[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/28/art.lamar0328.cnn.jpg caption="Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said Sunday that the president's plan for recess appointments has thrown 'fuel on the fire' at a time of already angry political debate in the country."]
Washington (CNN) – A leading Senate Republican said Sunday that his chamber’s failure thus far to act on a number of President’s Obama’s nominees was consistent with the constitutional scheme of government intended to keep the executive branch in check.
Obama announced plans Saturday to appoint 15 nominees while the Senate is in recess. Among the 15 is one especially controversial pick for the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that weighs in on those labor-management disputes governed by federal law.
Related: Obama to make recess appointments
Asked on CNN’s State of the Union about Democratic claims of Republican obstructionism in the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, said his party was helping to fulfill the Senate’s traditional role in a divided government.
“What it’s called is checks and balances,” said the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. “And what the president has done here is throw fuel on the fire at a time when the civil – when the debate about politics is a very angry debate to begin with.”
Related: Anger over health care bill a sign of the times?
The Tennessee Republican noted that all 41 Republican senators had recently written to the president and asked that he not make a recess appointment of labor attorney Craig Becker. Many conservatives and business interests say Becker holds views about the right to unionize and the procedures for forming a union that they find objectionable.
Pointing to the GOP’s upset win in a Massachusetts special Senate election earlier this year, Alexander suggested that the White House and congressional Democrats could pay a political price for appointing Becker while the Senate is in recess.
“What this is going to do is cause the election of a lot more Republican Scott Browns in November who are determined to come in and provide some checks and balances in Washington to stop the overreaching of the government,” Alexander told CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley. “We have a Senate to provide advice and consent. We have a constitutional responsibility to keep the president from ramming things through like they did the health care bill, like they did student loans over the weekend and like he’s doing with this labor appointee.”
Under the Constitution the president needs the “advice and consent” of the Senate to make high-level appointments to the administration and federal agencies. But the Constitution also allows the president to make appointments without input from the Senate when the Senate is in recess.
Updated: 12:32 p.m.
Follow Martina Stewart on Twitter: @MMStewartCNN