- President Donald Trump threatened to take the extraordinary step of forcing Congress to adjourn because the Senate hasn’t confirmed Michael Pack, his nominee for the US agency that oversees Voice of America and other taxpayer-funded outlets.
- The White House has railed against VoA in recent days, falsely accusing the 75-year-old broadcaster of spreading Chinese propaganda.
- “If you hear what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting,” Trump said on Wednesday. “The things they say are disgusting to our country.”
- He then said that he would “exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress” and make recess appointments if the Senate doesn’t confirm Pack to his position.
- A number of things – all of which are highly unlikely – would need to happen to trigger the constitutional power Trump described. Legal experts also widely panned the president’s threats, and one scholar told Insider his comments were travelling into a “zone of absurdity.”
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President Donald Trump threatened on Wednesday to take the extraordinary step of forcing Congress to adjourn because the Senate has not yet confirmed his nominee for a US agency that oversees Voice of America and other taxpayer-funded media outlets.
The White House has railed against VoA in recent days, falsely accusing the 75-year-old broadcaster of spreading Chinese propaganda.
“American taxpayers – paying for China’s very own propaganda, via the US Government funded Voice of America! DISGRACE!!” the White House social media director, Dan Scavino, wrote on Twitter while sharing a VoA post about a light show in China last week.
The light show was performed to celebrate the reopening Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus outbreak first began. It was on lockdown for months until last week.
“If you hear what’s coming out of the Voice of America, it’s disgusting,” Trump said. “The things they say are disgusting to our country.”
He then mentioned Michael Pack, a documentary filmmaker the president nominated to oversee the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees VoA.
“Michael Pack would get in, he’d do a great job, but he’s been waiting now for two years,” Trump said. “Can’t get him approved. The senators left Washington until at least May 4.”
“The Constitution provides a mechanism for the president to fill positions in such circumstances,” Trump added, referring to the Recess Appointments Clause of the Constitution.
“The Senate should either fulfil its duty and vote on my nominees, or it should formally adjourn so that I can make recess appointments,” Trump said. “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. We have to do it. They have made it very difficult to run government.”
He then went on a tirade against Democratic lawmakers, who control the House of Representatives. After accusing them of putting up “roadblocks” via the Russia investigation and the impeachment inquiry, the president called on the lower chamber to agree to adjourn.
“If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” Trump said. “The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis. It is a scam what they do. It’s a scam and everybody knows it.”
A “pro forma” session is a period of time, typically short in duration, when the House or Senate is technically in session but when no votes are cast and formal business is not conducted. “Pro forma” is Latin for “in form only.”
Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution outlines the president’s power to convene or adjourn Congress in certain circumstances.
“[H]e 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,” the Constitution says.
Article I, Section 5 also says: “Neither House, during the session of Congress, shall, without the consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days.”
In 2014, when Barack Obama was president, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the president cannot use his or her authority under the Recess Appointment Clause of the Constitution to fill appointments unless the Senate is in recess and unable to conduct official business.
Steve Sanders, a professor at Indiana University’s Mauer School of Law, told Insider that at the time, Republicans used “pro forma” sessions to avoid going into recess and prevent Obama from making recess appointments.
“It’s interesting that Leader McConnell apparently feels that President Trump is, in his view, just as untrustworthy as President Obama in how he would use the recess-appointment power,” Sanders said.
“Perhaps it’s never been done before,” Trump said on Wednesday. “Nobody’s even sure if it has, but we’re going to do it. We need these people here.”
He added: “When you talk about partisanship, and it’s never ever happened before. You can look at every administration in the history of this country. Nobody has ever had hundreds of people not approved after three years.”
A number of things – all of which are highly unlikely – need to happen in order for Trump to be able to carry out his threat.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to bring the Senate back to the floor, and the chamber would have to vote to adjourn. Then, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have to bring the House of Representatives back and vote to amend the Senate’s resolution. Then, the Senate would have to disagree with the House’s amendment. Only then would Trump be able to adjourn Congress.
“We are each day travelling deeper into a zone of absurdity where a president who really has no idea what he’s talking about declares that he has powers which he plainly doesn’t,” Sanders said.
He added that Trump’s threat may even bring Democratic and Republican lawmakers together.
“The Framers provided the president the power to adjourn both houses of Congress under very limited circumstances which are not met here,” he said. Resisting this sort of encroachment on their prerogatives as an independent branch might be something that actually brings the House and Senate together.”