We learned a little bit in the health care debate about “credible threats.” Progressives weren’t willing to make a credible threat to walk away from health care reform, and anti-choice groups and Blue Dogs were. That’s why the law tilted away from progressives at the end.

Here’s another example of a threat that isn’t credible, this time coming from conservatives.

All Senate Republicans wrote President Barack Obama on Thursday, demanding he not use a recess appointment to fill spots on a labor board.

Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), joined by all of their Republican colleagues in the Senate, warned the president against using his recess appointment powers to name Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We are writing to urge you to not act in contravention of the bipartisan Senate vote against the nomination of Craig Becker to be a Member of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) through a recess appointment,” the senators said. “To do so would disregard the Senate’s constitutional responsibility of advice and consent.”

The vote was “bipartisan” in the sense that barely-Democrats Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln voted against Becker’s appointment. But a majority of the Senate agreed that Becker should sit on the NLRB. That didn’t make it into the GOP letter.

You know what else didn’t make it in? The consequences. What could Republicans possibly do in retaliation for Becker’s recess appointment? Obstruct every piece of legislation in the Senate? Force all-night, round-the-clock votes on unrelated amendments? Use obscure rules to block committee hearings after 2:00pm? Decide to not cooperate on major pieces of legislation for no reason other than hurt feelings?

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the Democrats’ most likely potential allies on a range of legislation, said in an interview he would no longer work with the majority party on an immigration overhaul. He said because of the Democrats’ tactics in passing the package, the “well has been poisoned.”

Mr. Graham also has been working with Democrats on climate change, and that cooperation, too, appears in doubt. “Climate and energy are another heavy lift. We’ll see,” Mr. Graham said. “The consequences of health care being done this way are enormous to the body.” Mr. Graham’s initiatives would probably not have received significant Congressional attention this year in any case, but his posture signals one potential route for the party.

You would think that a letter demanding that the President not take an action would be backed up with a list of implications if the President acted in defiance. But there basically aren’t any implications left. Republicans have basically shut down the Senate entirely, and will continue in that vein whether or not President Obama ensures a functioning NLRB. So any decision in the opposite direction, fearing GOP “obstruction,” is also not credible.

P.S.: So if Huckleberry Graham is breaking off talks on immigration and climate bills, why would the Administration still deal with him on a proposal to move the KSM trial to a military commission in exchange for funding the closure of Gitmo? Doesn’t leverage work in both directions?

David Dayen

David Dayen