Sen. Michael S. “Mike” Lee (R.-Utah)
The Utah senator singled out in the president’s Jan. 28 weekly national address lashed back at President Barack H. Obama’s accusations that he was the one making Washington unworkable.
“Sadly, the President has sought to make this a partisan issue; but the Constitution is not partisan,” said Michael S. “Mike” Lee (R.-Utah), who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., first at the U.S. Court of Appeals and then at the Supreme Court.
“Ironically, the President invoked our Founding Fathers in his remarks claiming they did not envision such a defense of our constitutional rights,” he said.
“In fact, the Founding Fathers specifically instituted a system of checks and balances designed to protect American liberties against the unrestrained power of a tyrannical executive,” Lee said.
President Barack H. Obama Jr., asserted Jan. 4 that the Senate’s pro forma sessions, were actually recesses, which then, allowed him to make “recess appointments” of Richard Cordray to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three new members to the National Labor Relations Board without confirmation by the upper chamber.
After the appointments were announced by the president, the Department of Justice released a justification for the move, a justification that Lee said was wrong-headed.
Tensions between Obama and the Senate went from institutional and constitutional to personal when the president called out Lee for his stated intention to stand up for the Senate’s Advice and Consent authority in regards to presidential appointments.
“Just two days ago, a senator from Utah promised to obstruct every single American I appoint to a judgeship or public service position – unless I fire the consumer watchdog I put in place to protect the American people from financial schemes or malpractice,” the president said.
“For the most part, it’s not that this senator thinks these nominees are unqualified. In fact, all of the judicial nominees being blocked have bipartisan support, and almost 90 percent have unanimous support from the Judiciary Committee, he said.
“Instead, one of his aides told reporters that the senator plans to, and I’m quoting here, ‘Delay and slow the process in order to get the President’s attention,’” he said.
“This isn’t about me. We weren’t sent here to wage perpetual political campaigns against each other. We were sent here to serve the American people. And they deserve better than gridlock and games,” the president said.
“One senator gumming up the works for the whole country is certainly not what our founding fathers envisioned,” Obama said.
A team response by Senate Republicans has not yet emerged because the senators are still returning to Washington from both the Christmas break and the series of retreats and conferences usually scheduled for the beginning of the new legislative session, said a senior GOP Senate aide, not on Lee’s staff.
The aide said there is great anger and resentment among GOP senators, but they are still sorting out who will take the lead, rather than have different senators freelancing and stepping on each other’s messages.
Lee stepped up with his own response at the Jan. 26 meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would exercise whatever tools were available to him as an individual senator to defend the assault on the chamber though encroachments on its role and authority.
“Given this President’s blatant and egregious disregard both for proper constitutional procedures and the Senate’s unquestioned role in such appointments, I find myself duty-bound to resist the consideration and approval of additional nominations until the President takes steps to remedy the situation,” he said.
Obama’s reasoning was deeply flawed, he said. “The President’s assertion that he may unilaterally determine for himself whether or not the Senate is in recess violates the Constitution’s fundamental separation of government powers and the Senate’s rightful prerogatives.”
“Regardless of the precise course I choose to pursue, the President certainly will not continue to enjoy my nearly complete cooperation, unless and until he rescinds his unconstitutional recess appointments,” he said.
Beyond the use or threat to us a filibuster, Lee’s most powerful tool will be his witholding of “unanimous consent,” or U.C., said a Lee staffer familiar with tactics being considered.
Most business in the Senate is conducted without a roll call or voice vote, he said. Instead, with U.C., the presiding officer can gavel a matter approved and then go to the next piece of business, he said.
Not only will forcing votes on otherwise routine measures slow the Senate down, before every vote, there is a motion to proceed to the vote, that would also now require a vote, he said.
It is the president who created this crisis, and Lee is determined not to back down, he said.
Video of Lee’s Jan. 26 remarks at the Senate Judiciary Committee: