They are called “pro forma sessions.” They are congressional proceedings, which can last a matter of seconds, and are being held this summer to keep President Barack Obama from making “recess” appointments.
The U.S. Constitution states that neither chamber in Congress can recess for more than three days without the two chambers agreeing to adjourn. The U.S. House of Representatives refused to pass the adjournment resolution, which keeps the U.S. Senate in pro forma session too.
That keeps Obama from making recess appointments, which do not go through the normal Senate confirmation process.
Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Landry, of New Iberia, has been leading the charge to block the Obama appointments and traveled all the way back to Washington from Louisiana to preside over a Friday House session.
The chamber sessions are traditionally handled by legislators who live close to Washington to make the process less burdensome. But Landry, who helped push House leaders to allow the sessions, thought it important to do his share of continuing the appointment protest.
“I think it’s great,” Landry said.
Landry lobbied House leaders after being contacted by Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, who signed on to a letter with 22 other Republicans asking that the House Republicans take the action. Republicans couldn’t block the adjournment in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
Landry brushed up on the Constitution and how the pro forma session process works. The provision was written in 1789, Landry said, a time when it took weeks for members of Congress to return to work.
Over the history of Congress, the process has been abused by presidents, he said. President Abraham Lincoln was taken to task over making recess appointments, Landry said.
Republicans such as Vitter and Landry were afraid that Obama was going to appoint Elizabeth Warren as the head of a new consumer finance regulating agency. Since then, Obama has withdrawn Warren’s name and has nominated former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, whom Republicans also vow to block.
Democrats used the tactics when President George W. Bush was in office to prevent him from making appointments they didn’t like.
A pro forma session on Aug. 5 lasted 59 seconds. Former U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W. Va., has the record for the quickest session, less than a second.
The pro forma sessions do not mean that congressional business won’t be conducted. With one member on the Senate floor, the chamber recently passed an agreement to allow the Federal Aviation Administration to operate for another month.
The move was conducted under what is called “unanimous consent.” If no one is in the chamber to object, the measure gets approved.
Obama supporters have been urging him to employ what they think is a power also granted by the Constitution to rebuff the chambers. Public Citizen, a liberal group in Washington, believes Obama could force Congress to adjourn.
They point to an obscure provision in Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution that says the president “may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper” if they disagree on adjourning.
Obama is unlikely to use the provision, not wanting to use a nuclear option and antagonize Congress even more.
Landry is urging House leaders to continue the blocking move for the remainder of Obama’s presidency.
“I’m not doing anything special,” Landry said. “They just needed someone to organize it.”
Landry was glad that the constitutional provision is in place to provide what he considers a proper check and balance for the legislative branch against the executive branch.
“You can’t read the Constitution enough,” he said.
Gerard Shields is chief of The Advocate’s Washington bureau. His email address is GerardShields@aol.com.