Obama defies Congress with ‘recess’ picks

Nominations could provoke constitutional fight

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Pushing the limits of his recess appointment powers, President Obama on Wednesday bypassed the Senate to install three members of the National Labor Relations Board and a director for the controversial new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — moves Republicans said amounted to unconstitutional power grabs.

Mr. Obama said the appointments, which he previewed during a campaign-style speech in Ohio, were necessary because Senate Republicans have blocked him at every turn. But in making the move, he rejected three precedents, including two in which he played a part, that would have blocked the appointments.

“I refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Mr. Obama said in Shaker Heights, drawing applause from his audience. “When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.”

Mr. Obama tapped former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to head the consumer protection agency and named three others — two Democrats and one Republican — to the labor board. Those nominations had all been stymied by congressional Republicans, who said Mr. Obama was accruing too much power to himself through those two agencies.

The president acted just a day after the Senate held a session, albeit a pro forma one without any business transacted.

Senators from both parties — including Democrats in 2007 and 2008, when Mr. Obama was in the Senate — have said it takes a recess of at least three days before the president can use his appointment powers.

Mr. Obama’s move threatens to ignite an all-out legislative war with Congress, and Republicans reacted with strikingly sharp language.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the move “arrogantly circumvented the American people.”

“Breaking from this precedent lands this appointee in uncertain legal territory, threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress’ role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch,” he said.

Supporters of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have said the lack of a top executive has blocked the fledgling agency from taking on a number of tasks in its mandate to police the financial sector and protect consumers from fraud.

Consumer groups and labor union advocates cheered Mr. Obama’s moves.

Senate Republicans don’t object to Mr. Cordray, but argue the bureau needs an overhaul before it should be allowed to operate. They say it leaves the agency, whose budget is not approved by Congress, with too much power concentrated in the hands of its director.

Senate Republicans last month filibustered Mr. Cordray’s nomination, leaving him seven shy of the 60 votes needed to get a final confirmation vote.

Democrats and Republicans have increasingly turned to filibusters to block a president’s nominees when they are in the majority, making recess appointments an attractive option.

President George W. Bush used them to circumvent Democrats who filibustered judicial nominations and his pick of John R. Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations.

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