WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Wednesday to either force the U.S. Congress to formally adjourn, or return to the Capitol despite the coronavirus pandemic, saying he was frustrated lawmakers were not in Washington to confirm his nominees for federal judgeships and other government positions.
"The current practice of leaving town, while conducting phony pro forma sessions, is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis," an angry Trump told reporters at his daily White House news conference.
No U.S. president has ever used the authority, included in the Constitution, to adjourn both chambers of Congress if they cannot agree on a date to adjourn.
It was not immediately clear if Congress' current absence from Washington could be classified as due to a failure to agree on an adjournment date. Congressional leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Members of the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-led House of Representatives have been out of Washington since last month, as government officials and health experts have recommended that Americans stay home to avoid spreading the deadly coronavirus.
As is typical during congressional recesses, the House and Senate have continued to hold regular "pro forma" sessions, brief meetings that can last less than a minute.
As long as these short sessions are held, the president is legally barred from using his power to make "recess appointments" to fill positions without having to submit his nominees to Senate confirmation votes.
After lamenting that some of his nominees have waited for months to be confirmed, Trump threatened to force Congress to adjourn. He acknowledged that such a move would face a legal challenge, but said he was confident he would prevail.
"We'll probably be challenged in court, and we'll see who wins," Trump said.
Any legal challenge would likely take many months.
Trump argued that his nominees would help to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, without offering any explanation of why that would be the case.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Patricia Zengerle and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Tom Brown)