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What Obama could learn from Bush


Last night, Craig Becker's nomination to the National Labor Relations Board was approved, with 52 senators voting in favor of Becker and 33 voting against him.

Wait, sorry, I got that wrong. It was rejected with 52 senators voting in favor of Becker and 33 voting against. How? Well, the filibuster, grasshopper. This led some lions of the Senate to take aim at the practice. "I think [the filibuster] will either fall of its own weight -- it should fall of its own weight -- or it will fall after some massive conflict on the floor," Carl Levin told the Huffington Post. "The reason the filibuster rule has been supported all these years is people have used it responsibly," Pat Leahy said. "This is unprecedented."

But the big news is that Barack Obama is finally threatening some recess appointments. Unlike on legislation, the president is not powerless before obstruction of his nominees. He, like most every president before him, can invoke his constitutional right to appoint during a congressional recess. By this point in his term, George W. Bush had recess appointed 10 nominees, including one to the National Labor Relations Board in August of his first year. We're in February of Obama's second, he has more than twice as many nominees held up as Bush did, and he's only threatening his first recess appointment.

Bush had this right. In his first year in office, he was using recess appointments and running major legislation through the reconciliation process. That normalized those moves for the rest of his administration. Using those tools wasn't a story. The Obama White House, by contrast, is holding those moves in reserve, which has allowed Republicans to paint them as extraordinary measures. But they're not extraordinary measures. They're basic elements of governance in an era of polarization and procedural obstructionism, and the White House should treat them that way.

Photo credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  |  February 10, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  Government  
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But actually outmaneuvering your critics and pushing your agenda past obstacles is the "old kind of politics."

Posted by: tyromania | February 10, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Although I don't believe this, many on the left think this is a feature, not a bug. The more Obama seeks bipartisanship above all else, or when reconciliation is oddly precluded by his White House, the more he doesn't have to use his huge majorities. Democrats often blame the lack of their power, now they can blame Obama himself ... but that's no difference, the argument goes, when the lack of political will benefits the powerful, the rich, etc etc

Posted by: Chris_ | February 10, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

In his first year in office, he was using recess appointments and running major legislation through the reconciliation process.

I actually think of these two processes differently. Reconciliation is really driven by the Senate, and I want to see the Senate become more democratic. I think recess appointments (in a Senate without holds or filibusters) are a different story.

Given the current situation, I agree with Obama doing the recess appointments, but I think the main problem is still in the Senate. Until that gets solved, we're going to keep seeing other symptoms.

Posted by: rpy1 | February 10, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

""The more Obama seeks bipartisanship above all else, or when reconciliation is oddly precluded by his White House, the more he doesn't have to use his huge majorities.""

I don't think that there is some kind of conspiracy to avoid using his majorities. I think that Obama, many of his staffers, and many of his supporters are really drinking their own kool-aid about the "new kind of politics" bipartisan stuff. One of the arguments made against Hillary Clinton's candidacy was that she would be "too divisive" as president and wouldn't be able to get anything done and that the nice, gentle unifying hand of Obama would bring Republicans and Democrats together in Washington. I think he really believes that the worst thing he could have done this year was to pick a fight over recess appointments, so he held back from using all the weapons in his arsenal.

Posted by: tyromania | February 10, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

The Boston Globe, focusing on the Scott Brown angle, actually had a blurb on their from page that said "Scott Brown was in a 52-33 majority to reject a pro-union pick for the NLRB," and yet you wonder why most people don't understand what's going on with the filibuster.

Posted by: _SP_ | February 10, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I believe Obama was right to try to avoid the recess-appointment scenario if at all possible. And equally right to threaten it now, as a measure of last resort.

But if we simply accept recess appointments as standard operating procedure we fail to address the underlying issue of the filibuster with respect to nominations and are tacitly accepting extreme partisan behavior.

We screamed bloody murder when Bush did this, citing "advise and consent" and Constitutional provisions. Now the tables are turned. He must get his nominees into place--but at the same time we must eliminate the need for the Executive Branch to usurp a basic constitutional imperative.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | February 10, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

The poor RedState boyz are squealing like they are auditioning for a role in Deliverance - the Democrats *might* deploy the nuclear option or make a recess appointment or two. They really have no shame. It's pitiful.

Posted by: luko | February 10, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

serious question here:

"Can Obama now take Becker and appoint him using a recess appointment?"

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 10, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I meant to add: two wrongs don't make a right.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | February 10, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Dems / Obama are only concerned about what Faux News says about them. They don't care about us at all.

Posted by: AZProgressive | February 10, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

""I meant to add: two wrongs don't make a right.""

See, this is the problem I was talking about above. Recess appointments aren't "wrong." In this case, they are necessary.

And even so, if recess appointments are so offensive, then the natural reaction should be mutual disarmament of the filibuster and recess appointments. A fight needs to be picked here. It's obvious that the Republicans aren't going to be accommodating to Obama simply because he's nice to them. Filibuster reform isn't going to come about by Obama begging for it.

Posted by: tyromania | February 10, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Ezra-- Thanks for finally weighing in on how Craig Becker has been treated over the last months and week. If progressives can't count on you to tell them about how the Senate is making a mockery of working rights, who can we turn to?

Although clearly pro-labor, he is much more qualified based on his experience and dedication to labor law than most nominees have been. He's like the John Roberts of NLRB appointees....

Meyerson sets this up:

Posted by: enaduris | February 10, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I think this is pretty weak tea by the White House. Rather than making threats over one nominee here and there, they oughta demand up and down votes on every unconfirmed nominee under the threat of an OMNIBUS recess appointment of every single judge, undersecretary, commissioner, Fed governor, or anything else they refuse to vote on.

The Senate is not the only one here with constitutional prerogatives. They need to be taught that with hostile threats.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | February 10, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Your totally predictable reaction to our crazy, unprecedented abuse of Senate process is totally outrageous!

But lets be honest here, there will obviously be Democrats who hop on to this criticism too. Much of this party ran on the rhetoric of liberal values but simply is not interested in enacting them into law. Any fig leaf they can get behind to avoid it will be much appreciated.

Posted by: NS12345 | February 10, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

tyromania: I said myself the recess appointments are necesssary, because clearly the obstructionism is beyond the pale at this moment. But I also said they are not sufficient. They should not become the status quo way to install appointments. We need to fix the way nominees are approved in the senate. Period.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | February 10, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

President Obama needs to send a message to the Republicans: If you continue to blatantly refuse to work with the Democrats, I will use presidential powers to govern our country. His first action should be to recess appoint Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. The Republicans' (including "not really a Democart" Blanche Lincoln) behavior on Becker's nomination was discusting as witnessed on C-SPAN.

Posted by: BooJa | February 10, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Well, on the other hand, the general public really has no idea about filibusters and Senate procedure. The gloss they get is majority Democrats can't pass Democratic legislation because of infighting, they're useless. (a sentiment with which I can't really disagree.) To the extent that people pay attention to this sort of thing, which is not too terribly much, it at least calls attention to the procedural obstructions that makes these things necessary and lays the groundwork for Democrats to go on the offensive (counter-defensive?) to the public about the obstruction. Aw, who am I kidding, Democrats on the offensive. I guess you're right.

Posted by: Jenn2 | February 10, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm just looking forward to those big "Missing me yet?" signs on the highway with Obama's picture on them.

Posted by: cpurick | February 10, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Under current circumstances, rpy1, the Senate can only become more republican or more tea party, whichever one wants to call it. After Obama's presidency annulled all populist expectations, which the country overwhelmingly had at its start, democrats should and would pay the price. So, majority in the senate and house would be lost, not vice versa.

Posted by: aepelbaum | February 10, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

We see here the difference between a Senator elected to the Presidency, with his respect for the institution, and a governor elected to the Presidency, who doesn't give a hoot about procedural garbage. So I believe Obama is far too respectful of the procedural hermit-crab shell hobbling the Senate, when as a former Senator, he should realize how contemptible it is.

Posted by: carolcarre | February 10, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

One of the biggest reasons Democrats should support abolition of the filibuster is here:

But another big one is that the filibuster helps Republicans a lot more than Democrats because they are far more ruthless, authoritarian, and unified. They will use it, and things like it, far more shamelessly. This is an extremely harmful weapon that helps the ruthless far more.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | February 10, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Yes, now the WP is coming on board with recess appointments. I don't think you agreed with it at the TIME Bush did it. Do you support or not recess appointments for ALL Presidents???

Posted by: jnsphorn | February 10, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

"The reason the filibuster rule has been supported all these years is people have used it responsibly," Pat Leahy said. "This is unprecedented."

Give me a break. The Democrats held up John Bolton as UN ambassador when he was far more qualified in terms of experience than many of Obama's appointees. The Democrats held up a Hispanic judicial appointment because they didn't want the Republicans to appoint the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice.

So don't pretend that the Republicans are using the filibuster irresponsibly while the Democrats were always circumspect. Neither party is covered in glory when it comes to holding up nominations.

Posted by: Buffal0Bill | February 10, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Funny, but I don't recall Bush appointing avowed Communists, anti-Catholic zealots, America's wrong apologists, or security timid candidates. Call me hopelessly traditional, but I've seen enough fringe characters from this administration. Sort of reminds us of who populates the left. Remember when Clinton said his cabinet would look like and reflect America? It actually seemed closer to Ringling Bros. side show, but I suppose that's considered cruel.

Posted by: ecrutle | February 10, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

What an amazingly ill informed piece. Lest you need to be reminded, up until last week the Democrats had a super majority in the Senate which would have made it essentially filibuster proof except that sane Democrats like Cornhusker Ben were against this avowed communist/union attorney. Furthermore, why worry about appointees when you can get czars to do your bidding and do not require confirmation. Ezra, your naivete (or is it liberal intellectual dishonesty) never ceases to amaze folks.

Posted by: rbloomer2 | February 10, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Recess appointments are not extraordinary measures, just business as usual, but for the opposition party to hoot and holler about their being extraordinary is also just business as usual, regardless of which party is in power at the time.

Furthermore, just because it's "business as usual" doesn't mean it's bad. It's part of our process.

Posted by: Gradivus | February 10, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

The crazies/Bush dead-enders have apparently discovered this thread. When you have something rational to contribute, we'll still be here.

Posted by: tyromania | February 10, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

If O'Bama can learn even one thing from George Bush about leading, it is better than what he knows now.

O'Bama the Apoligizer, the Divider, the Unwise. Worst President since Carter.

Posted by: Accuracy | February 10, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Miss me yet?

Posted by: robtay12003 | February 10, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

President Obama should use recess appointments, that's the one thing he should take from the Bush presidency. Too bad President Obama is trying so hard to to work with the party of no Republicans and the party of do nothing Democrates. It seems that neither party really cares about the American people and this is shown by their lack of leadership by failing to get anything done. The President shouldn't have to lead by himself. Are their any real leaders out there who want to see America thrive?

Posted by: alesterp | February 10, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

What Obama could learn from Bush?
How to govern.

Posted by: robtay12003 | February 10, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

robtay1203 said "How to govern"

Right on!!!!

Posted by: JCM-51 | February 10, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Ah, Ezra: what you are really saying is that if the President can't screw all the working folk one way, he just use another method. The folk are angry at the blatant kow-towing to the unions, will this be the last straw?

Posted by: apberusdisvet | February 10, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

What complete hypocrisy from Klein and the other knee-jerk Democratic partisan posters.
Democrat filibuster = good. GOP filibuster = bad.
They urge recess appointments now, but screamed bloody murder over the few that Bush actually did make. He passed on the chance to make many, many more.
And then, some of the same Democrats who are urging this now, cheered as the Senate stayed in session to prevent Bush from making them. They held 30-second sessions, presided over by whatever Democrat happened to be in DC to avoid going into recess.
The WaPo and Dem partisans should make up their minds. A policy is either right or wrong. Not only OK when you can use it to your own advantage..

Posted by: parkbench | February 10, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

@ Accuracy,

Obama's not Irish (at least I don't think he is! Its kind of ironic that your name is what it is and yet you do that.


everyone that doesn't agree with you is autmoatically an idiot? Do you realize how IRONIC that is?

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 10, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, you're proud of the ill-informed ravings of your fellow travelers on this thread? Really? You know, some people, when they say dumb stuff, are going to get mocked for it, and that's the way it goes. If it's too much for your delicate sensitivities, maybe you need to learn to grow up. And if the behavior of some of the various crazies on this thread are the sort of thing you consider "normal," then maybe you should take a look around and realize that your conservative friends are a bunch of ill-informed crazies that maybe you should find higher-quality, less ignorant friends.

Posted by: tyromania | February 10, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse


No, pride has nothing to do with it. the point is that they have the right to say what they want as long as they don't violate the TOS. this is still a free country. Personally I think its very rational to point out if Democrats cried foul when Bush (or any Republican president for that matter) did recess appointments then they're being two-faced about it now. They're absolutely right. Now I don't agree with everything they say and some go over the line but many liberals on here go too far too and I don't see you reprimanding them do I?

If recess appointments are allowed then Obama can certainly do that but he should then be aware of any political fallout that comes from that just as Bush should have and would have had to deal with that.

Posted by: visionbrkr | February 10, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

So Ezra, you are then asking Democrats to be hypocrites, yes?

I clearly recall that Democrats were upset when Bush made those recess appointments. I also recall when Republicans used reconciliation to pass the tax cuts...democrats still blubber about that today.

Suddenly, these moves are a good idea????

Posted by: boosterprez | February 10, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

The senate has the authority to advise and consent on appointments of public ministers and all other officers not provided for and established in law; but Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers in the President, the courts of law, or the heads of departments.
There is no power given to the Senate to withhold advise or consent. Appointments should not be subject to delays by filibuster or by committee.

Posted by: rightlyso | February 10, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Booster, and others:

Yes, let the Dems be hypocrites.

Obama's saved the US from the Bush recession (by unpopular lending to banks), slowly marched back Bush's executive powers, saved car companies (and made the gov a profit), etc ... these things were needed but politically vulnerable. They did the job, but hurt his popularity. In a 100 years, we'll only see job number turn around, or the Dow go up, or his draw down of the constant-war policies and think they were wise. Right now, they are unpopular.

Similarly, if he did attack the filibuster, that'd be really unpopular. He'd make Dems look like hypocrites. But, besides the politics, what is needed? When President Paul Ryan cannot get anything done, will you change your tune? America is ungovernable by both parties and it needs to be changed no matter how hypocritical it seems or politically damaging it will be.

Things like reconciliation and Czars may be a short term fix for both parties in trying to get legislation or appointments through an ultra-partisan congress, and arguably that is good in the short term (for both parties), but things have gotta change so each party can do things when they're in power.

Posted by: Chris_ | February 10, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

"What the left can learn from the right?" Not a thing. Learning requires an open mind and an ability to go beyond dogma. Lefties have their talking points and that's about it.

Posted by: JBaustian | February 10, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Everyone knows that Erza Klein is an arch leftist and sycophant of and for Obama. Obama could learn alot from Bush but will not learn a thing from anyone. Obama is an elitest, leftist radical who thinks he smarter than anybody elso. However, he must not be that smart, he has screwed up everything he has touched and lied about every little and big thing also. Most people, other than the Washington Post, now see the truth about this Obama. Yes, he is truly a leftist radical from Chicago, but now we know that he is also a paramount liar, cheater, hoax, fraud, and a scam artist.

Posted by: walterndebby | February 10, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Everyone knows that Erza Klein is an arch leftist and sycophant of and for Obama. Obama could learn alot from Bush but will not learn a thing from anyone. Obama is an elitest, leftist radical who thinks he smarter than anybody elso. However, he must not be that smart, he has screwed up everything he has touched and lied about every little and big thing also. Most people, other than the Washington Post, now see the truth about this Obama. Yes, he is truly a leftist radical from Chicago, but now we know that he is also a paramount liar, cheater, hoax, fraud, and a scam artist.

Posted by: walterndebby | February 10, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

So since BO ran against the way Washington works, and reminds us of his position Almost daily. You now want him to resort to Washington's ways and have Recess appointments, because Bush did them.

I see that you are from the John Kerry school of reason,"I was for it, before I was against it", only this time in reverse.
Amazing how many Bush policies BO ran against, but after taking office, continues with them, RIGHT!!
How about a list of those EZRA!

Posted by: morphy | February 10, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Why does the WP allow Ezra Klein to be the apologist and chief for President Obama?

Posted by: rteske | February 10, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Dear Sirs,
The fiend that masterminded the attack on the USS COLE, Al-Badewi, is still at large.
He escaped from prison, twice, on Bush's watch.
President Reagan placed at wreath at a Nazi cemetery in Bitburg, Germany!
Oliver North sold arms to Ahminejad's mentor, Ayatollah Khomeni!
Jeanne Kirkpatrick blistered Israel for bombing Saddam Hussein's nuclear power plant!
They should teach anyone anything?
Clifford Spencer

Posted by: yankeefan1925 | February 10, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

Obama must stop trying to appease the Republicans as a 'reach across the aisle' because the Republican political machine has been completely overtaken by outspocken fascists. I remember this in Germany's WW2.
If the Democratic Party doesn't wake up, I am firmly convinced that the US will cease to continue as a democracy 'of the people'.

Posted by: kacameron | February 10, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

"What Obama could learn from Bush?
How to govern."

And "strategery."

Never "misunderestimate" good strategery.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 10, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Ezra has anyone proposed an idea that allows the filibuster to make the Senate more democratic (small "d")? I'll elaborate below.

Right now, any 41 senators can block major legislation from happening. Those 41 senators could represent as little as 11% of the population (see Talk about tyranny of the minority...

Instead, what about a filibuster that wasn't tied to the number of senators but to the population they represented? As in, any block of senators could stop a bill so long as they represented 50.1% of the population? This could be less than 40 if it included California, Texas, New York... you get the idea.

I think as long as we're talking about reforming the filibuster we might as well use it to correct the inherently undemocratic nature of the Senate.

Posted by: kmani1 | February 10, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Bush had no majority in congress, Obama does (or did). That would suggest that there is some other reason the nominees are not being pushed through by the dems. Maybe the Pres ought to start picking qualified "Traditional American" candidates instead of progressives/radicals etc.

Posted by: awunsch | February 10, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, great comment, but I wonder when & if the politcally-challenged Obama White House will resort to such "partisan" tactics. It's just astounding that one year into his administration, after all the constant Rethuglicant obstruction that Obama still has this "Alice in Wonderland" mentality that some bogus bipartisanship is possible. It's infuriating as well as demorializing!

Posted by: MarkA3 | February 10, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

"It's our way or no way." should be the Republican motto of late. To continue to try for reconciliation, no matter how noble the idea, when the opposition is foaming at the mouth with fear and loathing is like offering a bone to a rabid dog. He's not interested in the bone. He wants to rip your hand off - for starters.

We saw what happened when Carter tried to do the right thing and unite the country after Vietnam had badly torn us. He was done in by a sneaky Republican deal with Iran and everyone still thinks of him as "weak" when he was actually honorable, something we place even less value on today.

Now it's time for Obama to take the gloves off and get tough. If he does the people will stand with him and force the Republicans to mind their manners. If he doesn't, he's a lame duck going into his second year.

Posted by: thestoryplease | February 11, 2010 3:15 AM | Report abuse

""Everyone knows that Erza Klein is an arch leftist and sycophant of and for Obama. Obama could learn alot from Bush but will not learn a thing from anyone. Obama is an elitest, leftist radical ""

Ladies and gentleman, this is your conservative movement!

Posted by: tyromania | February 11, 2010 4:08 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein is absolutely correct and on point here. These time- honored tactics are precisely what the President should employ at this time. The Republicans have abdicated their responsibility to join in a bipartisan process. They have made the Congress virtually dysfunctional. The Senate is in a state of imposed paralysis. Obama's constructive agenda deserves enactment. Regrettably, the party of the opposition refuses to participate in positive floor debate. In reality, the President and the Democrats in Congress have no alternative but to use all legal means to enact their agenda.

Posted by: CHForbesSr | February 11, 2010 6:07 AM | Report abuse

So when Obama blocked Bush nominees it was ok, when Dems used the fillibuster as the minority it was ok, and the Dem Congress that controlled budgets in 2008 and 2009 (with Obama in support) has NO RESPONSIBILITY for their own legislation therefore Obama can blame Bush for all the deficits..
And don't mention the fact that the "major legislation" Bush pushed by reconciliation were tax cuts, for which reconciliation is kosher, not social transformation bills that affect every American..
After all, what are facts when you are pushing for your man to win..

Posted by: johnL1 | February 11, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

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