Congress weakened itself last night, almost fatally. They passed a bill to let the President appoint several sub-Cabinet-level officers without asking the Senate to confirm them. True, the Constitution lets Congress do this. But conservative and “patriotic” Congress watchers reacted in anger and outrage.
Congress yields authority
Last night, the House of Representatives, on a motion to suspend the rules, passed S. 679, the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011. That bill says that the President may appoint several civil officers without asking the Senate to weigh in.
The Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 2) gives the President power to appoint all civil and military officers of the United States. He must normally go to the Senate, which must approve, or confirm, the appointment. But Congress may let the President alone appoint a given officer, or let the law courts or “heads of departments” handle it. This lets judges appoint their own clerks, bailiffs, and other officers, and lets Cabinet-level secretaries appoint their low-level staff. But Congress and the President have always understood that the President must go to the Senate to appoint any officer above a certain “Government Service” level, and especially any officer having roughly the same rank as an ambassador. (The Senate must also confirm a new general or admiral.)
But on March 30, 2011, Senator Charles M. Schumer (D-NY) introduced S. 679 to the Senate. He did so, he said, to let the President appoint several mid-level administrators, and relieve the Senate of having to confirm them. The bill runs to 36 pages. It names several high-ranking administrators, but no Cabinet members, whom the President may appoint without consulting the Senate. They include, among others:
The Treasurer of the United States,
The Rural Utilities Service Administrator,
The Chief Scientist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration,
The Deputy Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration,
Members of the National Security Education Board,
The Director of Selective Service,
Four key officers in the Department of Homeland Security, and
Five high-level Directors in the Department of Justice.
In addition, the bill reduces some Assistant Secretary positions in the Defense and Homeland Security Departments.
This bill does not let the President appoint Justices of the Supreme Court or any other officer that II-2-2 above mentions.
The Senate passed this measure on June 29, 2012. The House voted on a motion to suspend the rules and passed. It needed two-thirds of the members present and voting. By a vote of 261 to 116, with 54 Representatives not voting, the House passed the measure last night. Because both Houses of Congress have passed it, the bill is at the White House, waiting for the putative President to sign it.
Ninety-five Republicans voted for the bill. They included all but two Republicans (Scott Garrett, NJ-5, and Leonard Lance, NJ-7) in the New Jersey delegation. Representative Allen West (R-FL-22) voted against it. But Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) voted for it. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH-8) did not vote.
One Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN-7), voted against it. 166 Democrats voted for it.
Conservatives up in arms
The US Constitution. Photo: National Archives of the United States
The mainstream media totally ignored this bill and last night’s dark-of-night vote. Only The Daily Callerreported on it.
Thomas McCluskey of the Family Research Council tried in vain to persuade Republicans in Congress to vote the bill down:
The United States Constitution does not [give] kingly powers [to] the President to appoint the senior officers of the government with no process.
McCluskey then said that if the Senate is that far behind in confirming people, then Congress ought to streamline the government, not the way a President appoints its officers.
Nick Purpura, a Tea Party activist in Wall, New Jersey, went further:
Congress just became the Reichstag!
RoseAnn Salanitri, head of the New Jersey Tea Party Caucus, called the vote “an absolute outrage.” She suggested that all residents of the Fifth and Seventh Districts should call the offices of Congress members Garrett and Lance to “thank them for standing up for the Constitution.”
“What…are Republicans thinking?” cried Scotty Starnes. “Cowards!” said the owner of the Fire Andrea Mitchell blog. This second person noted that no media organ said anything when the Senate passed this bill. One commenter suggested that Republican Mitt Romney had urged Speaker Boehner to make sure this bill passed, so that Romney would have the same power that Obama will now have.
Are we trading one dictator for another?
This bill is all the more dangerous because some of the officers that it exempts from Senate scrutiny are highly sensitive. The Rural Utilities Services Administrator would likely serve on the Rural Council. Obama formed that Council to carry out UN Agenda 21.