Senate, Cooper confirmations battle continues

Senate Committee votes to subpoena Larry Hall after the Cooper appointment for Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs refused to appear before the body for a third time Thursday

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Larry Hall

RALEIGH — After failing to appear before a North Carolina Senate committee for a confirmation hearing three separate times, former Democrat lawmaker Larry Hall, Gov. Roy Cooper’s appointed secretary of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, will have to appear at a March 2 meeting to consider his qualifications after a Senate committee voted Thursday to issue a subpoena for him.Minutes before the Senate Committee on Commerce and Insurance convened, Senate president pro tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) joined committee co-chairs Sens. Tommy Tucker (R-Union) and Bill Rabon (R-Southport) to speak to the press about the ongoing battle between the legislative and executive branch over the General Assembly’s authority to hold confirmation hearings, acknowledging a legislative subpoena was an option in proceeding.”Frankly, this should not be a big deal,” said Berger on Thursday. “Senate confirmation of cabinet appointees has long been standard practice in [Washington, D.C.] and many states for as long as we can remember. It is mind-boggling that this is even considered controversial and that the governor is fighting back so hard.”Passed in December 2016, legislation asserting the N.C. Senate’s authority of advise and consent in approving the governor’s cabinet choices has been at the center of an ongoing court case filed by Cooper in January. At the most recent hearing the court chose not to issue a preliminary injunction restraining the legislature as requested by Cooper’s attorneys, but the governor and Democrat lawmakers say the appointments have not been made official yet and thus are not subject to confirmation.”I don’t believe this committee has any authority to conduct a confirmation hearing until the governor officially submits the names to the president pro tem,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham). “Until those names are submitted, and he has until May 15 to do so, there is no authority to conduct confirmation hearings.”Current statute gives the governor until May 15 to formally announce his appointments via notice to the Senate, but according to Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg), a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Insurance, Cooper is just “playing games.””The governor has placed an individual in a post,” said Bishop at Thursday’s committee meeting. “He is acting openly and notoriously in that post as the secretary; he is on the website as its secretary; he attended a meeting and acted as the secretary. We need not wait for the governor, nor need we be constrained by the governor’s failure to send a piece of paper over for that individual who has been appointed during recess openly and publicly and is serving in the role.”According to state law, recess appointments can be considered upon the return of the legislature to regular session.Senate leaders further pointed out that the Cooper administration has, in fact, provided the N.C. Senate lists of administration officials for the legislative directory that include eight secretaries and designates two unfilled posts as being under the authority of “acting secretaries.” Berger said their authority to hold confirmations is clear and attempted to pre-empt Cooper’s responses.”I know the governor will try to divert attention from his failure to follow the law by repeating the same old line that we need to focus on repealing H.B. 2, need to raise teacher pay, need to provide Hurricane Matthew relief,” said Berger. “They have no credibility on these topics and any attempt to use those issues as a distraction from their open defiance of the law is down right laughable.”When it became clear that Hall would not show for Thursday’s third attempt at a hearing, committee members debated and ultimately passed a motion to subpoena Hall to appear before a March 2 meeting.”There is no court order keeping Secretary Hall from abiding by the law and appearing here today,” said committee co-chair Sen. Wesley Meredith (R-Fayetteville). “At this point Secretary Hall and his boss are openly defying not just the legislative legal authority to call witnesses to committee, but the very, very plain language in the North Carolina Constitution. The governor cannot say with a straight face that he has not nominated Hall to this post.”Sen. Angela Bryant (D-Rocky Mount) encouraged everyone to be honest about the nature of the struggle.”The lawsuit itself is about a challenge to the constitutional power of the General Assembly vis-a-vis the executive branch,” said Bryant. “There’s no need to pretend like we aren’t in the middle of a battle about the constitutional power of each branch. That’s no secret.”Republicans seem to agree with Bryant’s assessment as they push forward in exercising the legislature’s confirmation authority via subpoena on March 2, just five days before the next court action is scheduled on March 7.