As Ezra wrote earlier today, the question to ask about Wednesday’s recess appointments isn’t necessarily why they were made, but why the administration didn’t appoint even more nominees. There are, after all, 198 nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. Why not get them into office, too?
Ezra offers a few possible explanations, and Hudson Institute’s Tevi Troy adds one more from his confirmation experience: Coming into office as a recess appointee can undermine a bureaucrat’s clout on Capitol Hill. “When I was up for confirmation, the possibility of a recess appointment came up,” says Troy, who served as a deputy secretary at Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. “I was told by a lot of people, ‘you better not let them do that to you. Nobody will listen to you in the Senate.’” Bypassing the Senate, Troy argues, means “You’re just not as welcome there. The bureaucracy doesn’t give you the same regard.” Troy was ultimately confirmed in August 2007, shortly before the Senate recessed for the summer.
Troy points to a recent recess appointee who suffered a particularly strong Senate backlash: former Medicare administrator Don Berwick. The Obama administration recess appointed Berwick last summer, after Republican senators made it clear they would block his confirmation. For just about his entire tenure in the Obama administration, Berwick was dogged by his recess confirmation. Even Senate Finance Chair Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat, publicly denounced the move.
The Obama administration has not taken any steps, or given any indication, that they’ll recess appoint his successor, Marilyn Tavenner. She’s among the 198 nominees awaiting confirmation and, right now, serves as Medicare’s acting director. Since stepping up to the post about a month ago, she’s kept a pretty low profile, which would likely be impossible if her nomination bypassed the Senate.