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Updated: 5:13 p.m.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said today that Republicans are weighing their options on how to take a stand against the White House and Democrats over four controversial recess appointments earlier this month.
“We will be telling you more about what is an appropriate response” to the recess appointments, he said at a press conference after the weekly GOP caucus lunch.
His comments come as other Republican Senators said they expected the issue to be covered at their retreat, scheduled for Wednesday at Mount Vernon. The retreat is set to begin at 9 a.m. and expected to run into the evening.
McConnell said the appointments were an effort to distract voters from the president’s record, which the Minority Leader said was marked by historically high unemployment, a 35 percent increase in the nation’s debt and passage of controversial legislation such as the 2009 stimulus package.
“I think this effort at the end of the year was designed to gratuitously pick a fight with Congress” and distract from President Barack Obama’s “record ... over the last three years.”
McConnell declined to say whether Senate Republicans were considering a blanket hold on the roughly 70 outstanding Obama nominations.
In early January, Obama appointed Richard Cordray to be head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and filled three slots on the National Labor Relations Board, including one Republican NLRB position.
But Republicans question the legitimacy of the appointments and have charged the White House with overreach. They contend Congress was not in recess because they held short pro-forma sessions every three days during the holiday break. Those sessions should have precluded the president from making recess appointments. The White house argues that the pro-forma sessions were a gimmick and that Congress was not in town conducting business.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today that he did not know whether Republicans would retaliate for the recess appointments but that he hoped not.
Reid was the one who developed the pro forma strategy to stave off nominations from President George W. Bush.
Reid said Republicans could have avoided the recess appointments if they had worked with Obama as Reid did with Bush to negotiate about “500 of his nominations.”
“The reason President Bush didn’t test this in the courts is that we gave him basically most everything he wanted anyway,” Reid said. “He had no reason to do that. So I think that it would be really unfortunate if the Republicans held up all the nominations.”
Reid said he wants the conference committee charged with working out a compromise package that would extend the current payroll tax holiday to include an extension of a raft of more than 80 tax provisions that expired at the beginning of the new year, such as the ability to deduct tuition expenses, state and local taxes, and teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses. The conference held its first meeting today.