Interview with White House Advisor Gene Sperling

Interview with White House Advisor Gene Sperling

By The Situation Room - January 4, 2012

BLITZER: The Republican leaders are attacking the president's tactic, and they're challenging the legality of Cordray's appointment since the Senate has technically remained in session. Gene Sperling is the director of the White House Economic Council, and he's joining us now to respond.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, says although the Senate is not in recess, President Obama, in an unprecedented move, has arrogantly circumvented the American people by recess appointing Richard Cordray.

Breaking from this (INAUDIBLE) as the appointee and uncertain legal territory threatens the confirmation process and fundamentally endangers the Congress's role in providing a check on the excesses of the executive branch. He has a point, obviously, since the Senate technically is not in recess, doesn't he?

GENE SPERLING, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC COUNCIL: No, not at all. The constitution expressly authorizes the president of the United States to make appointments when Congress is in recess. That's an expressed constitutional authority. Everybody knows that this meaning session, this pro forma mean session, actually starts with a resolution that no business shall take place.

You can't use a gimmick or a technicality to override the express authority in the constitution of the president of the United States to make a recess appointment and listen, Wolf. All this president was trying to do was implement a law.

A law that was passed recently that created an independent consumer watchdog who could do things like ensure that the credit cards had plain language, that students taking loans from private lenders knew their fees and their interest rates or that we could have what was announced today, a hotline for those gets mortgages, making that huge final decision, have someone independent they trust to call to make sure they're not victims of abuse.

All the president was trying to do was implement this law that Congress passed, and he signed just recently.

BLITZER: It's never happened before even when Congress is technically not in recess. They have some senator from Maryland or Virginia who shows up every few days, calls the Senate into session for a few seconds, and then leaves. Technically not. It's never been done before. This is the first time a president has done this to the Senate. Is that right?

SPERLING: You know, I just disagree. Congress, as the president's lawyers and counselors found, is in recess. They are in recess. They have been in recess and they'll remain in recess, and it's -- you can't begin use the technicality or gimmick to override express authority of the president. And let's remember, this president has done plenty of recess appointments, so far.

At the same point in his term, President Bush had done more than twice as many, 61. So, this president is actually resorted to the recess appointment much less than past presidents, and he's done so only in a situation where a minority of senators, Republican senators, are actually using the blockage of an appointee not based on objections to their credential or the qualifications of the nominee, but actually, as a way of nullifying a law that was passed by Congress.

They don't want the law to operate as it's been implemented. And this is someone who was endorsed by Republican and Democratic attorney generals as having impeccable qualifications and credentials to be our first independent consumer watchdog.

BLITZER: But I think you'll agree that the 60 plus times that a Republican president, President Bush, had a recess appointment, Democrats, they didn't have this technical continuation in session. They were really in recess. There wasn't a senator every few days calling them to action within a few seconds. This is very different, isn't it?

SPERLING: You know again, I disagree. You know, it is the opinion of the president's counselors that the Senate is in recess. Again, let's understand. When they go into this pro forma recess, they actually start by saying no business shall be conducted.

So, I mean, this is really a means of seeking to use a technicality to override the president's ability to implement a law that Congress passed to address the abuse millions of average American families suffered from in this great financial crisis, great financial recession that we just went through.

They're, again, not objecting to this nominee's credentials. They're trying to block the nominee to block a law that Congress passed with the support of the American people to protect consumers from mortgage abuse, credit card abuse, student loan abuse, veterans from being taken advantage and targeted by installment lenders.

No one should be afraid of this law being implemented by having an independent director, highly qualified, like Richard Cordray, take the job.

BLITZER: I'm sure, and you probably recognize, I'm sure the president's lawyers recognize this will go to the courts. We'll see what they decide. We'll see what they decide whether the president's action is constitutional or not constitutional given the separation of powers between the Senate, between the executive branch, and the legislative branch.

There'll be, I'm sure, a huge legal fight. You know, the other action the president did with the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, he used the same procedure today to name some members in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says this is horrible. Let me read to you what their statement is, Gene.

"The NLRB's credibility has suffered greatly during this administration due to an aggressive agenda favoring the unions. The president could have chosen to work with the Senate and stakeholders to see if a package of nominees could be confirmed that would help restore the agency's independence and credibility. Instead, today's steps will simply further poison the well with regard to labor management issues pending in front of the board and on capitol hill."

What do you say to the Chamber of Commerce?

SPERLING: What I say to my friends at the Chamber of Commerce is that they know that at this point, the NLRB did not even have a form to conduct the nation's business. They only had two appointees when they're supposed to be five. The president put two Democrats and a Republican so that the NLRB can do its basic business related to protecting collective bargaining, the rights of workers.

We know, there's always been traditional tension between the Chamber of Commerce and NLRB, but what the president did today was making sure that, again, blocking appointments is not being used as a way of nullifying laws or keeping government from dealing with its core responsibilities. That's all we're doing.

Of course, the president would rather have Republicans in the United States Senate willing to work with him in a more cooperative way. He did this because there was no other way to ensure that our government was functioning as it's designed, and that there was a form for the NLRB to do its basic business, and he appointed both Republican and Democrats to this appointment to make sure that the NLRB can function as it should.

BLITZER: Clearly, a much more assertive president of the United States challenging the Republicans in the Senate. Only just beginning, I suspect, between now and November. Gene Sperling, thanks very much for coming in.

SPERLING: Thanks, Wolf. 

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