WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) fired a warning shot to Republicans on Friday: Stop blocking President Barack Obama's executive branch nominees or I'll ask him to bypass the Senate and recess appoint all of them.
"If something doesn't break here, I am going to recommend to the president he recess appoint all these people, every one of them. It's not unique. The power to recess appoint is in our Constitution," Reid said on the Senate floor. "These are the president's nominations and he should have the right to have these people working in his administration."
Reid then proceeded to read through a list of stalled executive branch nominees and, just to make the point that Republicans have no intention of letting them advance, he objected to all of them himself.
"Every one of these I'm going to reject on behalf of the Republicans," he said. "How do you like that?"
Reid's comments came shortly after Republicans told him they would object to the confirmation of nearly 70 noncontroversial executive branch nominees that Democrats planned to bring up for a vote. Reid warned that he'll be watching for "significant action" in clearing that list in March, and if that doesn't happen, he'll recommend to Obama that he recess appoint all of them when Congress adjourns in April. "I mean, I can ask if I want and he doesn't have to respond affirmatively -- but I'm going to ask him to appoint them all," he said.
The Senate won't be in session next week, but it will be holding periodic "pro forma" sessions that Republicans are leaning on to prevent Obama from making recess appointments. Both parties have used that tactic when in the minority.
A request for comment from the White House was not immediately returned, nor was a request for comment from the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who has led the charge to block Obama's nominees in protest of controversial recess appointments he made last month, warned of the long-term effects of what Reid is proposing to do.
"It is odd, to say the least, for the Senate Majority Leader to suggest that unless we stop responding to the President's unconstitutional actions, more unconstitutional actions will follow," Lee said in a statement. "Senator Reid has condoned and encouraged further use of President Obama's unprecedented practice of making unconstitutional 'recess' appointments even when the Senate does not consider itself to be in recess. As Majority Leader, Senator Reid has a responsibility to defend the rightful prerogatives of the Senate against encroachment by the President. His failure has the potential to last long beyond this Administration or any partisan gains for the Democrats."
Lee has vowed to delay all nominees -- and to seek Democratic and Republican allies in his effort -- until Obama rescinds four recess appointments he made last month when Congress may not have technically been in recess, a move some say may have been a violation of the Constitution. Those included the appointment of three National Labor Relations Board nominees and of Richard Cordray to head the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
"In the coming days, I will join with other Senators to act as a check on the president’s unconstitutional conduct by voting against some nominees," Lee said earlier Friday on the Senate floor. "I expect that many of my Republican colleagues, and in time some of my Democratic colleagues, will rise in defense of the Constitution and vote against President Obama’s nominees until such time that he takes actions to restore the Senate’s full constitutional right to advise and consent to his nominees."
UPDATE: 5:40 p.m. -- White House spokesman Eric Schultz wouldn't say Friday if Obama would recess appoint his nominees en masse.
"We are not going to publicly speculate about future recess appointments," Schultz said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "But Senate Republicans have not been shy about their determination to block the President's nominees and policy priorities. It is becoming more and more apparent that Republican obstructionism is an overtly political maneuver to thwart the President's agenda. These posts are important to fill, these individuals are exceptionally well-qualified, and we will push for their confirmations."