WASHINGTON – All White House nominees will be blocked. That's right: every single one.
That's the word from Sen. Charles Schumer's (search) office, which released a statement on Friday saying that Senate Democrats plan "to hold nominations until the White House commits to stop abusing the advise and consent process."
Schumer's release followed a statement by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (search), D-S.D., on the Senate floor Friday, in which he vowed to make life difficult for the president's nominees as long as Bush keeps using his recess appointment power to install the ones Democrats oppose.
"This White House is insisting on a departure from historic and constitutional practices," Daschle said. "At no point has a president ever used a recess appointment to install a rejected nominee onto the federal bench, and there are intonations there will be even more recess appointments in the coming months.
"We will continue to cooperate in the confirmation of federal judges, but only if the White House gives us the assurance that they will no longer abuse the process, but it will once again respect our Constitution's essential system of checks and balances," Daschle said.
The Senate has approved the vast majority of President Bush's nominees, but six have been blocked by Democrats. Two were later appointed by Bush during congressional recesses, a maneuver that is supposed to be reserved for an emergency, but has occasionally been used by administrations as a way to avoid a Senate confirmation vote.
The two appointments — Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering (search) and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor (search), both of whom were put on appeals courts — enraged Democrats and spurred them to action to prevent another appointment.
"The president's use of recess appointments to circumvent the advise and consent process puts a finger in the eye of the Constitution ... Our caucus is strong, united, and firm in the belief that we are upholding the Constitution and preventing the president from packing the federal bench unilaterally with ideologues. We hope the president has learned that we will not yield; this is an issue of principle, not politics," Schumer said.
According to the Constitution, the Senate's advise and consent responsibility gives senators the authority to approve the president's nominees to the court system and elsewhere. Although Democrats are in the minority, according to Senate rules it takes 60 votes to achieve cloture —a call for the end of debate and movement toward a final vote.
With 48 Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, the Democrats have the numbers to hold up nominees, and have done so six times, leading to some dicey political dust-ups and the withdrawal from consideration of one nominee, attorney Miguel Estrada (search).
In response to the successful filibusters, the president twice this year has taken unilateral action.
In January, Bush used his recess appointment authority to sidestep the Senate and name Pickering to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. Last month, Bush installed Pryor on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"A minority of Democratic senators has been using unprecedented obstructionist tactics to prevent him and other qualified nominees from receiving up-or-down votes," Bush said in February, after making the Pryor appointment. "Their tactics are inconsistent with the Senate's constitutional responsibility and are hurting our judicial system."
The appointments last only until the next recess, the beginning of 2005 when a new Congress is sworn in. The fates of Bush nominees Priscilla Owen, Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown are still in limbo.
Daschle said the Senate Democrats were taking action for fear that more recess appointments were on the way. He called on his Republican colleagues to help resolve the impasse.
"We'd hoped for a different result, but the administration has left us no choice. I ask my Republican colleagues to reach out to the administration and urge them to return this process to its traditions of bipartisanship and cooperation," he said.
A White House spokeswoman told Foxnews.com that the Democrats' decision is obstructionist.
"It's unfortunate the lengths that Sen. Daschle and a minority of Senate Democrats will go to obstruct the nomination process. At a time when we need our government to be at full strength, he is suggesting that we leave these critical seats empty, and the American people deserve better," said spokeswoman Erin Healy.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (search) office did not immediately return calls for comment.
Heading off impending charges that Democrats are being recalcitrant, Daschle said that in the current Congress, the Senate has confirmed a record 173 federal judges, while the three outstanding nominations have been rejected because of their records of "judicial activism in service to extreme ideology."
He added that the 108th Senate has confirmed 346 nonjudicial nominees to government boards and commissions.
Bush's use of the recess appointment is not innovative. President Clinton used his executive power in the same way, giving Roger Gregory a seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2000. In a very controversial move, Clinton used it one other time to name Bill Lann Lee to be assistant attorney general.