WASHINGTON – President Bush may act on his own to install controversial nominees at the Labor and State departments if the Democratic Senate refuses to vote on them this week.
Senior administration officials said Monday they are exploring ways to give Otto Reich and Eugene Scalia temporary appointments during Congress' recess. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush has not made a final decision but is likely to issue recess appointments if the Senate doesn't act.
Reich, a former Reagan administration official, is the president's choice to be secretary of Western Hemisphere affairs. Scalia, son of the conservative Supreme Court justice, would be the Labor Department's top lawyer.
The Democrats' concerns over Reich focus on his lobbying activities as well as his leadership of the State Department's one-time Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean. The office — which Reich led from its inception in June 1983 until January 1986 — was accused of running an illegal, covert domestic propaganda effort against Nicaragua's Sandinista government and in favor of the Contra rebels.
Reich has denied any wrongdoing.
Scalia's father, Justice Antonin Scalia, voted against Vice President Al Gore in the Supreme Court case that determined the 2000 presidential election.
Under the Constitution, the president has the right to make temporary appointments — bypassing the usual confirmation proceedings — if he acts during the recess of the Senate. In this case, Scalia and Reich could serve until the end of 2003 if Bush waits until January to appoint them.
Democrats who control the Senate may try to block Bush's plans by skipping the recess planned for this month, citing the war on terrorism. Bush has ordered his staff to research other options to put the nominees in place.
It was unclear whether the advisers, by leaking word of the review, were signaling Bush's true intentions or merely trying to pressure the Senate into acting.
A recess appointment would be seen as a challenge to Democrats who control the Senate.
The standoff is part of a power struggle between the White House and Senate over the nomination process and a host of other issues.
"It has been done before by both parties to filibuster a presidential nominee, but it is rare and it is wrong," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said of the delay in considering the nominees.