Connect to Congress: Keeping check on executive power during 2-week recess

FILE - In this June 7, 2016, file photo, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - In 2012, after former President Barack Obama appointed Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) during a congressional recess, Republicans filed legal action. One of the most outspoken critics of Obama's move was Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, now the Senate majority whip.

Back then, both the U.S. Senate and White House were controlled by Democrats. Today, they're both controlled by Republicans and Cornyn has stated a different view of the recess appointment.

When asked about the option for President Donald Trump, Cornyn responded, "That's always a card that the president can play and I think the Democrats would be wise to recognize it at some point. If they continue to obstruct the president's nominees, this might be constitutional authority he might use."

So far, several of Trump's appointments are awaiting Senate confirmation, and one expert points out, that's not all the Senate Democrats' fault.

"There are so many positions throughout the executive branch that haven't been filled by the Senate. Some of that's because of the slow-walking by the Democrats in the Senate, but a lot of it is also because the Trump administration has sent over to the Capitol a lot of the paperwork," CQ Roll Call senior writer Niels Lesniewski points out.

Cornyn added that when it came to his view on former President Obama's use of the recess action, the courts sided with his view.

"Of course, President Obama had been reversed by the Supreme Court on a number of occasions by overreaching, and trying to evade the Senate's 'advise and consent' responsibilities under the Constitution," Cornyn said.

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually struck down Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB.

One the mechanisms that Congress has used in the past to thwart recess action by the executive branch is the pro forma session - short seconds- to minutes-long meetings of the body.

When it comes to them, the Senate's number-two Republican, Cornyn, said, "I think there'll be less need for it now with the Trump administration there."

But lightening the schedule of pro formas in the Senate is not likely to sit well with Democrats.

"There’s any number of procedural steps that could be taken by the Democrats to prevent an easy adjournment if the Republicans tried to get rid of the pro forma sessions," Lesniewski said.

Lesniewski also points out that attempts by the Trump administration to make recess appointments could face the same face as Obama's NLRB appointments, saying, "Those lower-level posts, they (the Trump administration) might try, but even that would generate a fight."

If there is a fight, it's likely to not happen during this April recess. The Senate has four pro forma sessions scheduled, with the first held on Monday.

The U.S. House of Representatives also has pro forma sessions scheduled this break. Its first over this break was Saturday, with two more scheduled this week.

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