By Scott Wilson
Washington Post staff writer
Sunday, March 28, 2010; A03
An emboldened President Obama filled 15 key administration posts Saturday by bypassing the Senate, defying the GOP as he announced his first recess appointments since taking office.
Among the appointees was Craig Becker, a Chicago-based labor attorney whose nomination to the National Labor Relations Board was blocked last month in the Senate.
Business groups had said that Becker was too supportive of organized labor to serve on the five-member board, which rules on unfair-labor-practice claims, and Republican senators had warned Obama not to use the congressional Easter recess to appoint him.
Obama said last month that he would use recess appointments unless Senate Republicans stopped blocking scores of his nominees. Even so, his move Saturday suggested a new political confidence days after he signed the health-care overhaul into law, as well as his continued frustration with partisanship on Capitol Hill that has been inflamed by his push to secure the legislation.
In a statement Saturday, Obama said the recess appointments were necessary because of Republican obstruction in the Senate, which is responsible for voting on hundreds of nominations.
"If, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis," he said. "I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government."
The White House said the 15 appointees have waited an average of 214 days for a Senate confirmation vote. In all, the White House said, Obama has 217 nominees pending before the Senate, including 77 who are only awaiting a final floor vote.
By comparison, the White House said, President George W. Bush had five nominees waiting for final Senate approval at this point in his presidency. Bush had used recess appointments to fill 15 posts by this time in 2002, the White House said.
Recess appointees serve through the end of the current Congress unless they receive Senate confirmation in the meantime. Obama said that all 15 appointees would remain in the Senate for confirmation.
The appointments fill senior positions in the Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security departments, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and seats on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Farm Credit Administration Board and the NLRB.
Becker's appointment drew sharp criticism from several Republican senators. Two Senate Democrats joined 31 Republicans last month in denying Democrats the 60 votes needed to end debate on Becker's nomination.
In a statement Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Obama's appointment of Becker "yet another episode of choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the appointment is "clear payback by the administration to organized labor," and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted that Becker is the first NLRB pick it has opposed since 1993.
The five-member body has operated with only two members for more than two years. The Democrat and Republican on the board have decided more than 580 cases, but the Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday to determine whether those decisions are valid.
Organized labor helped Obama rally support for his health-care legislation, and union officials were quick to praise the Becker decision.
Becker is the associate general counsel to the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO. He received a law degree from Yale Law School. He has argued labor and employment cases before many appellate courts and the Supreme Court.
Bush also used the recess authority to appoint controversial nominees.
During Congress's 2005 August recess, Bush appointed John R. Bolton as his ambassador to the United Nations. Senate Democrats had opposed the nomination, saying that Bolton was too conservative for the job and an inappropriate choice given his criticism of the United Nations. He never received confirmation.