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Carney Defends Obama’s Recess Picks

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed complaints from Republicans about President Barack Obama’s four recess appointments Wednesday as an argument about “process” that wouldn’t hold up.

“The Constitution trumps gimmicks,” Carney said Thursday, arguing that pro forma sessions that last a few seconds every three days do not prevent the president from acting to make recess appointments.

If that were true, the Senate could block the president from exercising his Constitutional recess appointment power indefinitely, Carney argued.

Carney said “only in Washington” would not being in town “qualify as being on the job” and challenged reporters to head to Capitol Hill to see if they could find anything close to a quorum of lawmakers.

“You won’t find them on Capitol Hill because they are on recess,” he said.

In an attempt to prevent Obama from using his recess appointment powers when Congress is in recess, Republicans have opted to skip passage of adjournment resolutions which would send Congress into an official recess. Instead, both chambers have been holding pro forma sessions every three days as required by the Constitution when they have not officially adjourned. Pro forma sessions do not involve legislative business, but Republicans have argued that Congress passed a compromise on the payroll tax last month, proving that lawmakers have been working during the winter holiday break.

Still, the vast majority of lawmakers are not in town and have not been in town since Dec. 20. House Members are due back Jan. 17, and the Senate is expected to resume normal operations Jan. 23, despite the official beginning of a new session Tuesday.

Carney noted that Obama has used recess appointments far more sparingly than the last two presidents and said the larger issue was protecting the rights of consumers and workers by appointing Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three picks for the National Labor Relations Board in the face of GOP obstructionism.

Carney also dismissed GOP complaints that it has worked with the administration to approve more appointments. “The fact of the matter is we’ve had an unprecedented level of obstruction,” he said.

And on the Cordray pick, Carney cited what he said was the extraordinary nature of the GOP opposition — where a minority of the Senate demanded a change in the law before they would allow any nominee to the post. Forty-four GOP Senators have said they will block any nominee to the CFPB unless changes are made to the way the agency is structured.

“If they want to change the law, they should try and pass a law to change it,” Carney said.

Carney said the administration still wanted to work with Congress where it could — including getting an extension to the payroll tax cut as soon as possible. Carney said he would be “shocked” if the GOP retaliated by holding up the tax cut and said Republican lawmakers who are up for re-election should feel pressure to get more done.

“Everyone has to answer to their constituents,” he said.

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