President Trump threatened on Wednesday to take the unprecedented step of adjourning Congress with his executive powers so he can make recess appointments of stalled nominees.
Speaking at the daily White House coronavirus task force briefing, Mr. Trump said his administration has been hamstrung by a lack of personnel because Senate Democrats have held up nominees.
He criticized the Senate and House for holding “phony” pro forma sessions instead of adjourning, which prevents him from making recess appointments.
“If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” Mr. Trump said. “The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis. It is a scam, what they do.”
Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, but an adjournment requires consent from both parties.
Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states that the president “may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper.”
Mr. Trump said the Senate’s habit of staying in session technically “where no one is even there, has prevented me from using the constitutional authority that we’re given under the recess provisions.”
“The Senate should either fulfill its duty and vote on my nominees or should formally adjourn so that I can make recess appointments,” Mr. Trump said.
He said his administration has “a tremendous number of people that have to come into government, and now more so than ever before, because of the virus problem.”
“It made it very, very difficult to run government,” Mr. Trump said. “I don’t think any administration has done anywhere near what we’ve done in three-and-a-half years. But every week, they put up roadblocks, whether it’s Russia, Russia, Russia, or whether it’s impeachment hoax, or whatever it may be, it’s always roadblocks and a waste of time.”
Mr. Trump cited the nomination of Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker, to be the CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which controls U.S. government-funded media companies such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
“He’s been stuck in committee for two years, preventing us from managing the Voice of America, very important,” the president said. “And if you heard what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. The things they say are disgusting toward our country. Michael Pack would do a great job, but he’s been waiting for two years.”
The House and Senate are not due to return for formal sessions until May 4.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Kentucky Republican spoke with the president earlier Thursday about “Senate Democrats’ unprecedented obstruction of the president’s well-qualified nominees, and shared his continued frustration with the process.”
Mr. McConnell “pledged to find ways to confirm nominees considered mission-critical to the COVID-19 pandemic, but under Senate rules will take consent from [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer,” the statement said.
Mr. Trump is the only president besides William Henry Harrison, who died after only one month in office, to have never made a recess appointment. Ronald Reagan made nearly 250 recess appointments in eight years, George W. Bush made 171, and Barack Obama had 32.
No president has ever used the adjournment power.
The president said he’s “totally in favor” of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s success in approving judicial nominees.
“Judges are a priority,” the president said.
But he said Democrats have succeeded in blocking many of his other nominees.
“We have way over 100 people that we very badly need in this administration,” the president said. “We need these people here. We need people for this crisis and we don’t want to play any more political games.”
He noted that a top nominee for the Department of Agriculture has been stalled for two and a half years.
“It’s embarrassing,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s because of the Democrats. Nobody, nobody has ever had hundreds of people not being approved after three and a half years.”
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.