Congressional Republicans understandably went ballistic — although it was more than amusing to watch lawmakers denounce the president for his perfidy and then say they would take care of it — when they got back from their recess!
I wish we were not in this place. It would be so much better if the Senate would adopt reforms, including those commendably recommended by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), among others, to streamline the nomination and confirmation process. It would be even better if all nominees were guaranteed up-or-down votes after specified periods of time following their formal nomination, limiting the power of holds and filibuster threats. But we are where we are, and I think the president acted as he had to, given the efforts by his adversaries to cripple legitimate laws.
It would be nice to have a truce now between the White House and Senate Republicans on the swath of nominations still pending, finding a balance that respects the executive’s right to have his nominees in place and the Senate’s legitimate advise and consent role. But it is far more likely that McConnell and his colleagues will now protest by blocking all pending nominees.
If that is the case, and if I were the president, I would think about one other area to employ the same recess appointment strategy: Make five recess appointments to the Federal Election Commission to fill seats now held by commissioners (three Democrats and two Republicans) whose terms have expired. McConnell has been delighted to keep the status quo on the FEC because the three past GOP appointees have acted regularly to ignore the law and court rulings to create a lawless environment in the campaign arena.
McConnell has made it clear that nullifying all existing campaign finance laws and regulations is a top priority of his, and he would go to DEFCON I if Obama went ahead and picked FEC commissioners he did not OK.
It is time for the president to defy McConnell — and his own party hacks as well — to pick five individuals who will uphold the law and the court when it comes to disclosure and true independence of super PACs, and not follow their own ideology. That one action would do more to improve American politics and governance this year than any possible set of reforms right now. And let’s be frank: Would McConnell do anything to spite or damage the president that he would not do now if he could get away with it?
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.