It’s time for Barack Obama to step up on Senate reform, to protect the interests of the presidency in executive branch nominations.
The president has already indicated that he broadly supports reform, which was probably all he should have done up to this point. After all, rules surrounding the filibuster are an internal Senate matter, and as much as all Americans – the president included – have a stake in it, even undecided Democratic Senators might not take well to presidential efforts to dictate Senate rules.
But the current set of proposed reforms promise little specifically tailored to making executive branch nominations easier. And yet that’s an area where the presidency has a lot at stake, and where the Senate has been particularly dysfunctional ever since 60 votes suddenly became the de facto standard for confirmation back in January 2009.
What’s needed now is some pressure from Obama. After all, this is the one area in which the president actually does hold some cards. Obama should threaten more recess appointments — as many as are necessary — unless the Senate restores the normal simple majority requirement for confirming nominees.
And, no, the dodge of the House refusing to recess and thereby preventing the Senate from recessing so that the president “can’t” make such an appointment won’t cut it. That maneuver is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, and Obama was right to ignore it last year when he made a handful of these appointments. But since then, he’s held off. It’s time to start back up.
There’s not much that Obama can do about judicial nominees (since using recess appointments wouldn’t get him their lifetime appointments) or filibustered legislation. But on executive branch nominees, he has a much stronger bargaining position. If the Senate won’t promptly confirm his nominees the normal way, the president has the constitutional tools to trump them, and he should use them.