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April 9, 2013

Obama to nominate package of labor board members

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday nominated three candidates for full terms on the National Labor Relations Board, which has been in limbo since a federal appeals court invalidated his recess appointments to the agency.

Obama urged the Senate to move swiftly in confirming the members — two Republicans and one Democrat — along with two other Democrats he nominated in February. That would fill all five seats on the board.

But the move is already facing opposition from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who remains angry that the nominee package includes the two Democratic lawyers Obama installed last year without Senate confirmation.

The board has been a partisan lightning rod during Obama's presidency, with Republican lawmakers and business groups furious over decisions and rules they say are aimed at helping labor unions win more members.

Obama is renominating board Chairman Mark Pearce, a Democrat, and nominating two new Republicans to the board: lawyers Harry I. Johnson III and Philip A. Miscimarra, who have represented companies in labor-management disputes.

The president also had nominated Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin to full terms on the board in February. They have been sitting on the board since January 2012, when Obama made them recess appointments after Senate Republicans vowed to block Obama's NLRB nominees. Republicans complained the board was issuing too many pro-union decisions.

The White House hopes that Senate Republicans will favor the five-member package nomination of two Republicans and three Democrats. Both Republican nominees have passed muster with GOP leadership.

"I urge the Senate to confirm them swiftly so that this bipartisan board can continue its important work on behalf of the American people," Obama said in a statement.

But McConnell said he would not consider Block and Griffin.

"At a minimum, the president needs to send two new Democrat nominees to replace the two who were unconstitutionally appointed," McConnell said.

McConnell also said the Senate would give Pearce's nomination added scrutiny "given his decision to continue purporting to exercise government power, despite the circuit court's ruling that he does not lawfully possess it."

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in January that Obama violated the Constitution when he bypassed the Senate to fill vacancies on the board. Since then, Republicans have claimed the board lacks any legitimacy to act.

The nominations come as House Republicans prepare to vote this week on a measure that would effectively shut down the board until it has permanent members confirmed by the Senate.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, on Tuesday reiterated his previous call for Block and Griffin to leave the board while the Senate reviews the nominations.

The White House has insisted the appeals court decision is wrong and plans to appeal it to the Supreme Court. But the ruling has prompted employers in more than 100 cases to claim the board, which referees labor-management disputes, lacks authority to take action against them because two of its members are not there legitimately. It also has frustrated labor unions who worry the board can't crack down on unfair labor practices.

The president claimed that he made the recess appointments last year while the Senate was on a break. But the appeals court panel ruled that a recess occurs only during the breaks between formal yearlong sessions of Congress, not just any informal break. It also ruled that a vacancy must come into being during a recess in order to be valid.

The White House says the first-of-its-kind ruling runs contrary to more than 150 years of practice and would invalidate hundreds of recess appointments in Democratic and Republican administrations.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka expressed his support for the five-nominee package, noting it includes Republicans "who have views on labor relations matters that we do not agree with. But working people need and deserve a functioning NLRB, and confirmation of a full package will provide that stability."

Randel Johnson, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for labor issues, said the board has issued many decisions "of serious concern to the business community and we hope that the Senate, as it vets these nominees, will closely examine the entirety of the board's recent actions."

House Republicans are expected to pass a measure this week that would prevent the NLRB from conducting business until the Senate confirms new members constituting a quorum or the U.S. Supreme Court decides the board has the authority to act. But the measure is not expected to make any headway in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

 

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