If something doesn’t break here, I’m going to recommend to the president he recess appoint all these people — every one of them.
Reid’s statement is the second time in two months that he’s indicated the highly unproductive status quo is not acceptable. Last month, when President Obama endorsed significant filibuster reform to ensure that all nominees receive an up or down vote in the Senate, Reid largely endorsed the proposal. His statement on Friday is another hopeful sign that Reid’s caucus might be prepared to take real action to ensure that the Senate minority can no longer threaten our government’s ability to function.
For obstructionist Senate Republicans, however, there is a certain irony behind Reid’s latest statement. The most obstructionist members of the Senate, such as Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), claim their opposition to the president’s nominees is justified to preserve the Senate’s role as a gatekeeper over people appointed to key government jobs — and, when done in good faith, such a gatekeeper role is genuinely important. Presidential appointees wield tremendous power, and, in a perfect world, should not be given that kind of power without some kind of evaluation of their fitness to hold it.
At the same time, however, the worst of all possible worlds is one where government cannot function at all due to blanket obstruction of the president’s nominees.
If obstructionists like Lee force the president to use blanket recess appointments in order to simply keep our nation functioning, the irony is that they will achieve the opposite of what they set out to accomplish. The Senate should conduct good faith reviews of each nominee and vote down the ones they deem unacceptable, but if an obstructionist minority is unwilling to operate in good faith than the president has no choice but to make sure that American government can function properly without them.