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GOP wary of Mike Lee’s battle with Obama

First Published Feb 02 2012 05:47 pm • Last Updated May 24 2012 11:32 pm

Washington » Senate Republicans have thrashed President Barack Obama for making recess appointments they call unconstitutional.

But none of them appears to support Sen. Mike Lee’s plan to retaliate by resisting every nomination the president makes.

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They’re worried Lee’s head-on charge is a political blunder, allowing Obama to paint them as partisan obstructionists stopping him from protecting the economically downtrodden. And the president did just that in his weekly address Saturday, singling out Lee’s stand, though not mentioning him by name.

Instead of fighting the president directly, senior Republicans, such as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, are looking to the courts to reverse the legal argument Obama relied on to place Richard Cordray at the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But Lee argues if the Senate doesn’t stand up to the president’s action now, it may see its power to block nominees erode permanently.

"We can’t, as an institution, as a country, afford to allow one person to exercise power that does not properly belong to him," he said.

Lee’s resistance began Thursday when he voted against the three nominees before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In two cases, his was the only vote in opposition.

Beyond this, Lee has refused to explain exactly how he will try to fight the president’s picks, saying doing so would be bad strategy. He could simply vote against each person, or he could use Senate rules to delay action or force extra votes. But unless he has help, he can’t block a nominee from eventually receiving Senate confirmation.

"If it’s just me alone, it’s not going to change much," said Lee. "I’ve talked to my Republican colleagues and I’m still talking to them constantly about the nature of the problem and what ought to be done."

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GOP concern » Republicans on the Judiciary Committee are careful not to directly criticize Lee, saying he’s operating within the Senate rules. Hatch even said, "It takes a lot of guts" to make such a stand, though he questions the political strategy.

"I worry a little bit. It is very apparent the president is running against Congress and sometimes it is good to wage battles even though you know you are going to lose," Hatch said. "But you have to take into that equation that the president is not waging a fair battle and he has a tremendous advantage."

Other Republicans demurred when asked if they would support Lee’s plan to fight back.

"I think every member of the Senate has kind of got their own ideas on how to deal with this," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he "certainly wouldn’t discourage" Lee from opposing the president’s nominees, but he won’t follow the same course. Instead he said he’s waiting for the 47 Senate Republicans to develop a unified plan.

"My position is, I’m going to wait until we have a caucus decision," said Grassley.

Like Grassley, Cornyn and others, Hatch is placing his hope on legal challenges, some already filed and others expected in the coming month from business groups that can argue the actions approved by the nominees in question are invalid because the president illegally placed them in power.

Senate Republicans are already planning to file a friend-of-the-court brief supporting that position.

"There will be a strong court fight on whether these appointments were unconstitutional, and I don’t think there’s any doubt they were," Hatch said.

Presidential action » On Jan. 4, Obama bypassed the normal confirmation vote to place Cordray in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and to put three people on the National Labor Relations Board.

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