President Obama's decision to bypass the vacationing Senate and directly appoint 15 nominees has produced some expected cries of outrage from Republicans.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pronounced himself "very disappointed" with the move, charging that it showed "once again" that the Obama administration has "little respect for the time honored constitutional roles and procedures of Congress." The president's team had "forced their will on the American people," McCain fumed in a written statement.
Were these the words of a principled opponent of presidential recess appointments, or of a politician in a tough primary jumping at an opportunity to bash President Obama?
Well, here's how McCain reacted in 2005 when President Bush was considering a recess appointment for John Bolton, the controversial nominee to be United Nations ambassador: "I would support it. It's the president's prerogative."
Indeed, just a few years earlier, McCain had succeeded in a one-man crusade to persuade President Bush to install a favored nominee using a recess appointment. Here's how UPI described it in 2002:
Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain prevailed in his fight with the White House to have Ellen Weintraub, a former Capitol Hill attorney, named to a Democratic seat on the Federal Election Commission as a recess appointment. McCain must now be overjoyed that her colleagues have elected her chairman of the commission for the coming year. In her new role, Weintraub, the wife of Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold's legislative director, will have a lot to say about how the regulations governing the McCain-Feingold campaign legislation will be written an implemented.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell also joined in the protests of Obama's recess appointments on Saturday, calling them "stunning" and "yet another episode of choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition."
But back in 2005, under President Bush, McConnell spoke what is probably far closer to the truth. When asked by a Fox News host if a recess appointment of Bolton would make the atmosphere in the Senate more poisonous, McConnell replied "no" and pointed out, "typically senators who are not of the party of the president don't like recess appointments."
There is a key difference, however, between 2005 and 2010: the amount of Senate obstruction. As White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted today:
[A]t this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month. And cloture has been filed 16 times on Obama nominees, nine of whom were subsequently confirmed with 60 or more votes or by voice vote. Cloture was not filed on a single Bush nominee in his first year. And despite facing significantly less opposition, President Bush had already made 10 recess appointments by this point in his presidency and he made another five over the spring recess.
Sen. Harry Reid echoed this sentiment in a statement: "Nominees under President Obama have fared worse than others in recent memory. Regrettably, Senate Republicans have dedicated themselves to a failed strategy to cripple President Obama's economic initiatives by stalling key Administration nominees at every turn. With the recess appointments of these highly-qualified individuals, President Obama has shown that he is serious about getting the right team in place to create jobs and protect the American workforce, and I support his decision."