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Beltway Confidential

With John Podesta, new judges, Obama poised for aggressive use of executive power

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Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Barack Obama,Executive Branch,Bill Clinton,Harry Reid,John Podesta

President Obama will find it easier to "work [his] way around Congress" now that some Washington denizens have gotten new jobs.

The president opened the week by hiring the Center for American Progress' John Podesta, an old Bill Clinton hand. Podesta has an expansive view of presidential power — he wrote a report after the 2010 elections on how Obama could implement his policies without the support of Congress.

"Concentrating on executive powers presents a real opportunity for the Obama administration to turn its focus away from a divided Congress and the unappetizing process of making legislative sausage," the report said (h/t the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza).

"The ability of President Obama to accomplish important change through these powers should not be underestimated," Podesta added in a statement following "by no means an exhaustive list" of dozens of policy areas where Obama could unilaterally implement his agenda.

That report, and the mind that animates it, takes on added significance given the new developments in the judiciary. Just as news of Podesta's hiring broke, Senate Democrats confirmed another judge to the D.C. Circuit Court, giving Democrats a majority on the second-highest court in the land for the first time since 1986. A confirmation vote for a second judge is expected late tonight or early Thursday.

The court has ruled against Obama in high-profile cases, most recently when it blocked the Health and Human Services Department's contraception mandate; earlier this summer, the D.C. Circuit Court also ruled that Obama had overstepped his authority by installing two members of the National Labor Relations Board via "recess" appointment at a time when the Senate remained in session.

That didn't sit well with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “[Republican-appointed judges] said … the president can't have recess appointments which we've had since this country started," Reid said in August. "They've done a lot of bad things, so we're focusing very intently on the D.C. Circuit. We need at least one more. There's three vacancies, we need at least one more and that will switch the majority.”

Democrats now have their 5-4 majority, achieved by pulling the trigger on the nuclear option to end Republican filibusters of judicial appointees. Soon enough, they'll have a 7-4 majority, making it likely that the D.C. Circuit will approve whatever executive maneuvers Podesta has planned for Obama.

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