In April 2010, President Obama nominated Peter Diamond, a Nobel Prize–winning economist and MIT professor, to a seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. On three different occasions the Senate Banking Committee approved his nomination. Yet Republicans in the Senate, led by Alabama’s Richard Shelby, blocked his confirmation because they disagreed with his economic policy views. “Dr. Diamond is an old-fashioned, big government Keynesian,” Shelby said. Diamond, who finally had enough of the endless delay and partisan attacks, withdrew his nomination today, explaining why in a New York Times op-ed. “Last October, I won the Nobel Prize in economics for my work on unemployment and the labor market,” he wrote. “But I am unqualified to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve—at least according to the Republican senators who have blocked my nomination.”
The absence of a Nobel Prize–winning economist at the Fed at a time of economic crisis is particularly galling. L’affaire Diamond is a perfect illustration of how Senate Republicans have abused and warped Senate rules, which I blogged about last week. Diamond suffered the same fate as other well-qualified Obama nominees, like Goodwin Liu and Dawn Johnson, who Republicans stubbornly refused to confirm.
As I noted last week, of the 1,132 executive and judicial branch nominations submitted to the Senate by President Obama, 223 nominees have yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor, according to White House data. That means that nearly 20 percent of Obama nominees have been blocked by Senate Republicans.
You’d think such obstruction would force Obama to circumvent the traditional nomination process and fill these vacant posts via recess appointments. President Bush used that power 171 times during his presidency. But Obama has done so only twenty-eight times. To catch up with Bush, Obama would have to make roughly twenty-eight recess appointment per year until the end of his presidency, assuming he wins a second term and governs for eight years.
Obama has no choice but to act. If the Senate won’t fulfill its constitutional role, the president must.