President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to adjourn Congress in order to appoint judges and other federal officials to help deal with the coronavirus crisis.
“If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress. 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,” Trump said at a White House briefing. “It is a scam what they do.”
“Perhaps it’s never been done before. Nobody’s even sure if it has. But we’re going to do it,” Trump said. “We need these people here.”
Many federal positions require Senate approval, and when the chamber is not in session, presidents can make “recess appointments.” The move sometimes draws criticism from the opposing party, but the action is not unusual (President Barack Obama made more than 30 such appointments during his two terms).
Both chambers hold what are known as pro forma sessions, a process Republicans used often to prevent Obama from temporarily filling vacancies without approval by the Senate. The Senate can shut down and senators can even go home while the chamber is technically in session.
“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,” Trump said. “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.”
Even though Republicans control the Senate, Trump said Democrats have forced the Senate to spend lots of time in moving on confirmation of federal judges. That means there’s “no time for anybody else,” and such positions as director of national intelligence and undersecretary of agriculture to administer food programs remain vacant.
But it’s unclear if Trump can actually adjourn Congress at the current time. Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution grants the president the power to “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 president has the power to adjourn Congress only if the two chambers disagree with each other, and it’s a power reserved for extraordinary circumstances that has never been invoked,” NBC News reported.
“To get away with it, he would obviously have to do this with the support of the Senate,” said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow in governance studies at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. “If [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell agrees to this, it would be the most extraordinary abdication of power. And somehow I can’t believe he would do it.
“Maybe in his own mind he’s thinking ‘This is my way to push Congress out of the way and do anything I want.’ It’s sort of an autocratic move,” he said.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss wrote on Twitter that “No President in history has ever used the Constitutional power to adjourn Congress.”
And Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor who testified as a Republican witness during the House impeachment hearings, warned Trump against taking the unprecedented action.
“The President just said that he may unilaterally adjourn Congress. This seems to be a reference to Article II, Section 3, which gives a president in ‘extraordinary occasions’ to convene or adjourn the Houses. This power has never been used and should not be used now . . .” Turley wrote on Twitter.
The president’s threat to adjourn Congress comes just days after he said he declared that he alone has the authority to “open up the states.”
Trump said the decision will be up to him “for many good reasons” — even though state governors have issued mandatory stay-at-home orders and have specific powers to do so under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“For the purpose of creating conflict and confusion, some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “It is the decision of the President, and for many good reasons. With that being said, the Administration and I are working closely with the Governors, and this will continue. A decision by me, in conjunction with the Governors and input from others, will be made shortly!”