Constitutional abuse begets constitutional abuse.
President Obama has engaged in a dubious maneuver to force a recess appointment through a Senate that denies it has recessed.
(Brad Plumer has a good run-down of the legal issues, here.)
The president’s action has ignited a fireworks show of Republican outrage. And yes, Obama has here pushed presidential power beyond past limits.
But it’s not only presidents who can bend the rules. The Senate has also pushed its powers here beyond the usual limits. The Senate is pretending to be in session when it’s obviously not in session. It is engaging in this pretense in order to use its power over confirmations to negate an agency lawfully created by the prior Congress. Most fundamentally, the Senate here is further extending a weird quirk in its own rules–the quirk that allows individual senators to delay votes on appointments–in ways that allow the Senate minority to impose its will on the whole US government.
Over the past three decades, we have lived through a prolonged cycle of partisan revenge. Each party pushes the law to score partisan points in ways that would have been deemed unacceptable only just a little while ago. Then at the next turn of the cycle, the other party pushes the law further and wider and even more destructively. One by one, they sequentially smash the customs and traditions that enabled the US government to function. This latest episode over the Cordray appointment may be the most extreme example. But it’s surely not the final example.
It is instead an ominous milestone in the deterioration of the US political system into ever more intense acrimony and paralysis.