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Senate GOP mulls move on Obama appointments

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's appointments to two key agencies during the Senate's year-end break ensures that GOP senators will return to work today in an angry and fighting mood.

Less clear is what those furious Republicans will do to retaliate against Obama's "bring it on" end run around the Senate's role in confirming nominees to major jobs.

While Republicans contemplate their next step, recess appointee Richard Cordray is running a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the National Labor Relations Board, with three temporary members, is now at full strength with a Democratic majority.

Still, Obama left more than 70 other nominees in limbo, well aware that Republicans could use Senate rules to block some or all of them.

The White House justified the appointments on the ground that Republicans were holding up the nominations to paralyze the two agencies.

The consumer protection agency was established under the 2010 Wall Street reform law, which requires the bureau to have a director to begin policing financial products such as mortgages, checking accounts, credit cards and payday loans.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the five-member NLRB must have a three-member quorum to issue regulations or decide major cases in union-employer disputes.

Several agencies contacted by The Associated Press, including banking regulators, said they were conducting their normal business despite vacancies at the top.

In some cases, nominees are serving in acting capacities.

"The Senate will need to take action to check and balance President Obama's blatant attempt to circumvent the Senate and the Constitution, a claim of presidential power that the Bush administration refused to make," said Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley wouldn't go further, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky hasn't tipped his hand after charging that Obama had "arrogantly circumvented the American people." Before the Senate left for its break in December, McConnell blocked Senate approval of more than 60 pending nominees because Obama wouldn't commit to making no recess appointments.

Republicans have to consider whether their actions, especially any decision to block all nominees, might play into Obama's hands. Obama has adopted an election-year theme of "we can't wait" for Republicans to act on nominations and major proposals like his latest jobs plan.

The party has to consider how their argument that the president is violating Constitutional checks and balances plays against Obama's stump speeches characterizing them as obstructionists.

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