Apr 15, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump threatens to force Congress to adjourn to allow recess appointments

President Trump threatened Wednesday to force Congress into a formal recess so that he can make recess appointments, claiming that the lack of permanent positions filled in his administration has made it "very hard" to govern, especially during the pandemic.

Why it matters: Trump told the Senate to either "fulfill its duty and vote on my nominees" or formally adjourn so that he can make recess appointments, attacking the chamber for using "scam" pro forma sessions in which it convenes briefly.

  • He singled out the government-run media agency Voice of America for its "disgusting" coverage, demanding that the Senate confirm his nominee for CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
  • "If you look at what they're doing and what they're saying about our country — it's a disgrace the people that are running that. We have somebody that's really good, really talented and loves our country."

Between the lines: The Constitution does give the president the power to adjourn the House and Senate when the two chambers disagree about when to adjourn. But no president has ever used that power, and the Senate and the House have already signaled that they will return from recess on May 4.

What he's saying:

"We have a tremendous number of people that have to come into government and now more so than ever before because of the virus. ... If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress. The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis. It is a scam what they do. It's a scam and everybody knows it, and it's been that way for a long time."
— Trump's remarks
  • A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement that McConnell had a conversation Wednesday with Trump "to discuss Senate Democrats’ unprecedented obstruction of the president’s well-qualified nominees and shared his continued frustration with the process."
  • "The Leader pledged to find ways to confirm nominees considered mission-critical to the COVID-19 pandemic," the spokesperson added, noting under Senate rules this would require consent from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

How it works: When the Senate is in recess, the president can automatically appoint some federal officials who would otherwise require Senate confirmation.

  • So the Senate's standard practice is to not formally adjourn, even when senators leave town for weeks at a time. Instead, it enters into "pro forma" sessions every few days, which blocks the president from making recess appointments.
  • Trump wants the Senate to declare a proper recess so that he can make recess appointments — and is now threatening to adjourn Congress himself if it doesn't.

The big picture: Trump has had a record number of "acting" officials in his administration, including in positions like director of national intelligence and secretary of homeland security. He has previously said that he "likes" having acting officials because it gives him more "flexibility."

What's next: "[Congress] is being warned right now," Trump said. "If they don't approve it, then we are going to go this route. And we will probably be challenged in court and we will see who wins."

  • "We needed these people before," the president added. "But now we really need these people."
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