Trump threatens to shut down Congress to get his nominees approved to fight coronavirus

'It's just a concerted effort to make life difficult,' Trump said of both the U.S. House and Senate.

Updated: May 29, 2020 - 6:20pm

President Trump said Wednesday that he would use what he called his "constitutional authority" to formally shut down Congress to get his nominees approved to help fight the coronavirus.

“It is absolutely essential that the key positions in relevant federal agencies are fully staffed, and we’re not allowing that to take place through our Congress," Trump said during a coronavirus task force press conference. "They’re just not giving it to us ... It's a very unfair system."

Both chambers are now on recess at least through the end of the month. Trump slammed the Democrat-held House and the Republican-held Senate for refusing to approve key administration posts, saying the leaders would help the country more quickly get out of the coronavirus crisis.

"It takes days and days and there's no time left," Trump said of his nominees getting stuck in congressional committees, some in limbo for years. "It's just a concerted effort to make life difficult ...  Many are nominated for vacancies that must be filled to assist with the coronavirus crisis and the resulting economic challenges.”

He said the congressional rule of a "pro forma" session, when the body is technically "in session," but members have left town, is creating a "roadblock" to getting nominees approved to key posts that could help fight the coronavirus pandemic.  

“The Senate has left Washington until at least May 4.," Trump said. "The Constitution provides a mechanism for the president to fill positions in such circumstances, the ‘recess appointment,’ it’s called. The Senate's practice of gaveling into so-called ‘pro forma sessions’ where no one is even there has prevented me from using the constitutional authority that we're given under the recess provisions. The Senate should either fulfill it's duty and vote on my nominees or it should formally adjourn so that I can make recess appointments.”

Trump said the languishing nominees included the Director of National Intelligence, two members of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the assistant secretary of Treasury for U.S. financial markets, and the under secretary of agriculture for administering food security programs.

“I’ve read over the couple years, ‘Well, I didn’t fill positions.’ I don’t fill positions—in some cases we don’t need the position, and I’m all for that,” Trump said. “But in many cases, you do but we can’t get them approved by the Democrats. They won’t release them.”

Trump said one of his additional key nominees that hasn't been approved is Michael Pack, who was nominated in June 2018 to head the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the Voice of America and other taxpayer-funded media outlets. 

The White House Thursday took the extraordinary step of publicly rebuking Voice of America, the government-funded media outlet with a wide foreign audience, accusing it of siding with the Chinese government over the coronavirus pandemic. 

“If you heard what's coming out of Voice of America, it's disgusting,” Trump said Wednesday. “The things they say are disgusting toward our country. And Michael Pack would get in, and he’d do a great job, but he’s been waiting now for two years."

Trump said that many of his nominees had been waiting for two and a half years, some even longer than that. He said there are currently 129 nominees awaiting confirmation in the Senate because of "partisan obstruction."

“We’ll probably be challenged in court, and we’ll see who wins,” Trump said. “We needed these people before, but now we really need these people.” 

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