Bush Urges Vote on Nominees

President Bush, backed by a group of presidential nominees, pressed the Senate to vote on the nominees and to stop treating them like "political pawns."
President Bush, backed by a group of presidential nominees, pressed the Senate to vote on the nominees and to stop treating them like "political pawns." (By Chris Kleponis -- Bloomberg News)
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2008

With time running out for his administration, President Bush pressed the Senate yesterday to break a political impasse and confirm more than 180 judicial and agency nominees whose appointments in many cases have been stalled for months.

Bush said the backlog strains the government's ability to respond to economic troubles, to ensure national security and to dispense justice. But Senate Democrats, who are playing for time in the hope that their party captures the White House this fall, blame Bush for refusing to compromise on choices they consider extreme.

Among those in limbo are three would-be Federal Reserve governors, four members of the Federal Election Commission, the chief of the Federal Aviation Administration, the head of the Internal Revenue Service, the deputy attorney general and 17 ambassadors. Perhaps most important to the White House are 28 designated judges who, if confirmed, would have lifetime tenure to shape the courts long after Bush leaves office.

"The confirmation process has turned into a never-ending political game where everyone loses," Bush said in the East Room, flanked by nominees whose confirmations have been delayed. He said more than half the nominees have been waiting for longer than 100 days and that more than 30 have been held up for a year or longer. "These are real folks, making real sacrifices, and they should not be treated like political pawns."

Presidents in their final year often find appointments slowed by an opposition Congress. Bush did not mention that nominees often are delayed for months before his administration sends them to Capitol Hill. The White House padded its list of 180 nominees "still waiting for Senate confirmation" by including some whose nominations were sent to the Senate in recent days -- including three sent Wednesday and three others sent Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) chastised Bush for sticking with nominees who have no chance of confirmation. One example is Steven G. Bradbury, whose nomination as assistant attorney general is opposed by many senators because he signed memos authorizing especially harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects.

Reid offered in December to confirm dozens of nominees if Bush would agree not to install Bradbury with a recess appointment, but the president refused. Reid cleared 84 confirmations anyway. "President Bush has instead pursued his my-way-or-the-highway, all-or-nothing approach," Reid said in a statement. "As a result, many of these nominations -- Democrat and Republican -- have stalled, putting a number of agencies in jeopardy."

Speaking with reporters, Reid made clear he wants to hold back as much as possible, because confirming Bush picks for jobs whose terms extend beyond his own "would greatly limit the ability of a new president to change the direction of those boards through new appointments."

For many vacant positions, interim officials are able to carry out at least day-to-day duties. That includes Bradbury, who is running the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel on an acting basis.

In other cases, the vacancies have frozen action. The six-member FEC, for instance, is down to two members, short of the four needed to take official action such as launching investigations into campaign finance violations. Similarly, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission cannot decide cases or penalize mines that commit safety violations because it has more vacancies than members.

The confirmation process has stretched out so long that even with the threat of recession, a Bush-nominated economist recently withdrew because he tired of waiting. "The three-member Council of Economic Advisers is down to one person," Bush noted, "which makes for lonely council meetings."

But senators appeared unmoved. Within hours of Bush's speech, New Jersey Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, angry about recent East Coast flight delays, announced they will block consideration of former Navy pilot Robert A. Sturgell as head the FAA.

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