March 28th, 2010
01:45 PM ET
10 years ago

Alexander: 'What it's called is checks and balances'

[cnn-photo-caption image= 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.

Related: Appointment to labor board sparks opposition

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

soundoff (243 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    Where were you when Shrub appointed 286 recess appointments?

    March 28, 2010 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  2. Erik...

    It goes way beyond checks and balances to not continue with nominations of over SEVENTY positions. A handful, maybe, but that is pure obstructionism!

    But apparently, anything and EVERYTHING the President wishes to do is "ramming it down America's throat"'s simply shocking! The man can't even do his job!

    March 28, 2010 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  3. The Weatherman

    Has anyone noticed the "closed shop" or union states are heavily democratic, have the worst economies and losing the most population to states which are coincidentally "right to work" or nonunion and recovering from economic morass. Those latter states coincidentally tilt republican.

    I guess that is also "Bush's fault" or Reagan or Nixon............

    The Weatherman

    March 28, 2010 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  4. lasparky11

    It was OK when Bush appointed anti labor, anti worker, big business to the board. Nobody said anything then.

    March 28, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  5. Bill

    President Obama's decision to bypass the vacationing Senate and directly appoint 15 nominees has produced some expected cries of outrage from Republicans.

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pronounced himself "very disappointed" with the move, charging that it showed "once again" that the Obama administration has "little respect for the time honored constitutional roles and procedures of Congress." The president's team had "forced their will on the American people," McCain fumed in a written statement.

    Were these the words of a principled opponent of presidential recess appointments, or of a politician in a tough primary jumping at an opportunity to bash President Obama?

    Well, here's how McCain reacted in 2005 when President Bush was considering a recess appointment for John Bolton, the controversial nominee to be United Nations ambassador: "I would support it. It's the president's prerogative."

    Indeed, just a few years earlier, McCain had succeeded in a one-man crusade to persuade President Bush to install a favored nominee using a recess appointment. Here's how UPI described it in 2002:

    Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain prevailed in his fight with the White House to have Ellen Weintraub, a former Capitol Hill attorney, named to a Democratic seat on the Federal Election Commission as a recess appointment. McCain must now be overjoyed that her colleagues have elected her chairman of the commission for the coming year. In her new role, Weintraub, the wife of Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold's legislative director, will have a lot to say about how the regulations governing the McCain-Feingold campaign legislation will be written an implemented.
    Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell also joined in the protests of Obama's recess appointments on Saturday, calling them "stunning" and "yet another episode of choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition."

    But back in 2005, under President Bush, McConnell spoke what is probably far closer to the truth. When asked by a Fox News host if a recess appointment of Bolton would make the atmosphere in the Senate more poisonous, McConnell replied "no" and pointed out, "typically senators who are not of the party of the president don't like recess appointments."

    Huffington Post

    March 28, 2010 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  6. Rick McDaniel


    That is how abuse of power, is contained.

    March 28, 2010 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  7. The undisputed truth.............

    Impede and Obstruct is quite different from check and balance. The Republican is crossinf over the line of checks and balances over the political philosophy of anyone who opposes giving Coporate America a "free ride".

    March 28, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  8. jp,michigan

    I remember when the Republicans where the majority and Bush was President, the democratic where darn out nasty. So what goes around comes around, only the Democrats protest to mush and setting up an account to fight peoples outrage is ludacris. The administration doesnot want bipartisnship. The democratic side on the hill has voted down any republican ideas, even though used some in the health-care bill. American people resent the back door deats and cut throat tactics of the democrats and Obama adminstration. As a senior citizen I resent the abuse shown to this population to provide for others. We have always provided for the less fortunate and uninsured. We have paid our dues and now its time for others to do their part, why should certain individuals always get something for nothing, not even try to do something.

    March 28, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  9. Sniffit

    The Weatherman...your facts are totally wrong.

    March 28, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  10. The undisputed truth.............

    Impede and Obstruct is quite different from check and balance. The Republican is crossing over the line of checks and balances based on a political philosophy against anyone who opposes giving Coporate America a "free ride".

    March 28, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  11. liz

    This is not 'checks and balances,' this is dysfunctional government at its worst! the rethuglisaurs are mostly responsible for a lot of the anger in this country. the health care debate is a prime example. people are upset at the 'right's' portrayal of the bill, not what's actually in it. the repuglicans' refusal to do anything now is just bratty children who didn't get their way taking their ball and going home. this is not responsible government. these people have never accepted the judgement of the electorate in '08 who said very plainly we're not going to do things the rethuglican way any more. if they can't find a way to try to do something to help average Americans, they need to get out of the way of the folks who were elected to do just that.

    March 28, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  12. The undisputed truth.............

    Impede and Obstruct is quite different from check and balance. The Republican Senate is crossing over the line of checks and balances based on a political philosophy against anyone who opposes giving Coporate America a "free ride".

    March 28, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  13. Florence

    41 senators including 2 democrats or 41 senators and 2 democrats that would make it 43 senators -which is it?

    2 democrats who appose because of political reasons, maybe?
    That is why we have elections – November will answer the question that's burning in everyone's mind. Is palin helping or destroying the GOP? Great crowds but how will it matter in November? IS MCCAIN GOING TO SURVIVE THE PRIMARY? And if he does how vulnerable is here to the democrat challenging him? Palin will be the negative force in his election success and I won't be surprised if he suffers another loss (remember 2008). McCain need to think seriously about who he's PALIN around with...

    March 28, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  14. Terry from West Texas

    Lamar Alexander is a Conservative Republican.

    Q: How can you tell if a Conservative is lying?
    A: If he is breathing.

    Obama should make the recess appointments. If Republicans don't like it, they can ask for Congress to stay in session. The Conservatives in the Senate don't give a crap about "Advice and Consent." They are simply opposing anything, everything, and everyone in the Obama Administration. The reasons they give are never the real reasons for their action. If we were to inject Alexander with a potent truth serum, he would be saying this:

    "We are opposed to all Obama appointments in the hopes of gridlocking his administration and making government unable to solve America's problems. This will cause the middle class to suffer, but who cares what happens to those losers? In the end, if they are angry enough and frustrated enough, they will vote for "the other guy" in 2012, and "the other guy" will be the Republican nominee. We only care about our own power, wealth, and status and the power, wealth, and status of those global corporations that contribute to us. The "Advise and Consent" stuff is just a cover story. Mindless opposition is our real strategy. Have a nice day."

    March 28, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  15. Anonymous

    Please don't attempt to pass off Republican behavior as of late as "checks and balances." That stretches the imagination to the absurd, and Republicans know it.
    The Republican party has truly lost its way. It no longer represents the people, only the wealthiest. Republicans now spend most of their energy trying to fool the people; unfortunately, they are all too often successful.

    March 28, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. Rush Limbaugh sponsors violence

    Yes we need checks on the Corporate Fascists,who would make us all take slave wages if they could.The "New World Order" of "Global Fascists" want us all to make a dollar an hour or less.Its the race to the bottom for us and a race to riches for them.Its time to see who the real enemy of the people are,the World Bank and the group of twenty families.

    March 28, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  17. aquinox

    The role of a recess appointment is not to bypass Congress. It's to allow the President to do his job in the event Congress isn't around. So if he's already sent the nominations to the Senate, he shouldn't be using the recess appointment to force his way. If he wanted to appoint someone to a position previously filled, or if he wanted to appoint these positions and hadn't had the opportunity to talk to Congress because they were in recess, then he should use it.

    This is abusing an important power to get his way, and after November, they'll undoubtedly have something to say about the positions as they have to be confirmed after the next election.

    March 28, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  18. Annie, Atlanta

    A "constitutional scheme of government intended to keep the executive branch in check?" It would be laughable if it wasn't so destructive. I understand the system of checks and balances, really. But there's a line, that when crossed, turns into obstructionism, especially when they (McConnell) clearly expressed it is for the purpose of politics, to regain power.

    That line has been crossed. When you put politics and winning at all costs before us, the voters, especially in a recession/depression, we notice. Then we tend to keep you in check come the next election cycle.

    March 28, 2010 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  19. Ken in NC

    This is funny. If these 15 recess appointments are going to cause so many "Republican Scott Browns" to be elected in November then why are Republicans complaining. They should be cheering the President on and asking him to make more appointments so they can get more Republicans elected. Problem is that is not the case. These people will be appointed and work out just fine and the American public will see the Republicans as a bunch of hell raising sore losers.

    What would really make Republicans happy would be for the President to inquire of them just what they would like and then go out and do it. WELL THAT AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN. Get over it Republicans. Either you work with the majority or you sit back and let them work. If and when you regain power, they will have to work with you or sit back and let you work. That's the way it is Sunday the 28th of March.

    March 28, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  20. Nancy, NY

    Last time democrats kept the senate session going so George Bush could not have recess appointments. I fully support what Sen. Alexander says. Barack Obama is not irrational and he wants to be a dictator. He wants do the things first and then he wants us to accept it. I am sure American people will teach him a lesson come November. All Democrats who voted for the health bill should be thrown out including Pelosi. We do not need socialists in our congress.

    March 28, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  21. D.

    Polarizing President!
    A typical community organizer wolf with a lamb's voice that got him elected!

    March 28, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  22. once upon a horse

    President Obama has done something that other presidents in the past including Republican ones have done, and the GOP doesn't like it. Ok so what else is news?

    March 28, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  23. Aaron

    The checks and balances work more effectively if one party is not spending all of its time trying to obstruct any and everything that the other party tries to accomplish. It's a bit hypocritical that the Repubs had no problem with Bush's super-controversional recess appointments, but hold up over 70 of Obama's nominees apparently just to be spiteful. How do you put credence into Repub protests when they encouraged an activity under Bush? Many people have a new respect for President Obama now. He's finally got a backbone and standing up to the jokers. Same as President Clinton, he had to learn the hard way not to use reason or any olive branch of bipartisanship with the Repubs. It's beyond obvious that it doesn't work.

    March 28, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  24. mario

    Q-Is Irak war was check and balance,,,,

    March 28, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  25. johnrj08

    Oh come on, Lamar. How can you sit there with that smug look and expect people with any brains to buy your explanation? This isn't about checks & balances and you know it. Lying through your teeth about what is going on just makes you look more guilty. What we're witnessing here is unprecedented obstructionism which is intended to bring down the country's first African-American president. Period. It has nothing at all to do with the actual responsibilities of Congress or the United States Constitution.

    March 28, 2010 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
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