President Trump said Wednesday that he was considering taking the unprecedented step of adjourning both houses of Congress in order to make recess appointments to fill government posts, citing the emergency created by the coronavirus outbreak.
“If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” Trump said at a Rose Garden briefing of the coronavirus task force. “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.”
Noting that the Senate, which has the responsibility for confirming executive-branch appointments, had “left Washington until at least May 4,” Trump said that “the Constitution provides a mechanism for the president to fill positions in such circumstances, the recess appointment, it’s called.”
Officials appointed in this manner can serve until the end of the following Senate session, although if Trump is not reelected in November the next president may choose to replace them with his or her own appointees.
Trump cited Michael Pack, whom he nominated to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media in June 2018.
“He’s been stuck in committee for two years, preventing us from managing the Voice of America, very important. And if you heard what is coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting. The things they say are disgusting toward our country.”
Democrats have blocked Pack’s confirmation because they see him as a threat to the independence of the agency he would run. While Trump said, “We especially need [these people] now because of the pandemic,” he did not specify how Pack’s appointment would help with the effort to curb the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.
While past presidents have made recess appointments when Congress was adjourned, and used their constitutional powers to call Congress back into session, Trump would be the first in U.S. history to try to adjourn both chambers in order to fill vacant government positions.
“Perhaps it’s never been done before, nobody’s even sure if it has, but we’re going to do it. We need these people here. We need people for this crisis, and we don’t want to play any more political games,” Trump said.
The president appears to be referring to Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which grants presidents the right to adjourn Congress “in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment.”
Such a move would be immediately challenged in court, however, and the logistics of carrying out such a plan immediately drew scrutiny.
Without one chamber participating in this improper scheme, this action would be unconstitutional. The president has no general, unilateral power to adjourn Congress. He may do so only in the limited “Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment.” https://t.co/9LkZ7309Ca
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 15, 2020
While Trump appealed to Congress to put politics aside and approve his nominees, he pinned the blame for what he said were “many, many positions that are unstaffed” on Democrats, who he said “are holding them up.” At the same time Trump boasted of the number of judges he has been able to have confirmed in the Senate.
“We’ve gotten judges because we’ve gone through the process. I guess we’re up to 448 federal judges and that we’ve gotten because we’ve focused on it,” Trump said.
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