The Berwick Renomination: Just a Formality

by Benjamin Domenech on 6:47 am July 20, 2010


Allahpundit and others have reacted with surprise to this Senateus post quoting a Roll Call story (subscription only) about President Obama resubmitting Donald Berwick’s name to the Senate. Allahpundit asks, understandably: why in the world the White House would resubmit Berwick’s name to the Senate after already enduring the political hit for recess appointing the controversial nominee?

The answer is that this is merely a formality. The Roll Call text quoted is unfortunately phrased — it makes this seem a much bigger deal than it actually is — so to clarify: in the wake of recess appointments, one can technically resubmit the name for consideration. But in practice, it’s extremely rare that this kind of renomination is taken up by the Senate.

In political terms, this meaningless step allows the White House to neutralize one of the Republican attacks on Berwick (that he was approved without any proper vetting), and perhaps give cover to moderate Senate Democrats who have privately expressed reservations about his views. Berwick often expresses those views bluntly, without thought for the political consequences, and has issues that could emerge if he provides full answers to questions about the financing of his think tank. Yet this is not a true renomination — Berwick’s name will hang in limbo, as he cannot be removed from his post by the Senate, and will wield power over a significant portion of the American economy for at least 16 months.

Even so, it seems the brain trust on Pennsylvania Avenue underestimated the reaction to Berwick’s recess appointment. No one in the White House wanted to allow the Republicans to spend another two months telling voters about rationing, wealth redistribution and Obamacare. Thus far, on that point at least, the recess appointment has clearly backfired.

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