Bush nominating faster than Clinton or first Bush administration but one-third still unfilled
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush made more presidential nominations his first year in office than his two predecessors but finds more than a third of his administration’s positions still unfilled.
Frustrated with a slow confirmation process that Republicans blame on Senate Democrats, Bush is considering using recess appointments to install some nominees while Congress is away, aides say.
At the top of the list are Otto Reich to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to be the Labor Department’s top lawyer.
Democrats have yet to schedule a hearing on Reich. They question whether his work as a lobbyist for companies involved in Latin America presents conflicts of interest. And they cite his leadership of a State Department office during the Reagan presidency that was accused of running a covert propaganda campaign against Nicaragua’s then Communist-leaning Sandinista government. Majority Leader Tom Daschle says Senate opponents may filibuster his nomination, preventing a vote.
“If they’re not going to be given fair treatment, then they are going to have to consider recess appointments,” Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said of the White House.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., wrote Bush personally to ask him not to use a recess appointment for Reich, but Daschle, D-S.D., said he wouldn’t try to stop it. “All administrations have resorted to recess appointments on occasion,” he shrugged.
Giving Scalia and Reich recess appointments — which last only until January 2003 — would likely ensures they would never get confirmed by the Senate, said Paul Light of the Brookings Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
“It’s the worst possible way into office,” said Light. “You can still serve, but it’s a sign of the Senate not having confidence in the appointment, and it’s not a pleasant way to serve. You still have to deal with the same people who didn’t want you to have that job and who control your department’s purse strings.”
The administration had hoped to have its people in place by early October but has encountered several unanticipated obstacles.
It got a late start because of the five weeks it took to declare a winner in the 2000 presidential election. Then the virtual rubber stamping of Bush’s nominees came to an abrupt end in June when Vermont Sen. James Jeffords defected from the GOP and turned control of the Senate to Democrats.
The Sept. 11 attacks also slowed nominations as many of the FBI agents conducting exhaustive background checks on potential candidates were reassigned to the fight against terrorists.
“There isn’t a single feature of the process that hasn’t been adversely affected by some event this year,” said Light, who has been tracking the nomination process. “So under the worst of circumstances, I predict that the full Bush administration won’t be in place until the cherry blossoms bloom next spring.”
Of the more than 500 executive branch positions that require Senate confirmation, about 350 were filled in 2001. Heading into 2002, more than 175 positions remain open, including 70 nominees left stranded in the Senate when Congress adjourned last week.
“These individuals could’ve been reporting to work at the beginning of the year but, because of inaction, the president will begin the New Year without his team in place,” complained White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Bush’s judicial nominees have fared even worse. Of the 64 nominations for federal judgeships, only 28 of them, or 44 percent, have been confirmed.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats have made a “systematic and calculated effort to confirm the absolute minimum number of President Bush’s judicial nominees that they believe will be acceptable to the American public.”
Democrats counter that they controlled the Senate for only half the year and say much of that was taken up with a monthlong recess in August and responding to the terrorist attacks and anthrax threats.
Daschle said the number of Bush’s judicial nominees winning Senate confirmation is more than a Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed for President Clinton in 1993 “and nearly as many as a Republican-controlled Senate confirmed for President Reagan during his first year.”
On the Net:
Brookings’ Presidential Appointee Initiative: http://www.appointee.brookings.org
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