WASHINGTON – Exercising authority granted him in the Constitution, President Bush used his recess appointment power Friday to install two of his nominees to posts seen critical to fulfilling administration policy.
The president notified Congress that Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has been appointed solicitor of the Labor Department and Otto Reich will become assistant secretary of state for Latin America, the top diplomatic post for the region.
Bush wants to create a Latin free trade zone.
The two men, whose nominations were tied up by opposition in the Democratic-led Senate, will be allowed to serve in those posts until Congress recesses again at the end of the year, an administration official said.
Scalia, whose nomination was held up from a full vote despite being approved by the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, a situation nearly unheard of in the Senate, will be the Labor Department's top lawyer and third highest-ranking officer.
He will be in charge of enforcing nearly 200 federal labor laws and worker protections and will dispense legal advice and guidance to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao on issues dealing with worker safety and health, minimum wage and pension security.
Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R- Mo., a senior member of the committee, applauded the president's decision.
"Faced with a pitched partisan confirmation battle in the Senate, putting Eugene Scalia in place as a recess appointment is the president's only option," Bond said Friday. "I am confident that he will serve with humility and be ever mindful of those who rely on the Department of Labor for protection."
Democrats opposed to the labor lawyer used arguments made by unions upset with Scalia's position on Clinton-era ergonomics rules killed by Congress last spring.
Scalia criticized the rules as "quackery" based on "junk science." He told committee members during his hearing that he believes that work-related injuries occur, but the regulations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration last year were too stringent.
Reich, a Cuban-American with close ties to conservative anti-Castro Cubans, was denied a hearing altogether.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who chairs the subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, called Reich unqualified for the post despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's calling his nomination the most important post pending for the State Department.
"(Reich) has done nothing — nothing at all — in his career in government that should be seen as disqualifying for this job," Powell said recently.
The Democrats' concerns over Reich, a former ambassador to Venezuela, center on accusations that he ran an illegal, covert domestic propaganda effort against Nicaragua's Sandinista government and in favor of the Contra rebels while heading up the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean between June 1983 and January 1986.
Reich has denied any wrongdoing.
Since Bush waited until the Senate was in recess — it reconvenes Jan. 23 — the nominees will remain in their posts until the next Senate recess at the end of the year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.