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Why Obama can't fire anyone


The politicization of the nomination process is usually understood as an obstacle to the president's ability to hire people. In reality, it may be doing even more damage to his ability to fire people. And that's not something members of either party should support.

The Treasury Department is a good case in point. This may be the most turbulent economy since the 1930s, but the agency tasked with navigating it is still waiting for a number of key nominees to be confirmed, including the undersecretary for international affairs and the undersecretary for domestic finance. Meanwhile, the boss himself, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, is under tremendous criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Some even want him fired.

But he can't be fired, and it's not because he's doing a bang-up job. It's because Obama can't be confident that he could be smoothly replaced. The only thing worse than an unpopular Treasury secretary is no Treasury secretary at all.

The problem gets worse as it goes deeper. It's not just that Geithner can't be fired. It's that he, in turn, can't fire anybody. Treasury is understaffed, and there's little reason to believe that the Senate will consider its nominees anytime soon. If Geithner is displeased with the performance of an appointed subordinate, he can't ponder whether America would be better off with another individual in that office. Instead, he must decide whether America would be better off if that office were empty.

This has a couple of effects. For one thing, it makes the bureaucracy less accountable, and over the long run, it makes it less effective. Plenty of Senate Republicans complain that schools can't fire bad teachers, but they've made it so that department heads can't fire bad undersecretaries. For another, it pushes the White House and the agencies to rely on positions that don't require Senate confirmation, leading to a proliferation of advisers and counselors who don't have the power of appointees and aren't subject to any congressional scrutiny. It's the worst of both worlds.

Read the rest in today's Outlook section.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh/AP.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 14, 2010; 11:32 AM ET
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Next: Lawrence Lessig and I talk Congress, corruption, and the populism of tea parties


Barry the incompetent boob Obama can't fire anyone because as bad as any of his advisers are, they are still more competent than Barry.

Posted by: screwjob2 | February 14, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

One solution:
Fire up the Recess Appointment Process and let 'er fly.

A party of Mich McConnels and Bohners, and the like rancid stupid Abramovitz alum cannot be allowed to stop the political process,
the constiutional process.

Posted by: whistling | February 14, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

The Chicago gang know enough details about BOs back of the limousine trysts with the call boiz back in the state senate days. Fire any one of them, and they might just write the book.

Posted by: horace1 | February 14, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

You can't really expect Obama to man-up those ovaries, do you? LOL

Posted by: tuzoner | February 14, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

What a pile of B.S.

If Odumbo happened to slip up and pick someone who is qualified, isn't a tax cheat, and a leftist, that individual would be confirmed without delay.

Delays are caused by the incompetent slug Odumbo picking incompetent dumbas$es like himself

Posted by: LarryG62 | February 14, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Obama, recess those nominees NOW!

Posted by: angie12106 | February 14, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

You know, calling your opponents names, whether it's using a name that you don't know they use themselves (Barry), "clever" alterations (Rethuglicans), or just straight up name calling ("the incompetent boob") doesn't add anything to your argument and it makes you seem like a real idiot. I don't know, I guess there actually are a lot of idiots out there, but I like to think that at least some of the people who do those things aren't actually that stupid and just need a reminder or push in the right direction.

Posted by: MosBen | February 14, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

President Obama should not have hired this man with the shifty look, in the first place. He came with too much baggage. Now the country is paying a heavy price.

Posted by: truth1 | February 14, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

You know, calling your opponents names, whether it's using a name that you don't know they use themselves (Barry), "clever" alterations (Rethuglicans), or just straight up name calling ("the incompetent boob") doesn't add anything to your argument and it makes you seem like a real idiot. I don't know, I guess there actually are a lot of idiots out there, but I like to think that at least some of the people who do those things aren't actually that stupid and just need a reminder or push in the right direction.


Posted by: truth1 | February 14, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Well, when the guy at the top is clearly in over his head, makes it tough to staff up with qualified staff...besides, there is not an unlmited supply of tax cheats, criminals and perverts out there for him to choose from.

Posted by: JCM-51 | February 14, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Obama is an incompetent buffon. Why isn't he using the recess appointment? That's a power he has, but yet he acts like he can't do anything. That the bully republicans have tied his hands. This president is the weakest I've seen in my lifetime. I regret ever voting for this weak softy.

Posted by: lumi21us | February 14, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I think that Obama believes that his "legacy" on this issue will be to set a presidential norm of not using recess appointments in the hopes that future presidents will follow his lead and reasonable accommodations with the Senate and their holds can be found. He thinks that if he disarms himself from using recess appointments, then the senators will disarm themselves from using holds.

It's this sort of instinct from Obama that makes all the claims of his being a big fan of "Chicago-style-politics" so hilarious. He's really a true believer in all of that "bring everyone to the table" stuff and thinks that recess appointments are an "unfair" workaround to the problem.

Posted by: tyromania | February 14, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

This is not about Republicans!!

The Democrats control Congress and had a super majority for months = almost a year. The problem lies in the previous Administration was tied up by Congressional Democrats using the filibuster for nominees for the first time in history!!

This is pay back and it's valid!!

Posted by: jjcrocket2 | February 14, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Van Jones

Posted by: fury60 | February 14, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Pay back, at least in this context, is not valid. It's petty. And it will remain petty when the Dems will (probably) do it the next time they're in the minority. "This is the way politics work today" is not the same as "this is a good way for politics to work."

Presidents of both parties should be able to staff executive branch positions fairly quickly and easily. I'd say debate on nominees for executive branch positions should be limited, after which an vote is held.

Posted by: MosBen | February 14, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

jjcrocket2, the nature of a "hold" is not that it denies a vote on a nominee. It's that it forces a nominee to go through two weeks of procedural votes before the final vote. Since this is impractical, the Senate continues with the rest of its business until the hold is released, which may be never. So even with a supermajority, a hold effectively prevents a nominee from showing up, because the hold forces all the procedures normally passed by "unanimous consent" to be voted on. It's a method of driving the government and the senate to a halt.

Posted by: tyromania | February 14, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Good heavens, the illiterati are out in full force today, aren't they? I am amazed that Ezra puts up with this useless nastiness instead of just having no comment section at all. It would certainly be understandable if he were to shut it down for a while--no intelligent reader of *any* political persuasion could possibly enjoy wading through these kinds of idiotic, elementary-school-level insults.

Posted by: litbrit | February 14, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

What's even more petty about it is that unlike judgeships, these appointments are highly temporary in nature, most not even lasting past the president's first term. And the fact that these holds are being placed on dozens of other officials for essentially no reason is becoming ridiculous. Part of the thing is that 1 hold doesn't matter: the senate just works past the hold until the final vote. This only gums up the works if you put lots and lots of holds for no reason whatsoever.

Posted by: tyromania | February 14, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

In just one year in office Obama has lost trust with congress and the American people.
His track record of appointments has been miserable.

He has surrounded himself with admitted radicals, most being unaccountable "czars". His administration's vetting process has also shown the results of their inexperience.

We now know what he meant when he promised to "fundamentally transform America", and people don't like it. He is a one term lame duck president already.

Posted by: thehamptons1 | February 14, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

What a crock. A good first step to getting confidence in Obama's appointees would be to get rid of the ones nobody wants.

Are we honestly to believe that Tim Geithner knows he can do whatever he want because Obama can't get anyone else confirmed by the Senate? I don't think so.

Posted by: cpurick | February 14, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

thehamptons1, you realize, I hope, that making it harder to confirm executive nominees means that administrations rely more and more on non-accountable "czars" while their nominees are in limbo. If you want accountable people on the job, making it impossible to get through Senate confirmation is a strange way of getting where you want to be.

Posted by: MosBen | February 14, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse


Incompetence should be legislated.

Oh, that's right, it already is.

Posted by: msoja | February 15, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

The Senate needs to do away with its "hold" process in which any single senator can put a hold on a nominee and gum up the process almost indefinitely. Let senators still put their holds on nominees, but put a time limit on these holds, or let holds be overridden with a floor or committee vote. Importantly, too, make all holds public. Let the public see who is preventing nominees from being approved. The idea that one senator can keep nominees tied up for months or even years is just plain destructive.

In the meantime, Obama obviously has options. The Constitution gives him the power of recess appointments, and even staunch conservatives would have a hard time begrudging the president that power if a nomination has been held up without a vote for six months or more, especially given how much Bush was willing to use the recess appointments when Senate Democrats put him in a similar situation.

This said, Obama has been pretty slow to make nominations, and he set such an ambitious first-year agenda that he prevented a lot of nomination hearings from happening simply because the senators who would have held nomination hearings were instead tied up in legislative committee meetings. Obama simply hasn't set nominee confirmations as a priority, and he hasn't leaned on the Senate for confirmation votes to happen, and so they haven't. Then, when they don't happen, Obama isn't willing to make a recess appointment. Obama could create a lot more urgency in the Senate by simply making a couple public demands for confirmation votes, and then taking the first opportunity to make recess appointments if those votes don't happen. The Senate "hold" process is a problem, but Obama's lack of leadership on the matter is also to blame.

Posted by: blert | February 15, 2010 1:26 AM | Report abuse

obama can not fire anyone because it would be one of the fruits ,nut or flaks he had to appiont to keep the far left leat even the middle of the road dems are joining the gop and vetoing his very bad appiontment choices. do you like the bipartisan voting now obummer.

Posted by: dagner49 | February 15, 2010 2:24 AM | Report abuse

We fire people for incompetence in the private sector on a regular basis. Perhaps the dearth of private sector experience is catching up with Barry? Perhaps if someone in his administration actually had private sector experience this would not be a problem? Diversity is a two way street, and it does not only apply to skin color. It applies also to private sector work experience, which the administration does not have or want. Welcome to adult-hood, boys.

What's next, union representation for senior administration appointees?

Posted by: redline2868 | February 15, 2010 2:32 AM | Report abuse

Honest folks are abandoning the government.

God help us all.

Posted by: tjhall1 | February 15, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

Obama is ineffectual in matters of governing. He has his points to accomplish set forth by George Soros and the hard-core progressives, and anything other than that, he's out of his element.

Posted by: prossers7 | February 15, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Once again the ignorati are spinning their delusions as righteous indignation. MosBen wrote: "using a name that you don't know they use themselves (Barry)." If you care to be honest, Obama himself wrote and published this fact; unless, of course, you now believe he was lying in his book. Which is it, Einstein? Squandering a year of opportunity with a Congressional super majority by accomplishing nothing of substance would certainly fit most definitions of incompetence, thus qualifying one for the honorific boob endorsement. The problem with leftists is their inability to distinguish fact from fiction.

Posted by: jpost1 | February 15, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse

"Honest folks are abandoning the government."

I wonder: Would you call that "adverse selection"?

Posted by: cpurick | February 15, 2010 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Obama can't fire anyone because he is the problem and he is the failure and everything Mr. Klein says are the reasons
are because they were at the bottom of Obama's priorities.

It starts at the top; the fish rots from the head down.

He has splintered his own allies and party
in his zeal to get a health bill with his name on it.

Democrats are crushing Democrats; posiitions are being filled; the GOP and citizens have been dismissed in pursuit of Obama's far left agenda.

He failed to get that bill
while destroying the economy with his huge deficit spending and proposed tax increases.

He is scaring everyone with his mindset that keeping us safe is secondary to not alienating the global community including Muslims.

By setting up an unapproved shadow government of 32 czars that include Marxists,Communists,Maoists and assorted kooks and radicals, he has shown his disdain for the Constitution, for the Congressional approval process and for the

How with the above could anyone expect this failure and disappointment that is Obama to fire anyone?

Posted by: Concerned14 | February 15, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

jpost1, there was a time in his life when he chose to use the name Barry, but that time is not now. His legal name is Barack. His family and friends call him Barack. He refers to himself as Barack. Calling him "Barry" when it is clearly not the name he wishes to use is rude, and people who do it are either doing so intentionally as a way to be disrespectful or because they need to be reminded to simple, basic courtesy.

If you want to argue that a public official is incompetent, that's fine. They work for us and they are subject to performance reviews through elections. If you're going to make that argument, I'd personally like to see something more developed than the assertion of incompetence, but that's another issue. Failure to perform the duties of one's job is legitimate criticism.

Name-calling is not legitimate criticism. As I said in my first post, it makes you seem like an idiot. Maybe you're not an idiot, I don't know, so show me you're interested in honest debate and not school-yard nonsense.

Posted by: MosBen | February 15, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

Wow, what a troll infestation.

Posted by: luko | February 15, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

What a mess the party of win at any cost, party first has made of our government.
I have never before seen our politicians go to such extremes, totally refusing to support anything and everything, sacrificing our country and us for selfish goals, personal gains.
They have made a disgrace of our political system and have become dangerous to the future and survival of our country.

Posted by: kathlenec | February 15, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

The republicans have made this country ungovernable. The GnOP has mostly been incapable of governing, from Herbert Hoover, through Ron Reagan culminating in the fiasco know as George W Bush. I find it disgusting to read the comments from the racist and rednecks, aka R/R's about Obama. They hate him simply because he is black. R/R's reinforce their bigotry by watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limpbaugh. These hateful people feed their hate and they refuse to allow any intelligent conversation. The R/R's have very little in the way of wealth, but they continually vote for the people that take what little they have and give it to the rich. They are very sad and pathetic people who appear bent on destroying America just to satisfy their rage.

Posted by: jkenney11 | February 15, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

We should get a president with balls, Vote for Sarah.

Posted by: jkenney11 | February 15, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

You are right luko, the trolls are out in force and as usual their posts are inane. (Trolls, go to the dictionary to look up the word "inane" before you spew your hate please, it may help to make your posts less stupid).

Posted by: jkenney11 | February 15, 2010 10:30 AM | Report abuse

@MosBen: "You know, calling your opponents names, whether it's using a name that you don't know they use themselves (Barry), "clever" alterations (Rethuglicans), or just straight up name calling ("the incompetent boob") doesn't add anything to your argument and it makes you seem like a real idiot."

Man, this is something we can agree on 100%. When I hear people call Obama "Odumbo", I pray (and I know this is wrong, but I do) that that person is actually a lefty trying to stir the pot and trying to make us right-wingers look retarded, not actually am authentic right-winger being rude, thoughtless, shallow and obnoxious. Although it is almost certainly the latter.

Frankly, I understand that we aren't all going to get along regarding points of policy. We just aren't. And there are terms that are vaguely pejorative that make the point: I might refer to the consensus on climate change as being an example of the universal spiritual appeal of the First Church of Climate Change, and you might call me a flat-earther. Fair enough. But "Odumbo"? I think "Rethuglicans" is stupid, and pointless, but Odumbo is just infantile. And then calling everyone who disagrees with you dumba**es and so on--seriously, what is the point of that? Even people who agree with your assessment in principle aren't going to think you are clever and witty.

And why come to a forum where most of the folks are trying to genuinely discuss their differences and share their ideas (or, as in the case of jkaren, share their lovely free verse) and start with that?


Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 15, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse


"Name-calling is not legitimate criticism. As I said in my first post, it makes you seem like an idiot. Maybe you're not an idiot, I don't know, so show me you're interested in honest debate and not school-yard nonsense."

MosBen is on fire today. I give you the highest compliment a person can give another person: you remind me of myself, and how awesome I am. ;)

Seriously. What does the name calling add to the debate? And it's almost certainly inaccurate--so much goes into politics and political decisions that to suggest what clearly intelligent folks are stupid is just . . . pointless. They aren't stupid. Even though I disagree with much of liberal policy, I understand that those policies are considered, and are generally well-intentioned. The same for the political strategies--Obama may be making errors in political strategy, but it's not because he's stupid, it's because it's hard to advance any agenda in politics. Because there are numerous competing agendas, even within the Whitehouse.

I think you can disagree with folks without being nasty. Frankly, I think trying to listen to the other side objectively and look at the people you disagree with in the most flattering possible light is both more challenging and more enjoyable than just calling them bozos.

If you absolutely have to be a jerk, come up with something better than "Odumbo". Seriously, what are you, 4 years old?

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 15, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Welcome to the world of George W. Bush where Democrats basically put a blockade on his cabinet and judicial nominees the last 4 years of his presidency. Bush couldn't even use recess appointments after the 2006 elections because Democrats would keep the Senate in token session with a rotating Senator hanging around Washington. Please, cry me a river. Up until the Scott Brown election the Democrats had a filibuster proof majority and could ram through every Obama nominee they wanted wether the Republicans liked it or not. The fact that they couldn't do this isn't the Repubican's fault. Blame the incompetence of Obama's vetting process, the incompetence of the Senate leadership and the incompetence of a lot of the nominees themselves. Who nominates a hard core labor activist lawyer to a seat on the NLRB and thinks that no ones going to object.

Posted by: RobT1 | February 15, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

This is a rediculous premise, if Obama has incompetent people on his staff he needs to man up and fire them. There is a tremendous difference between can't and won't.

Posted by: rgray222 | February 15, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Barry & Tim : ***** SAVE SMALL BUSINESSES & JOBS.. ... ... .... ... ...President Obama: Keep COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE FORECLOSURES from occuring and closing Small Businesses.....use 10% of the $787 Billion "JOBS" Bill our children will pay for; to AVOID 1930'S style, full-blown DEPRESSION!!

Posted by: MSFT-PELOSI | February 15, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

A rubber room for Obama nominees? ala NYC schools that have a special room for the really dangerous, perverted, and psychotic teachers that no principal or school wants, but cannot be fired?

Costs NYC (and taxpayerss) $200 million a year to have incompetent teachers who receive over $100,000 in salary plus benefits, to sit a room because they cannot be fired.

This is the unionization of this country.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | February 15, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

As incompetent as the 43rd POTUS, the idiot W would have probably fired himself when asked to fire the most incompetent in his administration

Posted by: charleswatford | February 15, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Thomas Frank wrote about and mentioned on an interview with Bill Moyers that conservatives often make government work inefficiently by design; I wrote a bit about this problem and the nominations process problems here:

Posted by: edmigper | February 15, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Heaven forbid that this administration might have to rely heavily on their staff of KNOWLEDGEABLE, CAREER CIVIL SERVANTS to manage their agencies instead of political appointees. Maybe the Republicans are doing us all a favor by blocking appointments.

Posted by: stillaliberal | February 15, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

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