Separation of powers?

House Speaker John Boehner huffed and puffed after President Obama used his constitutional power to make recess appointments yesterday to finally get someone at the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, appointing Richard Cordray. “It’s clear the president would rather trample our system of separation of powers than work with Republicans to move the country forward,” Boehner said.

Separation of powers, huh?

Who’s been trampling on those lately? Certainly not the president. The power to make recess appointments is clearly spelled out in the Constitution, and it belongs to the president. Some presidents have abused that authority to put unqualified nominees in positions they didn’t belong without going through the Senate confirmation process (for instance, when George W. Bush appointed the insufferable John Bolton as ambassador to the UN, a body Bolton didn’t believe should even exist). But in this case, there were no serious concerns about Cordray’s credentials. Instead, Republicans don’t like the idea of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and have been holding the nomination hostage to get changes made to the way the bureau functions.

That bureau was created by an act of Congress passed by both houses and signed by the president. If Republicans don’t like it, they should write and pass a new law to change it. That is how our system once worked. Instead, the Senate has been abusing the filibuster to keep Cordray’s nomination from getting the “up-and-down” vote Republicans not so long ago was the God-given right of every presidential nominee. Then, in a transparent attempt to try to keep Obama from making recess appointments, the Senate resorted to procedural trickery to keep from calling a recess – even though few senators remain in Washington and there is no possibility of actual legislative business being done until senators return from their holiday break.

In other words, Republican senators were resorting to technical tricks to keep a presidential nominee from confirmation to fulfill duties spelled out in legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama. Someone is trampling the system of separation of powers, but it isn’t Obama.

Obama also made several recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. Again, these nominees were not being held up because of any concern over qualifications. It’s just that Republicans prefer it when the NLRB can’t do its job protecting workers. With the upcoming expiration of one member of the NLRB would have brought the board to two members – an insufficient number to make legally binding decisions. As Ezra Klein pointed out this morning, in both cases, Obama acted to allow key institutions to function.

Republicans don’t want government to work, and they’re doing everything they can to make it dysfunctional. Obama is doing what he can to counter that. More power to him.

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