Senate blocks Trump's ability to make recess appointments

WASHINGTON, D.C. - MARCH 20:  A person walks by as the sun rises near The United States Capitol Building on March 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Story highlights

  • Senate will gavel into session every couple of days
  • Move will prevent recess appointments by President Trump

Washington (CNN)The Senate left for its August break on Thursday, but it won't technically be in recess. And that will stop President Donald Trump from filling executive branch spots without senators' OK.

Using a procedural tool often invoked by senators in the past, the Senate has set up a series pro forma sessions. Essentially, they'll gavel into session every few days -- perhaps even for just minutes at a time -- through Labor Day to keep the lights on.
    Concerns arose last month that the President might attempt to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appoint a replacement of his choosing while the upper chamber was out during the August recess.
    The new attorney general would then be in charge of federal investigations into the 2016 presidential election and would have the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller.
    "If that comes to pass, we will have a constitutional crisis on our hands. The Senate should remove even the possibility of it coming about," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday, while making the case for pro forma sessions. Democrats would have been able to filibuster a motion to adjourn, helping push the pro forma session arrangement.
    Tensions appear to have eased, at least publicly, between Trump and Sessions. The President hasn't been making disparaging comments about his attorney general in recent days, and Sessions has seen wide support from members of Congress.
    Still, the Senate went into a pro forma -- it's a Latin term meaning "as a matter of form" -- session anyway, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, presiding Thursday afternoon when the announcement was made.
    The maneuver was used when George W. Bush was President and Democrat Harry Reid was the Senate majority leader, then continued under President Barack Obama.
    The strategy, however, hasn't always prevented presidents from still trying to make appointments. In 2012, Obama made appointments to the National Labor Relations Board despite the Senate being in a pro forma session. The White House at the time labeled the pro forma sessions as "gimmicks" and insisted that the Constitution gave the president powers to make temporary recess appointments despite congressional moves.
    Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Obama's three recess appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional.
    The whole Senate is scheduled to return to a normal session on Tuesday, September 5.