Assessing Congressional Responses to Growing Presidential Powers: The Case of Recess Appointments

Authors


  • AUTHORS' NOTE: We thank Jamie L. Carson, Andrew D. Martin, Gary J. Miller, Steven S. Smith, and James F. Spriggs for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. Lynch thanks the Kansas University Institute for Policy and Social Research and Owens thanks the George H. W. Bush Library Foundation for generous financial support of this research. All errors remain our own.

Ryan C. Black is an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University. His recent work has appeared in such journals as the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, and Political Research Quarterly.
Michael S. Lynch is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas. His work has appeared in Urban Affairs Review, Political Analysis, Political Research Quarterly, and the Journal of Politics.
Anthony J. Madonna is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Georgia. His work has appeared in such journals as the American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, and Perspectives on Politics.
Ryan J. Owens is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research has appeared in such journals as the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, and Judicature.

Abstract

In 2007, the U.S. Senate moved into permanent session to stop President George W. Bush from making recess appointments. This article examines this episode. We argue that Congress is only able to effectively check presidential unilateral powers when the president's use of such powers creates high political costs for a sufficient number of members such that congressional collective action is possible. Using case studies and multivariate analysis, we show that Bush used recess appointments far more than his predecessors, creating high political costs for Senate Democrats and driving them to find an innovative way to check the power of the president.

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