WASHINGTON – In the Senate, Democrats are refusing to adjourn for the August recess. Over in the House, Republicans are refusing to leave.
Senate Democrats, repeating a tactic they have used all year, staged a lightning-fast pro forma session Tuesday, a procedure that keeps the Senate from officially adjourning and stops President Bush from making “recess appointments” without Senate confirmation.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., took 28 seconds to gavel the Senate in and out of session. It’s a process that will be repeated every three working days to keep the Senate from going into recess until lawmakers return in September.
Often it’s senators from nearby Virginia or Maryland asked to do pro forma duty. Reed said he was helping out because he was staying at his Washington home with his 19-month-old child while his wife was traveling.
It was a different universe on the other side of the Capitol, where Republicans were in their third day of a protest on the House floor, demanding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi call the House back into session to vote on an energy bill that includes an increase in domestic oil drilling.
Rep. Denny Rehberg returned to Washington from Montana to participate Tuesday, saying Montanans have told him they want a solution to the energy crisis.
“I’ve seen the efforts of my colleagues who are standing on the House floor, calling for a vote, and I’m going to add Montana’s voice to the mix,” he said. “It can’t wait five weeks while Congress is on recess.”
Rehberg, who was immediately criticized by state Democrats for flying to Washington on taxpayer dollars, will participate in six hours of debate Wednesday and then will return to Montana.
“This is a major message to America and America is listening,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, one of 10 Republicans heading for the House floor Tuesday morning. The only people directly listening to the lawmakers were tourists filling the visitors’ gallery and seats on the House floor. Because the House has formally adjourned, microphones were turned off, the lights were dimmed and the TV cameras were off.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he had written President Bush urging that he call Congress back into session to deal with the energy crisis. Democrats, who say Republicans have blocked numerous bills aimed at dealing with market speculators and forcing oil companies to drill in areas they have already leased, say the GOP protest is a political stunt.
As of last fall, Bush had made 165 recess appointments. That’s when Democrats started blocking them with pro forma sessions.
By comparison, former President Clinton had a total of 140 recess appointments over eight years, and George H.W. Bush had 77 in his four years. A recess appointee is allowed to serve until the end of the congressional session, which in this case coincides with the end of the Bush presidency.
Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said there was no particular nomination they were trying to stop. He said they just wanted to prevent “any mischief from happening.”
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said there were 250 pending nominations — 151 non-career, 50 judicial, nine career civilian and 40 career military.
“It’s really unfortunate that Congress left for yet another recess without dealing with pending nominations, especially for key officials dealing with energy issues, like our nominee for deputy secretary of Energy and three nominees to be commissioners of the CFTC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission).”
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