WASHINGTON (CN) - Republican on the House Judiciary Committee claimed Wednesday that President Obama's recess appointments in January "go well beyond past presidential practice and raise serious constitutional concerns."
In a nearly 3-hour hearing, Republicans slammed Obama for appointing three people to the National Labor Relations Board, and naming Richard Cordray director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau while the Senate was in quasi-recess.
Committee Democrats, led by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said the real problem was the 41 Senate Republicans telling the administration that they would block any appointments Obama made no matter what the appointees' party affiliation.
"Because the Recess Appointments Clause permits the president, under the specified circumstances, to bypass the Senate and make appointments unilaterally, it has been a rich source of conflict between residents and Congresses since the early days of the republic," said Charles Cooper, a partner with Cooper & Kirk who was called to testify at the hearing.
Cooper backed the Republicans' claim that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority to make appointments while the Senate is at recess.
Though the debate and questioning became heated at times, both Nadler and Conyers said the committee had no standing to resolve the issue, leaving the question to the courts.
Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., casually turned the pages of the Washington Post Sports section while Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., blasted Obama, exclaiming that "never before in this country's history has a president made recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess."
Obama's Jan. 4 appointments were made during a series of "pro forma" Senate sessions designed to break the holiday period into 3-day adjournments, to comply with its constitutional obligation not to adjourn for more than 3 days during a session, according to Cooper.
Though pro forma sessions are used to fulfill the Senate's obligation to simply show up, legislating hardly ever occurs during such sessions. But during a recent round of pro forma sessions, the Senate voted to extend the payroll tax cut, an act the Republicans interpreted as business as usual.
"In my opinion, these appointments circumvent the delicate balance of power in our Constitution and radically distort the purpose of the Recess Appointments Clause," testified Jonathan Turley, a law professor from George Washington University. "Regardless of one's interpretation of the language and history of this clause, there should be consensus - certainly in Congress - that these latest appointments do both the Constitution and our country a disservice," Turley said.
In a rare bit of bipartisan amity, the hearing ended with Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, praising Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., for being the only committee member to stick around through the entire hearing.
"He gets the attendance award," Smith said.
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