The White House announced Saturday that President Barack Obama would fill 15 administration posts held vacant due to continuing political issues in the Senate, including two key trade nominees pending since last fall.
Michael Punke and Dr. Isi Siddiqui were both given recess appointments, as deputy U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) based in Geneva and chief agricultural negotiator at USTR, respectively.
In the early 1990s, Punke served as international trade counsel on the staff of Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Finance Committee, followed by four years of service dealing with international affairs in the Clinton administration, including two years as senior policy adviser at USTR.
Siddiqui was most recently the vice president for science and regulatory affairs and was previously vice president for agricultural biotechnology and trade at CropLife America. During the Clinton Administration, he was both a USDA under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs and senior trade advisor to the Secretary. He has also served on government and private boards advising on trade issues and was at the California Department of Food and Agriculture for 28 years before moving to USDA.
NAWG and other agricultural groups have repeatedly urged confirmation for both appointees, noting in numerous letters to Congress that the agricultural trade agenda would be effectively stalled until the nominations were finalized.
With recess appointments, Punke and Siddiqui will hold their positions until the end of the Congress, meaning late 2011, unless confirmed by the Senate in the meantime. The White House confirmed that all 15 individuals given recess appointments will remain as nominees before the Senate.
The Constitution gives the president the power to make appointments during a Congressional recess. This power is not widely used, but it has been employed by most recent presidents and occasionally thwarted by Senate leaders of the opposing party who held the chamber in pro forma session to avoid such appointments.
In a statement about the appointments, Obama cited the length of time appointments were pending as a key reasoning behind his move, saying there are 217 nominees current pending for an average of, then, 101 days. The 15 nominees given recess appointments had been pending an average of 214 days.
To read commodity group letters in support of Siddiqui and Punke, please visit http://www.wheatworld.org/trade/more-trade-communication/.