The next round in the battle over Obama’s nominations is coming right up, and it’s good to see that he’s staying on the offensive — it’s a fight he should be eager to engage in.
Here’s the story. Utah (and Tea Party) Senator Mike Lee is vowing to retaliate against Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB and the new consumer protection bureau. He says he’ll try to block absolutely every executive branch and judicial nomination: “I find myself duty-bound to resist the consideration and approval of additional nominations until the President takes steps to remedy the situation.”
In his weekly address, Obama hit back: “One senator gumming up the works for the whole country is certainly not what our founding fathers envisioned.”
The first thing to note, as Greg has argued, is that this is great rhetorical ground for the Democrats to fight on; Republicans are arguing process, while Obama talks substance, pointing out how important a “consumer watchdog” and other appointees are to the task of protect ing the interests of the American people.
The second thing: Within the Senate, the Democrats probably have the upper hand in this as well. While Republicans are certainly angry about the recess appointments, it’s unclear whether they have any usable weapons of obstruction left at their disposal. If anything, Obama’s willingness to fight harder than he had been on nominations may make Republicans more likely to cut deals on executive branch nominees that they have no serious objections to, since otherwise Obama can just threaten to make additional recess appointments the next time Congress takes a break. Individual Senators such as Lee may not go along. But while individual Senators or small groups of Tea Partiers can slow things down some, a dedicated majority can overcome any minority that’s smaller than 41 Senators. Remember, while Lee can threaten a hold on every nominee, Harry Reid doesn’t have to honor those holds. If Lee abuses the hold process there’s no good reason why Reid should go along.
What really matters here, however, is pressure from the president. If he didn’t care about appointments, it’s unlikely that Reid and the Democrats would be willing to fight hard for them. So it was good to see Obama prominently mention them in his radio address. It’s a signal to Senate Dems to take up this fight seriously. This is a battle Obama and Democrats should want, and one they can win.