WASHINGTON – President Bush's decision to bypass the Senate in filling posts at the State Department, Federal Election Commission and National Labor Relations Board drew protests Thursday from lawmakers and advocacy groups.
Under the Constitution, the president may avoid the Senate confirmation process and make appointments while the chamber is in recess. Such appointments usually are short-term, expiring at the end of next congressional session.
But because the Senate held a pro forma session Tuesday and then adjourned, the White House contends the second session of the 109th Congress has begun. Therefore, the White House believes Bush's nearly 20 recess appointments are valid until the following session, which won't conclude until the end of 2007.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the appointments were necessary to fill vacancies, and that a few posts were empty because some lawmakers "are playing politics with the nomination process."
However, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the regular confirmation process should be used so the Senate can be assured that nominees are qualified.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., protested Hans von Spakovsky's appointment to the FEC. Kennedy said von Spakovsky, a Justice Department lawyer who was Republican Party chairman in Fulton County, Ga., worked toward requiring Georgia voters to have a photo identification — a requirement critics said would harm black voters.
Kennedy also contended that von Spakovsky was involved in a decision that rejected a recommendation of career Justice Department lawyers in a Texas redistricting case. Those lawyers had concluded that the redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it eliminated several districts where minorities had substantial voting power and illegally diluted black and Hispanic voting power.
The president also appointed to the FEC Robert Lenhard, who was part of a legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and Steven Walther, a lawyer with ties to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Reid, Kennedy and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney all expressed disappointment with Bush's recess appointment of Peter Kirsanow to the National Labor Relations Board, citing his record as a member of the Commission on Civil Rights.
"He is an ardent foe of basic worker protections, including the minimum wage and prevailing wage laws, and is a vehement opponent of affirmative action," Kennedy said.
Bush's appointment of Ellen Sauerbrey to be assistant secretary of state for refugees, population and migration, was opposed by advocacy groups that say she lacks experience on refugee issues. Currently, Sauerbrey is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the status of women.
"Sauerbrey's record at the United Nations has been a relentless effort to foist the administration's anti-choice agenda onto international bodies dealing with population and reproductive health and rights," said Jodi Jacobson, director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, a group that advocates for the health and rights of women and girls across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Earlier protests to some of Bush's recess appointees included one from Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who raised concerns about the nomination of deputy associate attorney general Tracy Henke to be director of state and local government coordination and preparedness at the Homeland Security Department. Lieberman said Henke's decision to delete statistics about racial disparities in traffic stops from a draft press release "may have undermined the office's reputation for objectivity and independence."
She said she edited the press release because it didn't accurately portray information in a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.