JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 25, 2010
A few weeks ago, John Judis wrote an excellent piece about how Republicans reversed earlier support and decided to block Craig Becker, President Obama's appointment to the National Labor Relations Board:
When the nominations came before the committee last October, Enzi and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski joined Democrats to send the slate to the Senate floor by a vote of 15-8. That should have been the end of it, but John McCain--who is facing a tough primary battle this year against a far-right conservative and has been eager to burnish his conservative credentials--decided to put a hold on the nomination. With the Senate needing 60 votes to break McCain’s hold and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failing to play tough on Becker’s behalf, the nomination died when Congress recessed at Christmas. Then, when it returned in January, Obama, to his credit, renominated Becker and reached an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to remove the hold on his nomination.
What happened next says a lot about the sorry state of politics in Washington. At the insistence of Republicans on the committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has made defeating Becker a top priority, HELP held another hearing on the nomination. Republicans submitted a list of over 400 questions for Becker to answer--more than had been asked of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. In his responses, Becker dealt satisfactorily with the principal charge against him--that he would use the NLRB to administratively enact the Employee Free Choice Act. (The measure, which labor has been unable to get through Congress, would make it easier for unions to organize workplaces.) Becker said explicitly that he would not.
Yet this time, when the committee voted, Enzi and Murkowski both opposed him, and both backed a subsequent filibuster against him. ...
The vacancies have left the agency toothless:
The defeat of Becker meant the defeat of Obama’s other NLRB nominees as well, since they were put forward as a package. And that leaves the NLRB in shambles. For over two years, only two members have been sitting on the board--Democrat Wilma Liebman and Republican Peter Schaumber. They have issued almost 600 decisions on matters on which they agreed but have put off any controversial decisions that might create or challenge precedents. Sixty cases have been sitting around for over two years. And even the decisions they have made may be in doubt.
Now Obama has to decide whether to give Becker a recess appointment. Republicans are warning him not to. The Hill reports that Tom Harkin "sent signals Wednesday" that he thinks Obama will, though it does not describe what those signals were. (Morse code? Waving flags?)
After labor went to the mat for health care reform, I'd be stunned if Obama didn't appoint Becker.