Obama on recess appointments
With Congress in recess, President Barack Obama installed several of his appointees without getting Senate approval. Known as a "recess appointment," this stems from a power enumerated in the U.S. Constitution that lets the president fill vacancies temporarily while Congress is out. The appointments expire at the end of their next session, so these will be in effect until the end of 2011.
Other presidents have done this. Obama, while serving as a U.S. senator, opposed the recess appointment of John Bolton, President George W. Bush's pick to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. So we decided to test this on the Flip-O-Meter.
Bush appointed Bolton to be U.N. ambassador after senators held up the confirmation in two votes. Democrats said Bolton's criticism of the United Nations made him poor choice, and objected that he gave inaccurate information to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senate Democrats sent a letter to Bush in protest. Obama was one those who signed it.
Obama told the Chicago Tribune, "To some degree, he's damaged goods," and will be "less equipped'' to reform the United Nations. But Obama also said Bush was within his rights in making the appointment. Obama also issued a statement criticizing Bolton, but never mentioning recess appointments.
In making his 15 recess appointments on March 27, Obama said he acted in the face of Republican intransigence, and most of the appointees had already been approved by Senate committees.
But one likely wouldn't meet that criteria. In February, 33 senators voted to block the nomination of Craig Becker, a lawyer who had worked for two large unions, to the National Labor Relations Board. Some senators said they feared he would promote the policy known as "card check" over secret ballots for union drives.
So, has Obama flip-flopped?
Although he opposed Bolton on his merits, he didn't complain about it being a recess appointment, and even said Bush was within his rights to do so.
But he signed a letter urging Bush to "submit a new nomination to the Senate" rather than make a controversial recess appointment. If all of Obama's appointees were noncontroversial, he could well argue that the two situations were different. But just as Democrats opposed Bolton on policy grounds, Republicans opposed Becker on policy grounds. We think the cases are similar enough to make this a Half Flip.
Angie Holan, Times staff writer
This ruling has been edited for print For the full ruling and others go to Politifact.com.