Instead of Plum Appointments, Maybe a Lump of Coal

President Bush said goodbye a second time to Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.
President Bush said goodbye a second time to Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)
By Al Kamen
Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas is usually a time when controversial nominees for top federal jobs wait for Santa, in the form of the president of the United States, to come down the chimney with their recess appointments.

Maybe not this year. Word is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in order to prevent President Bush from handing out those goodies, is now thinking about keeping the Senate in session during the Christmas-New Year's break, which starts at the end of next week and continues until the Senate returns in mid- to late January.

The unusual maneuver, which Reid first used during the recent Thanksgiving vacation, would block Bush from using his constitutional power -- derived from the days when the Senate could be out of session for months -- to fill vacancies. Such appointments made now would be valid through the end of Bush's presidency.

As a practical matter, if Reid decides to keep the Senate in session, such folks as Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who came in from across the river to wield the gavel during the Thanksgiving break, would once again briefly open and close the Senate twice a week, in what are called pro forma sessions.

Senate Democrats have been particularly upset over several of Bush's recess appointees, including Charles Pickering to an appeals court seat and, more recently, Republican donor and Swift Boat ad-campaign contributor Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium.

A Christmas Protest

Speaking of Christmas, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) says he's not really against the holiday, even though he voted this week against a resolution "recognizing the importance of Christmas and the Christian faith."

McDermott said his vote Tuesday night was a protest against Bush's anticipated veto of a children's health insurance bill -- which Bush vetoed Wednesday.

"While the Republicans are passing a resolution celebrating Christmas, the president was vetoing health care for children. There's a little bit of irony going on around here," McDermott said yesterday.

The Christmas measure was approved 372 to 9, according to the Associated Press, with Democrats casting all the no votes. Besides McDermott, the dissenting votes came from Reps. Gary Ackerman and Yvette Clarke of New York; Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey of California; Diana DeGette (Colo.); Alcee Hastings (Fla.); and Bobby Scott (Va.). Ten lawmakers, including Republican Mike Pence (Ind.), voted "present." Forty members were absent.

Going Away, Again

Bush, apparently with a bit of time on his hands, couldn't stay away from a little surprise drop-in at public diplomacy czar Karen Hughes's going-away party Wednesday afternoon at the State Department.

This is Hughes's second departure from the administration. She went back to Texas midway through Bush's first term and then returned for the diplomacy job. White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten also stopped by, as did national security adviser Stephen Hadley and former White House counsel and, we recall, Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. The Supreme Court honor isn't in her bio at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell in Dallas, but we checked the clips.

"I wouldn't be standing here without Karen Hughes," Bush told the group, referring to her invaluable political skills. He stood there from 4:17 to 4:39 p.m. Not one to linger.

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