WASHINGTON — President Trump, furious over government vacancies he said were hindering his administration’s coronavirus response, threatened on Wednesday to invoke a never-before-used presidential power to adjourn Congress so he could fill the positions temporarily himself.
The top Senate Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell, quickly let it be known that would not happen.
Days after insisting he had “total” authority to supersede governors’ decisions about whether to reopen their states, Mr. Trump floated the unprecedented step during a White House news conference as he lashed out at Democrats for opposing his nominees. He demanded that Republican leaders immediately call the Senate back into session to confirm them, or take a recess for an extended period of time so he could install stopgap appointees without a vote, a practice known as a recess appointment.
The House and Senate have both taken extended recesses amid the pandemic, convening at least every few days for so-called pro forma sessions — brief meetings that last mere minutes and require the presence of only one lawmaker — to keep their chambers technically in session even though they are not doing business.
The maneuver is routine in the Senate to prevent presidents from making recess appointments, which they can do if the Senate is in recess for 10 days or more.
“The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro forma sessions is a dereliction of duty the American people can’t afford during this crisis,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. “They have been warned.”
If the Senate did not do his bidding, Mr. Trump said, he would use the “very strong power” afforded to him by the Constitution to force an adjournment. He appeared to be referring to Article II of the Constitution, which gives the president the power to adjourn Congress until a time of his choosing if the House and Senate are unable to agree on when they should go out of session.
But there is currently no disagreement between the two chambers — they have already agreed to adjourn on Jan. 3, 2021 — and the office of Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, suggested in a statement on Wednesday evening that he was not inclined to change that.
A spokesman said that Mr. McConnell had spoken with the president earlier in the day about Senate Democrats’ “unprecedented obstruction” of his nominees and that he shared Mr. Trump’s “frustration with the process.”
“The leader pledged to find ways to confirm nominees considered mission-critical to the Covid-19 pandemic, but under Senate rules, that will take consent from Leader Schumer,” the spokesman added, referring to the minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York.
Even if successful, Mr. Trump’s actions were likely to prompt a challenge in the courts.
“There’s a reason why this power has *never* been exercised before,” Stephen I. Vladeck, a constitutional law professor at the University of Texas, wrote on Twitter.