Fed up with waiting, President Obama announced Saturday he would bypass a vacationing Senate and name 15 people to key administration jobs, wielding for the first time the blunt political tool known as the recess appointment.
The move immediately deepened the divide between the Democratic president and Republicans in the Senate following a long, bruising fight over health care. Mr. Obama revealed his decision by blistering Republicans, accusing them of holding up nominees for months solely to try to score a political advantage on him.
"I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government," Mr. Obama said in a statement.
The 15 appointees to boards and agencies include the contentious choice of union lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. Republicans on grounds he would bring a radical pro-union agenda to the job, and they called on Mr. Obama not to appoint Becker over the recess.
(Scroll down for details on all 15 appointees)
Mr. Obama went ahead anyway, while also choosing a second member for the labor board so that four of its five slots will be filled. The board, which referees labor-management disputes, has had a majority of its seats vacant for more than two years, slowing its work and raising questions about the legality of its rulings.
Overall, Mr. Obama's appointments will take place throughout the week, allowing people to make the transition to their new jobs, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. The news of Becker's appointment drew the bulk of the ire from Republicans.
"Once again the administration showed that it had little respect for the time honored constitutional roles and procedures of Congress," said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama's foe in the 2008 presidential election. "This is clear payback by the administration to organized labor."
Both Republican and Democratic presidents have made recess appointments, which circumvents the Senate's authority to confirm nominees, when they could not overcome delays. President George W. Bush made more than 170 such appointments in his two-term presidency. President Clinton made nearly 140.
Mr. Obama had been on record as warning of recess appointments if the Senate didn't act. He followed through at the end of a week in which his political standing was significantly bolstered by the party-line , a and a hard-fought .
More on Obama Nominees in the Senate
Obama's 2nd TSA Nominee Pulls Out
GOP Blocks Obama Nominee Craig Becker
Senator to Allow Most Obama Appointees
Embattled TSA Nominee Withdraws
The White House dropped the news in a press release on a quiet Saturday, with Mr. Obama at Camp David and lawmakers home in their districts.
The recess appointments mean the 15 people could serve in their jobs through the end of 2011, when the next Senate finishes its term. A recess appointment ends at the completion of the next Senate session or when a person is nominated and confirmed to the job, whichever comes first.
Mr. Obama filled two posts at the Treasury Department: Jeffrey Goldstein as under secretary for domestic finance and Michael Mundaca as assistant secretary for tax policy. He singled them out: "At a time of economic emergency, two top appointees to the Department of Treasury have been held up for nearly six months."
On Becker, Republicans have held up his confirmation for months, saying they fear he would circumvent Congress to make labor laws more union-friendly.
Democrats had failed to overcome Republican delaying tactics on Becker's nomination, and all 41 GOP senators wrote to Mr. Obama on Thursday urging him not to appoint Becker over the break - to no avail. Becker is a top lawyer at the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO.
Labor unions were especially keen on getting Becker installed on the board that is responsible for certifying union elections and addressing unfair labor practices. Under a Democratic majority, the labor board could decide cases or make new rules that would make it easier for unions to organize workers. The board could allow speeded-up union elections that give employers less time to counter organizing drives.
The other pro-union lawyer Mr. Obama named to the board, Mark Pearce, has not faced opposition from Republicans.
The White House says its appointees have been awaiting a vote for an average of seven months.
Mr. Obama named three people to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, which has also been operating without a quorum.
The Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, welcomed Mr. Obama's move. "Regrettably, Senate Republicans have dedicated themselves to a failed strategy to cripple President Obama's economic initiatives by stalling key administration nominees at every turn," said Reid, the majority leader from Nevada.
Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders say he faces more obstruction, in terms of the number of pending nominees and the length of their delay in getting a vote, than Bush did. The hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington began long before Mr. Obama's presidency but remains as entrenched as ever, if not worse, during his term.
Already in a struggle with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over a financial overhaul, Mr. Obama now has another one over Becker. "The business community should be on red alert for radical changes that could significantly impair the ability of America's job creators to compete," the chamber said in a statement.
In February, Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes they needed to push through Becker's nomination. Two Democrats joined Republicans to halt Becker.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday that Mr. Obama's move is "another episode of choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition."
Among those appointed:
Jeffrey Goldstein, to be Under Secretary for Domestic Finance, Department of the Treasury. Goldstein is a former Managing Director of the private equity investment firm Hellman & Friedman LLC, and served as Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer at the World Bank from 1999 to 2004. Previously Goldstein taught economics at Princeton University and worked at the Brookings Institution and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Michael F. Mundaca, to be Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy, Department of the Treasury. Mundaca currently is Senior Advisor for Policy within the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Policy and the Acting Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy. In addition to serving in Treasury, Mundaca was a partner in Ernst & Young's National Tax Department, an associate at the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
Eric L. Hirschhorn, to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration and head of the Bureau of Industry and Security, Department of Commerce. Hirschhorn is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Winston & Strawn LLP. He was also Deputy Assistant Secretary for Export Administration at the Department of Commerce (1980-81).
Michael Punke to be Deputy Trade Representative - Geneva, Office of the United States Trade Representative. Punke's two decades working in the field of international trade law and policy include serving as Senior Policy Advisor at the Office of the United States Trade Representative, serving in the Clinton White House as Director for International Economic Affairs, and as International Trade Counsel to Senator Max Baucus. He was also a partner at the Washington, D.C., office of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw. An adjunct professor at the University of Montana. Punke has also written a novel, two books of nonfiction, and two screenplays.
Francisco "Frank" J. Sanchez, to be Under Secretary for International Trade, Department of Commerce. SSnchez currently serves as a Senior Advisor to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on international trade issues. He was Policy Advisor on Latin America for the Obama For America campaign, and was chairman of the campaign's National Hispanic Leadership Council. As Special Assistant to President Clinton working in the Office of the Special Envoy for the Americas, Sanchez worked with the National Security Council, the State Department and the U.S. Trade Representative. He was later appointed Assistant Secretary of Transportation.
Islam A. Siddiqui, to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Siddiqui is currently Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America, where he is responsible for regulatory and international trade issues related to crop protection chemicals. From 1997 to 2001, Dr. Siddiqui served in several capacities in the Department of Agriculture under President Clinton, as Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Senior Trade Advisor to Secretary Dan Glickman, and Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.
Alan D. Bersin, to be Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security. Bersin was appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano in April 2009 as Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs in the Department of Homeland Security. Previously, Bersin was Chairman of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, served as California's Secretary of Education under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and was Superintendent of Public Education in San Diego. Bersin also served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California for nearly five years, and as the Attorney General's Southwest Border Representative.
Jill Long Thompson, to be Member of the Farm Credit Administration Board. A former Member of the House of Representatives and former Under Secretary for Rural Development at Agriculture, Thompson also served as CEO and Senior Fellow at The National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy. She is the first and only woman to be nominated by a major party to run for Governor and Senate in Indiana.
Rafael Borras, to be Under Secretary for Management, Department of Homeland Security. Borras currently serves as a Vice President, Construction Services, for the Mid-Atlantic Region with URS Corporation. Prior to joining URS, Borras served as the Regional Administrator for the Mid-Atlantic Region of the U.S. General Services Administration. He also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration in the Department of Commerce, and was Deputy City Manager in the City of Hartford, Connecticut.
Craig Becker, to be Board Member of the National Labor Relations Board. Becker currently serves as Associate General Counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations. He has practiced and taught labor law, teaching at the UCLA School of Law, the University of Chicago and Georgetown.
Mark Pearce, to be Board Member of the National Labor Relations Board. Pearce's career as a labor lawyer include being a founding partner of the Buffalo, N.Y. firm of Creighton, Pearce, Johnsen & Giroux. Pearce has also taught in the labor studies program at Cornell University's School of Industrial Labor Relations Extension.
Jacqueline A. Berrien, to be Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Berrien has served as Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) since September 2004, and previously served as a Program Officer in the Ford Foundation's Peace and Social Justice Program. She has also worked as a staff attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, has taught trial advocacy programs at Fordham and Harvard law schools, and served on the adjunct faculty of New York Law School.
Chai R. Feldblum, to be Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Feldblum has taught at the Georgetown University Law Center since 1991, and founded the Law Center's Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic. She previously served as Legislative Counsel to the AIDS Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Victoria A. Lipnic, to be Commissioner, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Lipnic is of counsel in the Washington, D.C. office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. She was the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment Standards from 2002 until 2009. She previously served as Workforce Policy Counsel to the Republican members of the Education and Labor Committee in the House of Representatives, and was in-house counsel for labor and employment matters to the U.S. Postal Service.
P. David Lopez, to be General Counsel, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Lopez has served at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for 13 years, where he is currently a Supervisory Trial Attorney with the EEOC's Phoenix District Office. Before joining the Commission, Lopez served at the Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section, at the Department of Justice, and previously was an Associate with Spiegel and McDiarmid.
On the Web
Bush recess appointments (PDF): http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL33310.pdf
Recess appointments FAQ (PDF)