"The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees. But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis," Obama said in a statement.
"Most of the men and women whose appointments I am announcing today were approved by Senate committees months ago, yet still await a vote of the Senate. At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months. I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government."
The 15 newly appointed nominees are:
* Jeffrey Goldstein: Nominee for Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, Department of the Treasury
* Michael F. Mundaca: Nominee for Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Department of the Treasury
* Eric L. Hirschhorn: Nominee for Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration and head of the Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce
* Michael Punke: Nominee for Deputy Trade Representative - Geneva, Office of the United States Trade Representative
* Francisco "Frank" J. Sánchez: Nominee for Under Secretary for International Trade, Department of Commerce
* Islam A. Siddiqui: Nominee for Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
* Alan D. Bersin: Nominee for Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
* Jill Long Thompson: Nominee for Member, Farm Credit Administration Board
* Rafael Borras: Nominee for Under Secretary for Management , Department of Homeland Security
* Craig Becker: Nominee for Board Member, National Labor Relations Board
* Mark Pearce: Nominee for Board Member, National Labor Relations Board
* Jacqueline A. Berrien: Nominee for Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* Chai R. Feldblum: Nominee for Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* Victoria A. Lipnic: Nominee for Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
* P. David Lopez: Nominee for General Counsel, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
In a post to the White House blog that accompanied Obama's announcement, spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote that the president "was no longer willing to let another month go by with key economic positions unfilled, especially at a time when our country is recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president the right to unilaterally fill any vacancy that would normally require Senate confirmation when the Senate is in recess.
Unlike appointments that are confirmed by the Senate, recess appointments only last until the end of the next session of Congress, which right now would mean until the end of 2011.
Obama had been widely expected to recess appoint Becker and Pearce to the labor relations board. As Jason Linkins wrote in the Huffington Post on Friday, GOP opposition to Obama's nominees had left the board with only two of its five members, which has led to a lot of one-to-one ties.
Some of the other appointments are to critical positions, such as the two Treasury candidates whose nominations had been stalled.
And some were being obstructed for particularly outrageous reasons. As Ryan Grim recently reported for the Huffington Post, the two trade nominees -- Bunke and Siddiqui -- were being blocked by Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning because he is opposed to a tobacco-related law passed by the Canadian Parliament.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), was particularly eloquent on that matter on the Senate floor two weeks ago: "The Senator from Kentucky has said he doesn't have any objection to these nominees. He's only blocking the nominations as leverage against the President and [U.S. Trade Representative Ron] Kirk. That is pure obstructionism."
Obama nevertheless shied away from what would have been some more controversial recess appointments. He did not unilaterally install any of his blocked nominees to the Justice Department, including Dawn Johnsen, his nominee to run the Office of Legal Counsel, and Chris Schroeder, his nominee to be assistant attorney general for legal policy -- both of whom are beloved by progressives but reviled by Republicans. He also chose not to recess appoint one of his senior Treasury nominees, Lael Brainard, nominated for undersecretary of international affairs, who has run into some tax issues.
That Obama would use his recess appointment powers isn't a surprise. According to the Congressional Research Service, President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments; President Clinton made 139.
Until Saturday, Obama hadn't made any -- despite Republican obstruction so intense that even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in early February essentially begged Obama to do an end run.
"Frankly, I think the President should recess all of them -- all of them," Reid said of Obama's stalled nominees. "There are scores of them being held up for reasons that have nothing to do with anything dealing with these people or how they will function once in office."
There are still about 200 judicial and civilian nominees being held up, some of them for some pretty amazing reasons. And the Senate is in recess until April 12.
Below are five more recess appointments Obama could reasonably make. Vote for your favorite.