Dems, Unions Pushing for Nuke Option with NLRB Appointments

Board will cease to function in August without confirmations

Linda Sanchez / AP
July 9, 2013

Democrats and union officials launched a public push to confirm controversial nominees to the National Labor Relations Board using the nuclear option on Tuesday afternoon.

"Right now the Republicans in Washington are doing all that they can to crush the rights of America’s working families," Rep. Linda Sanchez (D., Calif.) told reporters on a conference call sponsored by the Communication Workers of America. "All that is a shameless attempt from McConnell to shut down the NLRB and their ability to protect Americans from unfair labor practices."

If the Senate does not confirm President Barack Obama’s five nominees, the board will cease to function in August, though regional NLRB offices will still be in place to enforce labor laws. Sanchez delivered a letter signed by 201 House Democrats to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on Tuesday morning calling for him to end his "obstruction."

Sanchez is not the only Democrat ramping up pressure on Senate Republicans to confirm President Obama’s five nominees to the labor arbiter. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) will join AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka at the Center for American Progress on Wednesday morning to build support for the nuclear option, which would lower the confirmation threshold from 60 votes to 51.

"This isn’t a treaty, this is an executive branch appointment," CWA president Larry Cohen said, dismissing the notion that the Senate rules should apply to confirmations.

McConnell has pledged to block the nominations of Democratic NLRB members Sharon Block and Richard Griffin after the pair refused to abide by a federal court ruling that declared their appointments unconstitutional.

McConnell fired back at Senate Democrats on the Senate floor on Tuesday morning.

"I know Washington Democrats are getting a lot of pressure from Big Labor union bosses and other far-left elements of their base to do this," he said. "These folks have told Democrats it’s time to pay up, and they don’t have much time for things like the democratic process or the rule of law."

While Democrats repeatedly decry corporate campaign donations, labor groups have vastly outspent GOP donors in recent election cycles, according to the Wall Street Journal. Unions spent more than $1.1 billion on get-out-the-vote efforts, campaign materials, and direct donations between 2005 and 2011, according to the paper’s analysis. McConnell sees the Democratic embrace of the nuclear option as payback for years of hefty donations.

"They raised a ton of money for Democrats, and now they want the special-interest treatment they believe is owed to them," McConnell said. "That’s why we see the other side cooking up phony nomination fights — because they want to go nuclear, but they know the facts simply aren’t on their side to justify doing so."

Sanchez and Merkley have benefited in the past from union largesse.

Labor groups contributed more to Sanchez’s campaign than any other sector in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Labor groups donated more than $270,000 to Sanchez, including $10,000 from the CWA.

Labor groups contributed more than $1.2 million to Merkley’s campaign and PACs since 2010 election to the Senate, including $276,300 for his 2014 re-election campaign.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) introduced the prospect of the nuclear option during the nominees’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Education Committee in May.

"We will not get 60 votes … [so] I think we should change the rules and take a majority vote to not only see that these people are seated so that they can do their job but that other nominees who have been clearly obstructed also have a chance to do their job," he said to committee Republicans. "You guys just happen to be in the way right now … don’t take it personally."

Senate Republicans were quick to fire back. Ranking Committee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) rebuked Sanders by pointing out that President Bush waited longer to confirm his nominees than President Obama thanks to Democratic obstruction and public cries against the nuclear option.

Freshmen Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.), a fellow HELP committee member, later condemned Democratic tactics on a call with the Washington Free Beacon.

"The Democrats keep threatening us with the nuclear option … and you can’t keep threatening the entire body," Scott said. "My hope is we find a way to stop the nominations."

The Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the current NLRB appointments in the fall.