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Bush Appointments Avert Senate Battles

By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 5, 2006

President Bush yesterday made a raft of controversial recess appointments, including Julie L. Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau at the Department of Homeland Security, in a maneuver circumventing the need for approval by the Senate.

Myers, a niece of former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Richard B. Myers and the wife of the chief of staff to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, had been criticized by Republicans and Democrats who charged that she lacked experience in immigration matters.

Myers's nomination faced a bruising and potentially embarrassing fight on the Senate floor, where Democrats were prepared to argue that politics, not merit, drove her selection for an important job preventing terrorists and weapons from entering the country.

Bush appointed Tracy A. Henke as executive director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness. She had been accused in her politically appointed post at the Justice Department of demanding that information about racial disparities in police treatment of blacks in traffic cases be deleted from a news release.

The president avoided an abortion rights battle with the recess appointment of former Maryland Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. Sauerbrey is an opponent of abortion rights.

For the Federal Election Commission, Bush picked Justice Department employee and former Fulton County, Ga., Republican chairman Hans von Spakovsky for one of three openings. Von Spakovsky is widely viewed as a key player in two disputed Justice Department decisions to overrule career staff in voting rights cases.

A Democratic vacancy will be filled by union lawyer Robert D. Lenhard. He has provoked opposition because of his participation as an attorney for the American Federation of State, Council and Municipal Employees in efforts to have the Supreme Court rule that the 2002 McCain-Feingold law is unconstitutional. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) indicated that he would fight the Lenhard nomination when Democratic leaders first announced it in 2003.

McCain and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) issued statements critical of the appointments. Von Spakovsky may have undermined "enforcement of our civil rights laws," Kennedy said. "By appointing von Spakovsky, the White House missed an opportunity to fill this important position with a person clearly committed to these fundamental rights."

The other FEC appointment went to Nevada lawyer Steven T. Walther, who has close ties to Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

At the Pentagon, Bush granted recess appointments to Gordon R. England as deputy secretary of defense and Dorrance Smith, a former ABC producer, as assistant secretary for public affairs.

The recess appointments will end at the conclusion of the current congressional session in January 2007.

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