The White House announced Thursday, August 19, that President Obama was using the recess appointment to install openly gay nominee Richard Sorian as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
This is the second time the president has used the provision to enable an openly gay appointee to take office. In March, he used the recess appointment to put lesbian law professor and activist Chai Feldblum on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Presidents have, in recent years, used the recess appointment when confirmation votes were being held up in the Senate for political reasons. According to the Constitution, the president can make the temporary appointment when the Senate is in recess, as it is now, but the appointments expire at the end of the next Congressional session unless the Senate later votes to confirm the appointee.
The Senate Committee on Finance approved Sorian’s nomination June 30. While any senator can hold up a full Senate vote on any nominee, Senate rules require that the senator identify himself within a few days. But Republican senators have been putting most Senate floor votes for nominees on indefinite holds without identifying themselves by taking turns putting holds on the nominees. The Senate calendar does not indicate any senator as having put a hold on any nominee.
“At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent,” said President Obama, in a written statement issued by the White House. “Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people.”
Interestingly, another openly gay nominee at HHS, Kathy Greenlee, was confirmed by the full Senate in June 2009, less than two months after she was nominated. Greenlee serves as Assistant Secretary for Aging.
Obama nominated Sorian on October 5, 2009.
Sorian served for five years as a Senior Advisor for Health Policy Communications in the Office of Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala, during the Clinton administration. He currently serves as a Senior Adviser to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.