Democrats had denounced Fox for his 2004 donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The group's TV ads, which claimed that Sen. John Kerry exaggerated his military record in Vietnam, were viewed as a major factor in the Massachusetts Democrat losing the election.
Recognizing Fox did not have the votes to obtain Senate confirmation, Bush withdrew the nomination last month. On Wednesday, with Congress out of town for a spring break, the president used his power to make recess appointments to put Fox in the job without Senate confirmation.
This means Fox can remain ambassador until the end of the next session of Congress, effectively through the end of the Bush presidency.
Kerry, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement critical of the appointment and of Bush.
"It's sad but not surprising that this White House would abuse the power of the presidency to reward a donor over the objections of the Senate. This nomination was withdrawn because the Administration realized it would lose in the Foreign Relations Committee," Kerry said.
"Unfortunately, when this White House can't win the game, they just change the rules, and America loses. Our country would be stronger if this Administration spent more time getting body armor for our soldiers in Iraq than it did helping their powerful friends," he added.
Bush also used his recess appointment authority to make Andrew Biggs deputy director of Social Security. The president's earlier nomination of Biggs, an outspoken advocate of partially privatizing the government's retirement program, was rejected by Senate Democrats in February.
In August 2005, Bush riled Democrats — who then were in the minority in Congress — when he used the same power to appoint John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. That appointment expired late last year. Zalmay Khalilzad, who is exiting as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is expected to succeed Bolton.
Fox, a 77-year-old St. Louis businessman, gave $50,000 to the Swift Boat group. He is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and was dubbed a "ranger" by Bush's 2004 campaign for raising at least $200,000. He is founder and chairman of the Clayton, Mo.-based Harbour Group, which specializes in the takeover of manufacturing companies.
Fox has donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s.
In answer to questions about the Swift Boat donation, Fox has said he gives when asked, insisting he did not know how his money would be spent or exactly what message the group was pushing.
In his first six years in office, Bush made 167 recess appointments, 101 of which were to full-time positions, according to a January 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service. In his eight years in office, President Clinton made 139 recess appointments, 95 of where were to full-time positions.