The Corner

Recess Is Johnsen’s In?

Thanks to the efforts of Andy McCarthy, Ed Whelan, and others, Harry Reid appears to not have the votes to bring Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to head the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to the Senate floor. 

And so the president may recess appoint the radical Johnsen over the Memorial Day break. 

CQ TODAY PRINT EDITION

May 20, 2009 – 10:33 p.m.

A Recess Appointment Would Be Most Disappointing, GOP Warns

By Kathleen Hunter, CQ Staff

During the 110th Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vigilantly scheduled pro forma sessions to prevent President George W. Bush from making recess appointments of nominees that Democrats found objectionable.

But with fellow Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, the Nevada senator has ceased that practice. Now Republicans are bracing for the possibility that Obama could use next week’s Memorial Day break to make a recess appointment for embattled nominee Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

Democrats aren’t showing their hand, but Republicans warn that such a move would escalate partisan tensions.

“That would send a pretty bad signal on other nominees,” said Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a member of the Judiciary Committee. “I wouldn’t advise him to do that. . . . Patience is what I would recommend.”

Such a move could be particularly contentious as the White House prepares to announce its pick for a coming Supreme Court vacancy.

Republican Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, a former Judiciary chairman who still sits on the panel, said it would “create a lot of irritation” if Obama were to issue a recess appointment to Johnsen, given how Democrats repeatedly blocked Bush’s nomination of Steven G. Bradbury for the same post. Democrats had concerns about Bradbury’s views on harsh interrogation techniques.

“After all the Democrats’ complaints about putting political people in that office — and then they put one of the most political people they can possibly find in there,” Hatch said, referring to Johnsen.

Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor, has drawn fire from social conservatives for her previous work for abortion rights groups and for criticizing the OLC’s counterterrorism policies during the Bush administration.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said Wednesday that he had not spoken with the White House about the possibility of a recess appointment.

Senior Democrats including Reid, Leahy and then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D­Del. — now the vice president — sharply criticized recess appointments during the Bush administration.

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