- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2008

In the Senate, where lawmakers routinely drone for hours and all-night filibusters are the stuff of legends, Tuesday’s session could’ve been timed with a stopwatch.

At 10 a.m. Sen. Jack Reed, serving as the Senate’s presiding officer, gaveled an empty chamber into session. Then, only 28 seconds later, the Rhode Island Democrat cracked the gavel again and adjourned the body.

Despite its brevity, the session was a procedural necessity for Democrats intent on blocking President Bush from slipping through personnel appointments while Congress is out for its five-week break.

Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said there were no particular nominations that Democrats were trying to stop. He added that Democrats were more concerned that Mr. Bush might try to pass controversial nominees during a congressional recess in the waning days of his administration.

Still, Democrats have scheduled “pro forma” sessions every three days to prevent “any mischief from happening,” Mr. Manley said.

The Bush administration has criticized the Democrat-controlled Senate this year for stalling several key presidential appointments.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said there are 250 pending nominations, including a nominee for deputy Energy secretary and three nominees to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

“It’s really unfortunate that Congress left for yet another recess without dealing with pending nominations,” he said.

As of last fall, Mr. Bush had made 165 recess appointments. That’s when Democrats started blocking them with pro forma sessions.

By comparison, former President Clinton had a total of 140 recess appointments over eight years, and former President George H.W. Bush had 77 in his four years.

Across the Capitol Tuesday morning, Republicans stagged their third day of a protest on the House floor, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, call the chamber back into session to vote on Republican proposals to expand domestic oil drilling.

Ten Republicans took part in the “talk-a-thon” in the chamber, where the lights were dimmed and microphones and television camera turned off.

“This fight will not go away until Speaker Pelosi allows an up-or-down vote on energy legislation that relieves the back-breaking burden on our citizens,” said Rep. John Carter, Texas Republican, who took part in the protest. “It is ridiculous to walk away from our critical work at a time like this for five weeks of vacation.”

The White House has said Mr. Bush has no plans to call Congress back to Washington to work on energy legislation.

cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.