Delay Game Spices Up Bush Nominees Debate

Though the Senate is trying to wrap up its work so it can recess for the holiday season, Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., says he is not going to adjourn sine die — or "without day" — a move that effectively prevents President Bush from making recess appointments for judicial and executive branch nominees.

Daschle said Friday that he wants to have the option to bring the Senate back into session in case unfinished business needs to be resolved, but admitted that the decision makes it nearly impossible for the president to take advantage of the break to appoint nominees that have been held up by the Democratic-led Senate.

"It's harder to make recess appointments," Daschle said, adding, "I think if we were to go out without having the ability to come back subject to the call of the chair, I think we could also be criticized. I think it's very important for us to be available."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is the latest Republican to chastise the Senate leader for failing to bring judicial nominees to the floor for a vote. On Friday, he accused Democrats of trying to hold up the nomination of Eugene Scalia, son of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for a position as Department of Labor solicitor general.

On Thursday, a group of GOP senators said "there is a black hole" when it comes to getting judicial and non-judicial nominees approved.

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said the majority leader's decision to hold up Eugene Scalia's nomination as a way to punish his father for his position on the Bush v. Gore election case last year is "pretty vindictive and below the purposes of the Senate."

Daschle denied that Scalia's nomination was being held up because of his opposition to abortion, nor is there an effort underway to prevent the vote from going to the floor.

"What I've always said is, I don't think that he has the votes. I've never said I'm not willing to take his nomination to the floor," Daschle said, adding that he thought Scalia would have a hard time winning the nomination because of "his unwillingness to look at ergonomics laws that exist or that might be propounded, and I think there's a great deal of difficulty in accepting his nomination in large measure because of his unwillingness to fulfill his obligations with this position."

Friday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer added to the Republican drumbeat, calling on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing for nominee Otto Reich to become Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. Fleischer's unsolicited comments added force to a more tepid response earlier this week to a reporter's questions about whether the president was pressuring the Democratic leader to act.

"The president has asked for a hearing. Secretary Powell has repeatedly asked for a hearing. Three former secretarys of state have asked for a hearing for Mr. Reich, and yet they will not proceed," Fleischer said, adding that Reich was nominated last March.

Currently, 157 Bush nominees remain in limbo. Their position is not helped by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who Wednesday wrote Daschle requesting that a "hold" be put on all non-judicial Bush nominees until the Senate takes up his bill to help alleviate pressures on small businesses following Sept. 11. All senators are allowed to put a "hold" on legislation, which in essence means the legislation is frozen until the senator lifts the hold.

A spokeswoman for Kerry's office said the senator made the decision in response to a hold placed on his "Small Business Emergency Relief and Recovery Act" by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. A Kyl spokesman said there is no hold on the legislation.

While Daschle said the heavy schedule has delayed votes on Bush nominees, he added that when his party was in the minority, they often lamented not having votes on Clinton nominees.

On Thursday, Sen. Arlen Specter. R-Pa., warned Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to keep in mind that his majority status won't last forever.

"Senator Leahy should stop playing politics and start confirming nominees, Specter said. "Senator Leahy, one day — and perhaps soon — will be ranking member and he's going to need some consideration from the majority."

Of the 157 unconfirmed Bush nominees, 37 were tapped for the federal bench.