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.Our Glassman Goof
Speaking of the State Department, they called to say that Wednesday's column incorrectly said her nominated successor, Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman James Glassman, will be acting diplomacy czar pending confirmation. Not so.Cannoli vs. Apple Pie
Bush seemed to some to be dissing American cuisine during his photo op Tuesday with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
"It will be my honor to feed you lunch," Bush said. "I doubt it is going to be -- the food is going to be as good as the food I had when I visited your beautiful country."
Hey. Our burgers can match theirs anytime, any place. What about Texas barbecue?FEMA: No. 1 in PR Blunders
All in all, a pretty good week for FEMA. First, acting Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson did well enough at his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that, barring holds or other delays, his confirmation seems a good bet.
A day earlier, FEMA received an especially coveted honor. It was No. 1 on the 13th Annual Top Ten PR Blunders List for 2007, compiled for many years by Fineman PR, a San Francisco firm.
Fineman said FEMA "truly fumbled" when it had staffers play reporters at a phony news conference to hail the agency's efforts during the recent California wildfires.
FEMA bested a particularly stellar list of contenders this year, according to PR Newswire, including the spectacular disaster by the Cartoon Network when it "covertly" placed blinking devices on bridges, bus depots and subway stations in Boston to promote a TV program.
Boston officials, naturally concerned that these were bombs, shut down sections of the city as a result of what one ad expert called "the most significant blunder in the world of guerrilla advertising."
The competition was so fierce that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ranked only ninth on the list. He told the annual convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists that people "have got to turn off the Spanish television set" and stay away from Spanish-language TV, books and newspapers in order to "learn English quickly." CBS News reported that this advice didn't go over well with the audience, many of whom were from Spanish-language media.