Se­nate Dems play re­cess hard­ball to bar Bush ap­point­ments

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Sean Lengell

Sen. Jim Webb prob­a­bly never had an eas­ier day of work in his life.

The Vir­ginia Demo­crat, serv­ing as the Se­nate’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer, gaveled an empty Se­nate cham­ber to or­der promptly at 9 a.m. Nov. 20.

His first duty? He de­clared the Se­nate closed for the day only 22 sec­onds later.

The work­day was a “pro forma” ses­sion — a tac­tic the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity is us­ing to pre­vent Pres­i­dent Bush from mak­ing per­son­nel ap­point­ments while Congress is out for its two-week Thanks­giv­ing lay­off.

The Se­nate nor­mally must ap­prove pres­i­den­tial ap­pointees for top fed­eral posts. But if the cham­ber is in re­cess, the Con­sti­tu­tion gives the pres­i­dent author­ity to fill va­can­cies with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval.

The ap­pointees can serve with­out con­fir­ma­tion un­til the con­clu­sion of the con­gres­sional ses­sion. The cur­rent ses­sion ends Jan­uary 2009.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, Ne­vada Demo­crat, said he called the pro forma ses­sions be­cause the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion had in­formed him the pres­i­dent would be mak­ing re­cess ap­point­ments dur­ing the cur­rent con­gres­sional lay­off.

“I’d much rather be do­ing this than al­low the pres­i­dent to skirt the con­fir­ma­tion process in the Se­nate,” Mr. Webb said. “It’s to­tally ap­pro­pri­ate for me to get dressed up this morn­ing, come in here, bang a gavel and pre­serve the con­sti­tu­tional process.”

Democrats were par­tic­u­larly fear­ful that with­out pro forma pro­tec­tion that Mr. Bush would use the re­cess to ap­point Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr. as U.S. sur­geon gen­eral.

Dr. Holsinger, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky Col­lege of Pub­lic Health, has been crit­i­cized for a pa­per he wrote in 1991 that said ho­mo­sex­ual sex posed higher risks of dis­ease and bod­ily dam­age than het­ero­sex­ual sex.

Se­nate Democrats have re­fused to bring up Dr. Holsinger’s nom­i­na­tion.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has crit­i­cized the Demo­crat-con­trolled Se­nate for stalling on some 190 pend­ing pres­i­den­tial ap­point­ments. The list in­cludes high-profile nom­i­na­tions such as Robert A. Sturgell for ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Ed Schafer for sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, James Peake for sec­re­tary of vet­er­ans af­fairs and sev­eral key posts in the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

“With 190 pend­ing ap­point­ments, it’s ob­vi­ous Congress has failed to com­plete its im­por­tant work,” White House spokes­woman Emily Law­rimore said. “Since the Se­nate has de­cided to come back in ses­sion ev­ery three days, we en­cour­age them to make the most of their time by hold­ing hear­ings and votes on pend­ing nom­i­na­tions.”

Mr. Reid said he has of­fered to con­firm sev­eral of Mr. Bush’s ap­point­ments if the pres­i­dent agreed to some Demo­cratic ap­point­ments, but that the White House re­buffed his pro­posal.

“While an elec­tion year looms, sig­nif­i­cant progress can still be made on nom­i­na­tions,” Mr. Reid said. “But that progress can’t be made if the pres­i­dent seeks con­tro­ver­sial re­cess ap­point­ments and fails to make Demo­cratic ap­point­ments to im­por­tant com­mis­sions.”

Mr. Bush pre­vi­ously has used his ex­ec­u­tive power to make re­cess ap­point­ments that an­gered Democrats. He named John R. Bolton as the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions dur­ing a con­gres­sional re­cess in 2005, by­pass­ing a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster that had blocked Mr. Bolton’s nom­i­na­tion.

In 2004, Mr. Bush used a con­gres­sional re­cess to fill the post of am­bas­sador to Bel­gium with Sam Fox, who dur­ing the 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign helped fi­nance the Swift Boat Vet­er­ans for Truth ad­ver­tise­ments against Demo­cratic can­di­date Sen. John Kerry.

Other pres­i­dents have done the same, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Clin­ton, who named James Hormel as am­bas­sador to Lux­em­bourg af­ter Repub­li­cans blocked his con­fir­ma­tion be­cause he is openly ho­mo­sex­ual.

Al­li­son Shelley / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Sen. Jim Webb, Vir­ginia Demo­crat, served Nov. 20 as the Se­nate’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer — for just 22 sec­onds.

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