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Recess Picks Still Open Question

Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
After the recess appointments of Richard Cordray (above) as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and of three new members to the National Labor Relations Board, the White House is leaving the door open to other possible recess appointments.

The White House also has repeatedly noted the unprecedented nature of the Republican opposition to Cordray in particular, which is not based on his qualifications, but on their disapproval of how the CFPB is structured. Senate Republicans successfully filibustered Cordray last month.

The White House's case is weaker on the NLRB, given that two of the nominations were made days before the Senate left town in December, meaning committees have not had a chance to hold hearings or force the nominees through the normal vetting process. But even there, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Republicans had made clear their intentions to stall the nominations, which would have left the NLRB without a quorum to function.

Other possibilities for future recess appointments include: Jeremy Stein, a Democrat, and Jerome Powell, a Republican, whom Obama recently nominated to fill two vacant seats on the Federal Reserve Board; Martin Gruenberg to head the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; Thomas Hoenig to join the FDIC; and Thomas Curry to be comptroller of the currency.

While these nominations might proceed under the regular process, Obama's decision to make the four recess appointments last week may have poisoned the atmosphere in the Senate for all nominations going forward. If Republicans decide to institute a blanket hold on all nominations, recess appointments could be the only alternative for the White House.

Sarah Binder, a historian of Congress at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the case could be made that these nominees are needed to help the economy recover from the recession and to regulate the financial institutions that helped bring it about a message on which Democrats have been trying to capitalize as this year's elections edge closer.

"One would think that recess appointments related to banking and housing regulators would fit the narrative," Binder said.

Other recess appointment possibilities could help win favor with another important constituency Hispanic voters. Those include Adam Namm to be ambassador to Ecuador and Roberta Jacobson to be assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere. Senate Republicans filibustered the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador last month. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is holding up Namm's and Jacobson's appointments.

Matt Barreto, political science professor at the University of Washington and a principal at polling group Latino Decisions, said he could see such a move as "part of Latino outreach" efforts. But he also stressed that domestic and immigration issues would also play a critical role in Latino voter decision-making.

However, some believe that Obama will not likely pursue many more, if any, recess appointments.

Binder said that Cordray and the NLRB appointments seemed to be part of a limited strategy, and those nominees were "worth the heat" the White House received. A rash of recess appointments could undercut the White House's argument that last week's move was in response to extraordinary circumstances caused by unprecedented GOP obstruction.

Additional appointments also could run the risk of irritating Senate Democrats who do not want to erode the chamber's "advise and consent" role on nominations.

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