Obama and Cordray enjoy their recess

Al Kamen
Columnist January 5, 2012

President Obama’s recess appointments Wednesday of Richard Cordray to be the new consumer finance watchdog and of three National Labor Relations Board members doubtless raised the hopes of other nominees languishing on the Senate floor that they, too, may yet get their jobs.

The White House, which notes that George W. Bush made 61 recess appointments at this point compared with Obama’s 28, counts 74 nominees pending on the Senate floor. These include some quite senior jobs, such as deputy secretaries at the departments of Commerce and Housing and Urban Development as well as five officials at Energy.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Sure, they’d be allowed to serve less than two years (see our colleague Ed O’Keefe’s summary Q&A on this) — or most likely one if Obama loses his own job. But it’s better than nothing.

Oddly enough, it’s unclear that a President Romney could kick Cordray and the NLRB folks out next year. Unlike appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, those four appointees are in jobs with five-year terms — removable only for cause — even though, under the Constitution, they will be able to serve less than two years as recess appointments.

Obama’s move focused on posts that, if unfilled, would seriously hamper the ability of the organizations to function. The administration’s focus on filling mission-critical jobs notwithstanding, its language was somewhat expansive.

The use of 30-second “pro forma” sessions were but a ploy to thwart Obama’s ability to recess-appoint stalled nominees, the White House argued, and thus was no barrier to his constitutional authority to make recess appointments. So it’s not immediately clear why other nominees couldn’t be installed this way as well.

The Republicans blasted what they called an unconstitutional power grab, and there was chatter about litigation up to the Supreme Court — which may or may not want to get involved.

Curiously, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) — the godfather of the pro forma ploy, who began them in 2007 to block Bush from making recess appointments — said he supported the Cordray appointment.

Just a meet-and-greet

While Senate Republicans were outraged over Obama’s appointment of Cordray, House Republicans quickly invited the newest appointee to come over for a chat — perhaps under oath?

And this shindig is BYOL, as in“bring your own lawyers.”

Just hours after Obama named Cordray to the post, Cordray got what might be his first missive as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who heads a subcommittee of the oversight committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), issued a none-too-friendly summons. And there wasn’t even an RSVP card included.


Seats might go empty at the big aviation conference, the Big Island setting notwithstanding. (The Fairmont Orchid)

Noting his “unprecedented” appointment, McHenry told Cordray that he’s quite looking forward to their little visit.

“The Subcommittee is deeply interested in how you will enforce and implement the unparalleled powers of your new office.”

Cordray will have the chance, during the Jan. 24 hearing, to tell the panel what he’s been up to in the first 20 days of his tenure.

A McHenry spokesman says he doesn’t expect fireworks at the proceedings, but maybe some tough questions from the dais. The chairman “sees this as an opportunity,” the spokesman says.

Welcome to the club, Mr. Cordray.

Hawaii? Anyone?

Feeling a bit chilly these days? Don’t forget to sign up for the spectacular Aviation Issues Conference starting Sunday in Hawaii. It may not be at our favorite, the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, but it’s at the equally luxurious Fairmont Orchid, on the dry side of the Big Island, where the temps are always around 80 and it hardly ever rains.

Granted, the five-day conference, sponsored by the American Association of Airport Executives, the major airlines, the aerospace industry, lobbyists and others, has lost a bit of luster.

There was a time when eight or more lawmakers, dozens of Senate and House aides and a contingent of federal officials attended.

But then came Le Scandale d’Abramoff, which cast a pall on luxury golfing trips and dropped lawmaker attendance down to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D), who, after all, lives there, and perhaps one or two others. Unclear whether any other members are going this year.

Hard economic times probably have given some private-sector folks pause as trade associations and others are watching their expenses.

More recently, Obama’s executive order to cut expenses, including travel, appears to have cut participation from the executive branch as well. Administration officials — especially those with transportation portfolios — still go, but we’re told in reduced numbers. The Federal Aviation Administration is sending four hardy souls (same as last year), the Transportation Security Administration is sending two, and no one’s going from the National Transportation Safety Board.

We tried to see if any federal officials were leading discussion panels but the AAAE press office didn’t respond to an inquiry and the Web site’s conference “Agenda” section most curiously says only: “The conference program will be distributed onsite at the conference.” Even hard-working lobbyists may have trouble convincing their firms to send them.

But you must do your utmost. Remember, this is a Loop Five-Star event, where all “working” sessions end before lunch so there’s time to change for an afternoon of spectacular golf. There’s also great whale-watching or snorkeling with the sea turtles, not to mention the Volcanoes National Park.

Come on, people. We’re talking Hawaii here.

Ripped from the headlines

If C-SPAN simply isn’t exciting enough for you, there’s some new must-see TV in town.

A Maryland Public Television show debuting this month on Friday the 13thstars former senator Arlen Specter , playing the role of the curmudgeonly law professor . . . oh, wait, it’s not a sitcom, but a new public affairs show that aims for a higher-brow tone than your average cable shout-fest. “Arlen Specter’s The Whole Truth” is being billed as a venue for thorough examinations of the issues of the day.

Those who remember Specter (Pa.) from his long tenure in Washington, much of it at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee (Those pointed questions! Those references to Scottish law!), have no doubt it will live up to the hype.

Specter dubs the format “a cross between Supreme Court oral arguments and a Senate hearing.”

An MPT spokeswoman says there’s one episode in the can and others in development. It’s unclear how often the “occasional series” will run, since MPT will have to raise funds to produce more.

For the debut, Specter’s guests are the always-riveting former senators Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.). The latter knows a thing or two about prime-time drama.

We’re already laying in a stash of popcorn.

Fits like a glove

In one of the most meaningful polls of the Republican presidential contest thus far, it seems that a full 2 percent of voters think that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s full first name is . . . Mittens.

Another 2 percent, according to the poll by “60 Minutes” and Vanity Fair, thought it was Gromit, 8 percent thought Milton and 18 percent figured on Mitchell.

Silly electorate. Of course, everyone knows it’s Mitterrand, right?

With Emily Heil

Follow In the Loop on Twitter (@InTheLoopWP) and the blog (washingtonpost.com/intheloop).

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