Recess appointment: GOP Senate will block Trump from replacing Jeff Sessions

  • Published on July 27th, 2017

There has been a lot of concern that President Trump might take advantage of the Senate’s upcoming recess to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and use a back-door “recess appointment” to replace him. Presumably, whatever goon steps into Sessions’ shoes would then fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, thereby ridding Trump of his meddlesome Russia investigation.

By Jeremy BloomNO recess appointment to replace Jeff Sessions

Not gonna happen.

It appears that the Senate will continue the practice of the past 10 years of holding “pro forma” sessions (in which a Senator gavels in the chamber and a minute later adjourns) just to block the Donald. Many had thought that McConnell would drop the practice, which he had been using to prevent Obama from making recess appointments, as Harry Reid had used it before him to block Dubya’s. But the Senate GOP, for some reason, doesn’t trust the Donald not to play with matches while mommy and daddy are away. McConnell held pro-forma sessions over the Fourth of July break, and it looks like he’ll do it for the August recess as well.

When there’s a bully around, kids try to avoid recess?

Recess appointments have a long and fairly uncontroversial history. In the days of the founding fathers, before Twitter and the Intertoobs, it was often weeks or months before news got around. Sometimes officials would die, or resign, and need to be replaced, and the good Senators might not be around more than half the year. And so the Constitution built in a handy provision that allowed a President to temporarily fill posts without Senate confirmation during their absence.

How uncontroversial ? Back in the 1950s, GOP President Dwight D Eisenhower used recess appointment to install no less than THREE Supreme Court Justices: William J. Brennan,  Potter Stewart, and Chief Justice Earl Warren.

According to the Congressional Research Service (via Wikipedia), President Ronald Reagan made 240 recess appointments (average 30 per year), President George H. W. Bush made 77 recess appointments (average 19 per year), and President Bill Clinton made 139 recess appointments (average of 17 per year). President George W. Bush made 171 recess appointments (average of 21 per year).

The trouble started when George W. Bush used a recess appointment to drop a VERY controversial figure, John John Bolton got a recess appointmentBolton, into the fairly important job of UN Ambassador. His Senate confirmation hearing had been a disaster, Democrats were threatening a filibuster, GOP support was eroding… and Dubya slipped him through during a recess, pissing off just about everyone. The Economist called Bolton “the most controversial ambassador ever sent by America to the United Nations.”

That’s when Harry Reid started the practice, to keep Dubya from a repeat performance. And then during the Obama years the GOP used its power (the House can also force the Senate’s hand by holding its own pro-forma session) to prevent Obama from using the recess power (and when he tried, the Supreme Court shut him down).

But to date it’s only been used by the opposition to block a President of the other party. It speaks volumes to the dysfunction in Washington today that the GOP controls all three branches of government… and still feels the need to reign in its own President in this way.

More: War on Science: Trump picks non-scientist talk radio climate denier as top USDA scientist

(Sessions cartoon by Tom Toles at GoComics. Bolton cartoon by Steve Benson.)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.