Reporting from Washington — Unhappy with Senate Republicans for blocking his nominations, President Obama warned Tuesday that he would use a procedural tactic to bypass lawmakers unless the Senate moved to confirm government appointees more swiftly.
Obama, making a surprise appearance in the White House press room, said that he had raised his concerns in a private meeting earlier Tuesday with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, and that he would use "recess appointments" unless he got more cooperation.
Recess appointments would enable Obama to put nominees in office temporarily without Senate consent, with the appointment lasting through 2011.
Though he did not mention him by name, Obama singled out Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) for holding up dozens of appointments over a disagreement involving approval for an Air Force refueling plane and an anti-terrorism center.
"One senator, as you all are aware, had put a hold on every single nominee that we had put forward due to a dispute over a couple of earmarks in his state," Obama said. "In our meeting, I asked the congressional leadership to put a stop to these holds in which nominees for critical jobs are denied a vote for months."
Shelby's office said this week that he would set aside his "hold" on all but three nominees.
Shelby had held up the nominations "to get the White House's attention on two issues that are critical to our national security," said a statement prepared by his office. Compounding the president's troubles, the Senate on Tuesday blocked confirmation of Craig Becker for a seat on the National Labor Relations Board. The vote was 52-33, shy of the 60 votes needed to end debate and proceed with a confirmation vote.
Becker, an attorney with ties to organized labor, was opposed by Republicans and two conservative Democrats worried that he would use his seat on the board to advance the interests of the labor movement.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), in a statement, urged the White House not to use the recess appointment power to install Becker on the labor board.
Democrats contend that the opposition to Obama's appointees reflects a calculated attempt to hamstring the White House and bolster Republican chances in the 2010 and 2012 elections.
"This is all part of a strategy to have this president fail," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) in an interview.
Scholars of the presidency said that it is difficult to govern without a full complement of appointees in place.
Martha Joynt Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University in Maryland, who studies White House operations, noted the lengthy delay in confirming the head of the General Services Administration, which oversees government buildings and acquisitions.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) had put a hold on the nomination. The nominee, Martha N. Johnson, was confirmed by the Senate last week -- nine months after Obama nominated her. The vote was 96-0.