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“What’s your definition of a recess?” Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, asked during the hearing. “If they were to take a nap, which happens from time to time in the U.S. Senate, would that be a recess?”

Roger King, a lawyer who testified on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, suggested this could lead to future presidents making recess appointments during the Senate’s “lunch break” or “over the weekend.”

The Obama administration argued that the Senate was not actually in session, because most senators were gone, while the few Republicans who stayed were not doing any legislative work.

But Republicans say history is on their side. During the Bush administration, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid did the same thing, holding a pro-forma session to prevent the president from making any recess appointments.

The only difference? President Bush, though frustrated, respected the Senate’s pro-forma session, and did not make any recess appointments.

Democrats acknowledge they pioneered the end run of the White House, but argued now was the time to put it to a stop.

“I agree that it was our party that really started this phony three-day recess stuff, but that doesn’t make it right,” Mr. Andrews conceded.