More on Recess Appointments

I have received a lot of questions in the past two days about the recess appointments made this week by President Obama, and basically the inquiries boil down to one simple thing:

"How does what Obama did with his recess appointment compare to what Bush did with his?"

While the White House dismissed such comparisons as "apples and oranges," it is a good question, because partisans on both sides always seem to believe that the other party is always doing something worse.

On the basic issue of making recess appointments - there is nothing wrong with that. Presidents have made plenty of them. They don't always get a rousing political reception from the other party, but they happen.

The difference is that in recent years, the opposition party in the Senate has moved to block the White House from making any recess appointments.

Starting back in 2007, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid kept the Senate in session - even when 99% of all lawmakers were out of town - so that the Congress never technically went on an extended recess.

To keep the Senate technically in session, Senators would hold a "pro forma" session every couple of days - usually Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday.

Even though no legislative business was scheduled, this action was considered to have kept the Senate in session, and therefore no recess appointments could be made.

That's what Democrats did in 2007 to block any new Bush recess appointments.

Fast forward to 2011 and that's what Republicans have been forcing the Senate to do, in order to block any Obama recess appointments.

What happened this week is that the White House basically changed its legal rationale for when the Congress is on recess, and moved ahead with these appointments.

It means that the White House can appoint someone at almost any time to a job that needs the consent of the Senate, and it left Republicans wondering what's next.

I don't want GOP or Dems to have that power," tweeted Rep. John Carter (R-TX), who argues if "this recess charade stands" then future Presidents can appoint anyone to the U.S. Supreme Court without any Senate intervention.

The White House on Thursday wasn't backing down one bit on the issue, as President Obama today will highlight his move with a visit to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offices on Friday.

"We feel very strongly that the Constitution and the legal case is strongly on our side," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who repeatedly told reporters that it is obvious the Senate is not really in session right now.

"I think all of you should run up to Capitol Hill, check out the House and Senate and see if you can find a single member of Congress, and then tell me on this working day for most Americans whether or not Congress is in session," Carney added.

Technically though, the Senate will be in session on Friday - at least for about 30 seconds.

But according to the White House, these pro-forma sessions aren't needed any longer, because it won't stop the President from making recess appointments, as he brushed aside repeated questions on a subject that he labeled an "esoteric conversation."

Of course, like many things in Washington, it is all in the eye of the beholder.

If this were a Republican President changing the rules of the game on Democrats in the Senate, lots of lawmakers would be making the exact opposite arguments - just look at how the two parties have flipped arguments on the filibusters of federal judge nominations.

For Democrats, this is a chance to advance their "We Can't Wait" agenda, the argument that Republicans in Congress are anti-consumer and want to do nothing to help average Americans.

For Republicans, this Obama move only reinforces their belief that he believes in big government and a Presidency that tries to control too much in an undemocratic manner.

Both sides think they can win.