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Setting up a potential showdown over the chamber’s mid-March recess, Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) threatened Tuesday to use parliamentary maneuvers to prevent the Senate from adjourning for any period of time that would open the door to presidential recess appointments.
“We may look differently on recesses in the future as to whether or not we ever vote to recess again,” Daschle said, angrily reacting to two recess appointments in January and February of judicial nominees previously blocked by Democratic filibusters.
Republican leaders dismissed the idea that Daschle would follow through with the parliamentary tactics needed to prevent a formal recess from happening, mostly because his own caucus would want the opportunity to get home to their states. “I’d find it hard to believe,” said Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who noted he held 62 meetings over the Presidents Day recess.
To block a recess, Senate Democrats would have to object to a unanimous consent request to adjourn for recess, which would then force Frist’s hand.
Frist could then force a vote to try to defeat Daschle’s objection, but Democrats would likely respond by filibustering Frist’s motion, which would require Frist to gain 60 votes to move to a recess.
If he follows through on the threat, Daschle’s ultimate goal would be to enter into a negotiation with Frist that would allow Senators to return home for their recess but keep the chamber officially open, a move that requires a pro forma session every third day. Under that scenario, President Bush would not be able to make a recess appointment, something he did in mid-January when he appointed Charles Pickering to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and again last week when he appointed Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to an 11th Circuit post.
“We don’t have to recess when we depart the Congress,” Daschle said. “There are other ways to address the issue of our need to be in our states and maybe that is something that we may consider doing.”
The first recess battle could come in less than three weeks, with the Senate slated to take an unusual mid-March recess the week of St. Patrick’s Day. The chamber is scheduled to adjourn by March 12 and not return until March 22.
The chambers have been kept open for pro forma sessions in the recent past, including during a 1980s fight Congressional Democrats had with President Reagan over recess appointments and also during the government shutdown of late 1995.
While Senate Democrats echoed Daschle’s anger over recess appointments and suggested they’d back his attempts at blocking a recess, Republicans argued it was Democratic filibusters that forced Bush’s hand.
The appointments of Pickering and Pryor were a “logical extension of the unprecedented obstructionism that Senator Daschle brought to the Senate floor,” said Bob Stevenson, Frist’s spokesman.
If Daschle and Democrats would allow for straight up-or-down votes on the nominees, Stevenson said, “then we don’t have to go through some sort of legislative gymnastics to keep [recess appointments] from happening.”