The House belatedly went along with the Senate in agreeing to an adjournment resolution today, but President Barack Obama is not expected to use the opportunity to make uncontested recess appointments.
The House quickly agreed to an adjournment resolution by unanimous consent this morning, allowing both chambers to formally leave town until the second week of September.
Until the move, each chamber was planning to hold pro forma sessions once every three days to comply with a constitutional requirement that neither the House nor the Senate may adjourn for a longer period of time without permission from the other. This could have led to the Senate holding sessions out of the Capitol, where the Senate chamber is undergoing renovation. A pro forma session was scheduled for this afternoon in the Hart Senate Office Building, but it was canceled when the adjournment resolution was adopted.
The January Surprise
Republicans questioned the constitutionality of recess appointments that Obama made in January, when the Senate was conducting pro forma sessions. Obama bypassed Senate procedural blocks to install Robert Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three picks to the National Labor Relations Board.
Recess appointments made this month would not face a similar legal challenge, but a senior Senate GOP aide confirmed that the White House has agreed not to make such appointments during the August break, giving Republicans a green light to let the chambers depart.
Nonetheless, when the House tried to adjourn Thursday, 78 House Republicans voted against the measure, many out of distrust for Obama's gentlemen's agreement with Senate Republicans.
Brian Straessle, spokesman for the conservative Republican Study Committee, said that, given more time, Members may have come back to D.C. and objected again.
"We were informed of the intention to adjourn yesterday afternoon. With that lead time and members being back in their districts, there wasn't much we could do," Straessle said.
Last week, many conservatives, such as RSC Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), joined forces with House Democrats to knock down the adjournment resolution. All 187 Democrats who were present voted along with conservatives and even some moderate Republicans such as Reps. Patrick Meehan (Pa.) and Robert Dold (Ill.) to block the resolution.
While the Republicans were primarily concerned with the possibility that Obama might choose to exercise recess appointments again, the Democrats said they wanted to stick around to keep working.
"They want to head out of town to campaign when Congress should stay in session to address the most pressing challenges facing our nation," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a floor speech. "Let's get to work. Let's do the job our constituents elected us to do."
In reacting to the passage of the resolution today, a Democratic leadership aide said, "Republicans have made it clear that they do not intend to come back to town. We decided not to waste taxpayer money on pro forma sessions when Republicans have already made their choice not to stand up for the middle class."
But the weekend seemed to cool things down for everyone, and the passage of the adjournment resolution in the House came and went quickly.
House leaders said there was ample support for adjourning.
"The leaders consulted with our members, and there was widespread support for passing today's resolution. Its quick approval demonstrates that the Democrats' ploy last week was nothing more than a political stunt," said Kevin Smith, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Doug Andres, a spokesman for the House Rules Committee, said that the measure was OK'd by Republican and Democratic leaders.
"The adjournment resolution was passed by unanimous consent and was cleared through the leaderships of both parties, per the Speaker's policy on unanimous consent requests," Andres said.
Little Appetite for Pro Formas
Adding to the push for adjournment, Senate Democratic leadership aides expressed to House Democratic staff that they would prefer not to have to bring Senators home from recess, especially while the Senate chamber is under construction, a House Democratic aide confirmed.
The move to adjourn today means all the effort that Senate staffers put in preparing a meeting room for pro forma Senate sessions proved unnecessary.
The Senate chamber is being dismantled for August recess construction that will provide communications upgrades and new carpet by the time the Senate returns to session on Sept 10.
When House Democrats joined with conservatives to reject an adjournment resolution before most Members left town last week, Senate staffers began deploying a contingency plan to meet in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.
The Senate adopted a second adjournment resolution Thursday night after the House rejected the first one. The second resolution was the one the House passed today.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.