Senate Republicans on Tuesday turned to Miguel Estrada, a man whom Democrats denied a presidential appointment in 2003, to be their lawyer as they fight to overturn some of President Obama’s own appointments.
The move escalates the simmering constitutional battle between the Congress and the White House over several appointments Mr. Obama made in January, when the Senate was still meeting every few days and considered itself in session.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he and his colleagues are filing friend-of-the-court briefs in an ongoing challenge to Mr. Obama’s appointments, and said Mr. Estrada will be their lawyer.
“The president’s decision to circumvent the American people by installing his appointees at a powerful federal agency, when the Senate was not in recess, and without obtaining the advice and consent of the Senate, is an unprecedented power grab,” Mr. McConnell said.
At issue were Mr. Obama’s recess appointment of a head of a new consumer protection board and several members to the National Labor Relations Board. Republicans had signaled they would block the nominations, and had forced the Senate to remain in pro forma session even as most lawmakers went home for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
But the administration argues that with most senators at home, the chamber was not able to give “advice and consent” on nominations, so even though the Senate considered itself in session, he did not accept that determination. Under provisions of the Constitution, if the Senate is in recess he can appoint officeholders.
Mr. Estrada’s pick to defend Republican senators is also an interesting choice. Then-President George W. Bush tapped him to be an appeals court judge, but his nomination was blocked by Senate Democrats in the first-ever partisan filibuster of a judicial nominee. That established a precedent which both parties have continued in the decade since.
Faced with the blockade, Mr. Estrada eventually withdrew from consideration and is in private practice at a Washington, D.C., firm.