No, its lasting impact will not come because of its soaring rhetoric. Instead, it will make its mark because it was at that moment on a Wednesday afternoon in Ohio that the President announced his plans to act in total and utter disregard of the U.S. Constitution with his illegal appointment of Richard Cordray to serve as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
It’s an astonishingly reckless exercise of executive authority that Heritage’s Todd Gaziano described as a “tyrannical abuse of power.” Never before in the 100-plus years of precedent on the recess appointment power has a President taken such an action while the Senate was still in session. Yet notwithstanding that fact, President Obama yesterday decided that he would be the first.
Here’s why the President finds himself so far outside of constitutional bounds. Under Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution, the President has the power to fill vacancies that may happen during Senate recesses, as Gaziano writes. In this case, President Obama was seeking to fill the vacancy in the CFPB, a new agency that has come under significant criticism given its unparalleled powers to issue expansive regulations with virtually no accountability. Republicans in the Senate, to date, have refused to confirm the President’s nominees to head up the CFPB, vowing to block Senate approval until reforms are made to the agency. So President Obama has decided to act without their approval by attempting to make a recess appointment. The trouble is that Congress is not in a recess because the House of Representatives never consented, as required under the Constitution, Article I, section 5. That means that the President simply does not have the power to make this appointment. Gaziano explains the implications of the President’s actions:
[The recess appointment] power has been interpreted by scores of attorneys general and their designees in the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel for over 100 years to require an official, legal Senate recess of at least 10-25 days of duration. (There are a few outlier opinions, never sanctioned by the courts, that suggest a recess of six to seven days might be enough–but never less than that.)
The President’s purported recess appointment of Cordray would render the Senate’s advice and consent role to normal appointments almost meaningless. It is a grave constitutional wrong that Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already denounced. But it fits a pattern of extra-constitutional abuse by the White House that seems more interested in energizing a liberal base than safeguarding the office of the presidency.