By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 5, 2007
President Bush, defying Senate Democrats, gave recess appointments yesterday to three controversial nominees, including, as ambassador to Belgium, Republican donor Sam Fox, who had contributed to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group whose ads helped doom Sen. John F. Kerry's 2004 presidential bid.
Kerry (D-Mass.), who grilled Fox about his $50,000 contribution to the group during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February, had complained that Fox never disavowed his actions and that he should not be confirmed. "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," Kerry said in a statement yesterday.
The committee was about to vote on Fox's nomination last week -- and was almost certain to reject it -- when Bush pulled it back. Since the nomination was not before the Senate, the White House said Fox, who is a wealthy developer in St. Louis, will serve without pay in his post, although some Democrats had suggested that may not be permissible.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said yesterday that he will ask the Government Accountability Office for a ruling on the legality of the unusual appointment, which he called "an abuse of executive authority."
Despite the Democrats' fierce objections to Fox and two other appointees, conservatives lauded Bush's exercise of his constitutional prerogative. Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, who had urged Bush to recess-appoint Fox, said yesterday: "It's good; it shows he's fighting back. He had a 'kick me' sign on his back, and it shows he's taken the sign off."
In addition to Fox, Bush, as long expected, gave a recess appointment to Susan E. Dudley, who had headed the anti-regulatory Mercatus Center at George Mason University, to oversee federal regulatory policy at the Office of Management and Budget.
Dudley's nomination had stalled because of Democrats' objections to her views on issues such as arsenic limits in drinking water, air bags and workplace injuries. She had a Senate confirmation hearing last year, but the Senate adjourned without voting on her and the White House resubmitted the nomination. She has been working as a counselor to OMB Deputy Director Clay Johnson III.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said last week that the panel would give her a second hearing.
Committee spokeswoman Leslie Phillips issued a statement on Lieberman's behalf yesterday, saying that the "decision to recess appoint Susan Dudley shows disrespect" for the Senate's authority to advise and consent on nominations. "Sen. Lieberman was proceeding with . . . the nomination and there has been no suggestion that she would be denied an up-or-down vote in the Senate."
Bush issued a third recess appointment to Andrew Biggs, assistant director of the Project on Social Security Choice at the libertarian Cato Institute and an advocate of privatizing Social Security, to be deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration. That drew an angry rebuke from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who said that "prospects for getting real Social Security reform anytime soon just took a big hit with this recess appointment." Baucus added: "This administration is clearly not serious about leaving behind the failed schemes of the past."
Despite the Democrats' objections, under the Constitution the recess appointees may serve until as late as January 2009 -- effectively until the end of the Bush presidency.