Republican lawmakers announced Tuesday they were joining a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's recess appointments, reviving an election-year row over White House power.
Republicans were incensed when Obama defied his congressional foes early this year by naming Richard Cordray as the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) while the Senate was in recess.
He used a maneuver which allows him to install a nominee for a calendar year, even if he or she has not secured Senate confirmation to a key government post.
"We inside the Republican conference had a number of discussions about the appropriate response to this unconstitutional action on the part of the president," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.
"We concluded the best course of action was for us to join an appropriate lawsuit with an amicus brief, and that lawsuit has now been identified as the case arising out of Washington."
McConnell notably announced that the case was being handled by Miguel Estrada, the attorney whose confirmation to a US Court of Appeals was successfully blocked by Democrats after he was nominated in 2001 by president George W. Bush.
In the case of Cordray, whom Obama installed to be the new US consumer watchdog chief, Republicans had tried to block the tactic by forcing Democratic leaders to convene the Senate every few days over the holiday period in "pro-forma" sessions.
Obama's move sets up a legal test case centering on the checks and balances system of US government which will probe the president's powers to enforce his will over Congress.
Republicans called the January ploy an "unprecedented power grab," but the White House said Tuesday it believed the courts would validate Obama's action.
"We are confident that the president's authority to make recess appointments will be upheld by the courts," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
Republicans made it clear they were ready to counter Obama as he enters campaign mode for his re-election bid in November.
"In my view every senator should understand that the Senate should decide when the Senate's in session, not the president," Senator Roy Blunt said.
The White House in January dismissed "pro forma" sessions as gimmicks during which no Senate business is conducted.
"But gimmicks do not override the president's constitutional authority to make appointments to keep the government running, (and) legal experts agree," the White House said at the time.
Source: AFP American Edition