Trump drops the hammer on a derelict Congress

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Why isn’t Congress in session during this pandemic? Where is Nancy Pelosi? Where is Chuck Schumer? Where is Mitch McConnell? Why aren’t they in session, helping the president manage the most significant nationwide crisis in decades?

The president is trying to get good people to help him manage the crisis, but Congress isn’t in session voting on his nominees. They are at home, hiding from the coronavirus.

President Trump is understandably upset and he is justified to point out Congress’s dereliction of duty. He is in Washington D.C. running daily coronavirus Response Task Force press briefings and shouldering the entire federal response to the coronavirus crisis, while the members of Congress, instead of helping him get the people he needs, are at home, presumably sheltering in place, watching Netflix, eating expensive chocolate ice cream, and phoning in every three days for the three-minute pro forma sessions that keep them out of adjournment.

Trump calls on Congress to formally adjourn

The president is calling on Congress to do its duty and either vote on his nominees or declare a formal adjournment so he can make recess appointments.

The Senate should either fulfill its duty and vote on my nominees or it should formally adjourn so I can make recess appointments. We have a tremendous number of people that have to come into government. And now more so than ever before because of the virus and the problem.”

The Senate and the House are both holding “pro forma” meetings every three days so that they don’t have to formally adjourn. They conduct no business at all in the “pro forma” meeting, and the meeting lasts for less than a minute. This allows them to prevent the president from making recess appointments, which he has labeled a “scam.”

The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people can not afford during this crisis.It is a scam, what they do. It’s a scam. And everybody knows it and it’s been that way for a long time.”

So this is how executive or presidential appointments work:

  • The president chooses a new director for the National Health Institute.
  • The appointment is brought before the Senate and the House for hearings and vetting.
  • The appointment is accepted or rejected by Congress.
  • If the House and Senate are on recess for more than 3 days, the president can make “recess” appointments without the consent of the Congress.
  • In order to block the president’s recess appointments, each chamber holds “pro forma” sessions every third day (except Sundays), avoiding a formal adjournment. (the pro forma session in the House) on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, took three minutes.)

Can the president adjourn Congress?

The president can adjourn Congress if there is a disagreement between both chambers with respect to the time of adjournment. In that case, he can adjourn Congress until such time as he shall think proper.

Here is the Constitution of the United States Article II Section 3.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

In order for the president to adjourn both houses, the Senate would have to agree to adjourn. Then, if the House disagreed with the timing of the adjournment, the president could then adjourn both houses until such time as he shall think proper.

At this point, it is unlikely that will happen.

Congress should end the pro forma sessions and formally adjourn

The idea of ceding the power to adjourn and reconvene Congress at the discretion of the president would be distasteful to both parties. If they don’t want to come back to work, they should formally adjourn and let the president make his recess appointments.

If this isn’t an extraordinary time, what is?

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