Call me a paranoid nut case, but I think President Obama's decision to make some recess appointments while the Senate wasn't, technically, in recess, was a defensive move against no less than a coup d'etat that Mitch McConnell has been plotting for a long time.
The Senate confirmation process has irresponsibly been used as a political football for a long time, and by both parties. But Mitch McConnell has taken irresponsibility in this area to levels never imagined. He has completely abandoned any sense of the confirmation process being one of oversight and, instead, turned it into a blunt weapon to degrade the entire functioning of government. The conventional wisdom has been that this is one of McConnell's key strategies toward his stated goal of making President Obama a one-term president.
I no longer buy that. I think it is more insidious than that. I think Mitch McConnell fully expects President Obama to be re-elected, he fully expects that he himself will be the Senate Majority Leader in 2013, and that he is paving the way for nothing less than a coup d'etat.
I believe that his intention all along has been to desensitize the public, and the rest of the Senate, both to the idea of using the Senate confirmation process as a blunt force political weapon, and the idea that brinksmanship that ends in vast damage to the government and the nation for political gain is "normal." I believe his intention is to vastly escalate both of these practices starting in January 2013 and to have these escalations be viewed by the public as changes in degree rather than type.
Ultimately, I believe that Mitch McConnell intends to use the Senate confirmation process to launch a virtual coup d'etat in which he claims, essentially, veto power over the people's decision to re-elect President Obama, if that is what comes to pass, and that he will refuse to confirm any presidential appointments from the cabinet level on down. This could include everything from President Obama's appointments to critical positions like the Secretaries of State and Defense to the myriad of leadership positions throughout the executive and judicial branches which, if left vacant, prevent the government from functioning at all.
With the power to do this, and get away with it, McConnell would be in a position to make virtually any demands he wanted of the President. He would essentially own the executive branch, and could insist on running it from his Senate office.
Further, I don't think I'm the only paranoid nut case who thinks this.
The weak link in a McConnell strategy to deny the president any power to appoint officers of government, is the President's constitutional authority to make recess appointments. There is more detail to this than meets the eye, and more than a little nuance, but basically McConnell has been causing the Senate to lie and say that it is in session when it is clearly in recess. He causes what is called a "pro-forma session" of the Senate, and then he immediately causes it to end. He is basically turning the "OPEN" sign on every few days, but the Senate is dark, there is nobody at work, and no Senate business can be conducted because, in reality, the Senate is closed. It is on recess.
There has been, apparently, talk swirling around the White House for weeks, about the possibility of the President using a trick of his own to get around the Senate trick. The presidential trick would involve making his appointments and sending out a flurry of e-mails in the few seconds between the time when one pro-forma session of Congress ends and another begins.
But the President opted against that. Instead, he waited until that window was clearly closed, and then he made his recess appointments. By doing this he directly challenged the legitimacy of the pro-forma Senate session. He called, what he hopes, is the Senate's bluff. And he did it in a way that is likely to result in a legal challenge to the legitimacy of his appointments that could end up being decided by the Supreme Court, because the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government is, ultimately, what is in question.
McConnell isn't the first Senator to force the Senate to use pro-forma Senate sessions specifically for the purpose of denying a president the ability to make recess appointments. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) did it to President George W. Bush toward the end of his term. But he is the first Senator to pair this tactic with a broad strategy of denying Senate confirmations altogether specifically to degrade the overall functioning of government and the viability of the President.
I believe President Obama sees, as I see, a coup being plotted by Mitch McConnell in the Senate. And this step which, understandably in this context, infuriated McConnell, is one of what may be several defensive moves he takes to protect nothing less than our Constitutional form of government.
Photo: Courtesy Elizabeth Cromwell
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