With an eye on the upcoming South Carolina primary, Republican presidential candidates on Thursday assailed President Barack Obama for bypassing the Senate to name three new members to the National Labor Relations Board.
Newt Gingrich called on Congress to eliminate funding for the agency, which Republicans claim favors labor unions. Rick Santorum said Obama "ran roughshod" over the system to appoint "radicals who can't get confirmed."
And Mitt Romney aired a new TV ad in South Carolina that goes after the NLRB for threatening a new Boeing factory in North Charleston.
The board has been a fat target for Republican attacks since it accused Boeing in a lawsuit last year of retaliating against unionized workers in Washington state by opening a non-union manufacturing plant in right-to-work South Carolina. The case was dismissed last month after the union and Boeing reached a settlement, but the issue still resonates with Republican voters in the state, which holds a presidential primary election on Jan. 21.
Obama's recess appointments to the board also stoked controversy because he squeezed them in during a break between Senate sessions this week, an unusual move that the GOP called an arrogant power grab.
Most of the Republican candidates were campaigning Thursday in New Hampshire, but they jumped at the opportunity to bash Obama on a South Carolina issue ahead of a primary that's shaping up to be a dogfight.
Romney called Obama a "crony capitalist" during a stop in Salem, N.H., before heading to South Carolina. And his new TV ad in South Carolina accuses Obama of packing the labor board with "union stooges" who wanted to stop Boeing from moving jobs to South Carolina.
"That is simply un-American," Romney says in the 30-second ad. "It is political payback of the worst kind."
Gingrich, at an appearance in Plymouth, N.H., said Obama has shown "a total willingness to violate the law and impose an imperial presidency."
"You have a runaway, anti-jobs, anti-business, pro-labor union board, and now they'll have an absolute majority that has never been confirmed," Gingrich said. "And one of the tools Congress has to act is to defund the agency."
With Senate Republicans vowing to block any labor board nominees, the five-member board would have been paralyzed this year because it has only two sitting members. The Supreme Court has ruled the board needs at least three members to operate. Labor unions _ a pillar of the Democratic Party's political support _ had been pushing the White House to make the recess appointments, saying it was unfair for Republicans to obstruct the operations of a government agency.
Santorum, campaigning in Manchester, N.H., Santorum warned, "You are not above the law, Mr. President. We don't want the NLRB to be filled with a bunch of cronies who work for the labor unions."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama made the recess appointments "because the NLRB did not have enough members anymore to function."
"It's an agency, an independent agency, that is designed to protect workers' rights," Carney said.
He directed some of his remarks at Romney, saying: "I find it a little rich that on this and on the appointment of Richard Cordray to be the nation's consumer watchdog that the former governor of Massachusetts decided to take a position in both cases against the security and protection of working and middle-class Americans."
Two of the NLRB nominees are Democrats, and one is a Republican.
The lawsuit against Boeing, brought by the labor board's acting general counsel, said Boeing executives violated labor laws when they made several public statements about wanting to relocate new lines for the Dreamliner aircraft because of strike activity, including a 58-day work stoppage in 2008.
Boeing officials vigorously denied the charges, saying they made a legitimate business decision to open the new line in South Carolina. The NLRB dropped its case after the Machinists union and Boeing agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement that brings new work to the Seattle area.
Associated Press Writers Shannon McCaffrey in Plymouth, N.H., and Philip Elliott in Manchester, N.H., contributed to this report.