March 30, 2010

Obama Appoints Two C.U. Alums During Congressional Recess

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As the Senate left for vacation last week after intense debates on health care, job creation and student aid, President Barack Obama appointed fifteen long standing nominees, including Michael Punke, J.D. ’89, and Mark Pearce ’76. Appointing these individuals now, while the Senate is in its spring recess, allowed the president to circumvent the usual Senate confirmation hearings, which are often subject to intense political machinations.

Punke, who was seated as the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization, has had nearly two decades of experience in foreign trade policy. After graduating from law school, where he was Editor in Chief of the Cornell International Law Journal, Punke served as international trade counsel to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) from 1991 to 1992. He then served in the Clinton Administration as White House Director for International Economic Affairs from 1993 to 1995, and then as Senior Policy Advisor at the Office of the United States Trade Representative from 1995 to 1996.

“Michael Punke will be a valuable asset as WTO Ambassador as USTR works to conclude a balanced and ambitious Doha Round of trade negotiations that will benefit American workers, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and service providers,” Ron Kirk, United States Trade Representative, said at a Mar. 27 press conference. “[Punke] will also work on behalf of American businesses and entrepreneurs at the WTO –– helping USTR to remove trade barriers, increase exports, and support well-paying jobs here at home.”

Pearce, who will take his seat as a member of the National Labor Relations Board on Apr. 7, has an similarly extensive resume. Attending Cornell as an undergraduate and then SUNY law school, Pearce went on to serve as a district trial specialist for the NLRB from 1979 to 1994.  After leaving the board, he practiced union-side labor law, first at the firm of Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salisbury & Cambria LLP and, after 2002, at Creighton, Pearce, Johnsen & Giroux, where he was a founding partner. In 2008, he was appointed to serve on the New York State Board of Appeals, an agency charged with reviewing orders of the state Department of Labor.

These appointments, along with the thirteen others put into place on Mar. 27, have generated some controversy, as they have forgone the usual full senate vote, which remains the standard for most presidential appointees.

standard for most presidential appointees.

This process, however, has been a common tool used by presidents since Washington, a procedure allowed by  Article II of the Constitution. According to President Obama, this is a necessary step to allow government to continue functioning in spite of parliamentary roadblocks, referring almost directly to the indefinite hold on all of the President’s nominees that was put place by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky).

“The United States Senate has the responsibility to approve or disapprove of my nominees.  But if, in the interest of scoring political points, Republicans in the Senate refuse to exercise that responsibility, I must act in the interest of the American people and exercise my authority to fill these positions on an interim basis,” Obama said in a statement on Mar. 27. “I simply cannot allow partisan politics to stand in the way of the basic functioning of government.”

At the same time, however, many conservatives are critical of the use of this process to put forth nominees who would otherwise be unable to pass a senate vote. The appointment of Craig Becker, whose initial nomination was held up by filibuster, has generated a particularly high level of controversy, particularly because of his pro-union past affiliations.

“The appointment of Craig Becker was so controversial that it faced a bi-partisan filibuster outside of recess. Mr. Becker wrote that he was in favor of ‘reform [that] would mandate employee representation, and the question posed on the ballot would simply be which representative,” Konstantin Drabkin ’11, chairman of the College Republicans, said on Tuesday. “With the information available now, there do not appear to be any significant issues with either of our alumni. The only worry for me is Mr. Becker.”

Despite the political ramifications and continued debate on the recess appointments, all 15 appointees will assume their positions on Apr. 7.

Original Author: Evan Preminger