Party Squabbles Leave Nominations Deadlocked

By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, March 3, 2008

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and President Bush both say they are ready to clear a backlog of presidential nominations needing Senate confirmation, but that goal appears increasingly harder to achieve as the end of Bush's tenure draws near.

The latest sign of trouble came in a lengthy letter last week from Reid to White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, complaining about what Reid sees as White House foot-dragging on processing Democratic appointments to independent boards such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Typically, Reid wrote, he has been able to work cooperatively with the White House on such nominees. But lately, he added, "there has been a notable shift in the President's stance on these nominations from one of cooperation to intransigence."

Reid complained that Bush has repeatedly rebuffed him over the past several months, and cited as an example his offer to confirm two nominees for the Council of Economic Advisers if Bush would "commit to the speedy consideration" of Democratic candidates for the SEC -- a body that has no Democratic commissioners for the time being. That offer, he said, was rejected.

There is also a standoff over the composition over the Federal Election Commission. Bush and Republican allies insist that the Senate consider all the pending nominees, two Democrats and two Republicans, at once. Democrats want individual votes on each nominee, which would give them a shot at taking down Hans A. von Spakovsky, whose handling of voting matters in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has spawned their ire.

White House officials say Reid is distorting the situation and that it takes a while to do background checks and to vet nominees.

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, said: "We disagree with many of the facts in the letter. But we do look forward to working with the majority leader on the pending nominations and are confident we can do so in a constructive manner."

A Hero Remembered

In the East Room of the White House this afternoon, President Bush will award the Medal of Honor posthumously to Master Sgt. Woodrow Wilson Keeble for his actions during the Korean War. It is the first time a full-blooded Sioux has been so recognized, according to the Pentagon, and as with many Medal of Honor recipients, there is an amazing story behind the award.

In October 1951, near the Kumsong River in North Korea, Chinese forces had pinned down Keeble and the three Army platoons he led with machine-gun fire from three pillboxes on a steep, rocky hill, according to an account provided by the military's Army News Service.

After three group assaults failed, Keeble decided to mount a solo assault to take out the pillboxes.

As described by Army News Service, Keeble crawled to an area 50 yards from the ridgeline and took out one of the fortifications with grenades and rifle fire. He worked his way to the other ridgeline and took out the right pillbox. "Then without hesitation, he lobbed a grenade into the back entrance of the middle pillbox and with additional rifle fire eliminated it," said an official statement from 1st Sgt. Kosumo "Joe" Sagami, an eyewitness.

According to the Army, Keeble, then 34, was wounded on at least five different occasions, and 83 grenade fragments were removed from his body. His compatriots all signed a letter recommending Keeble for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork was lost.

Twenty years later, his family began a campaign to try to secure for him the Medal of Honor, gathering eyewitness statements from men who served with Keeble. But a statute of limitations limits awarding the honor to within three years of the date of the heroic action. So Keeble's tribe and family lobbied lawmakers for legislation authorizing the president to award the medal to Keeble. The measure finally passed last year.

After the war, Keeble returned to the small North Dakota town of Wahpeton, where he worked at an Indian school as a caretaker, according to Kurt BlueDog, a grand-nephew. Keeble died in 1982 after a post-Army life of health and financial difficulties. In an interview last week, BlueDog described his uncle as a large, jovial man who was humble about his actions in wartime and beloved by family and friends.

"We've been doing everything we can to keep this thing alive and moving forward. That's why it is so fulfilling and gratifying that this is finally coming," BlueDog said. "There's a strong tradition among Native American people about nationalism and coming to the defense of one's people," he added. "Woody exemplified it."

Dirty Laundry

One of the revelations from President Bush's recent trip to Africa is that the president doesn't know how his laundry gets done when he's abroad. This comes from rock star turned activist turned journalist Bob Geldof, who enjoyed special access to Bush during the Africa journey and just wrote his account for Time magazine.

Geldof offers a sympathetic portrait of the president, trying to reconcile his anger over the Iraq invasion with what he describes as Bush's undeniable achievements in Africa -- such as increases in distribution of anti-AIDS drugs -- that Geldof asserts have been given short shrift by the American media.

The onetime singer for the Boomtown Rats, who is used to washing machines backstage at concerts, reports that he asked Bush how he got his laundry done on such foreign trips. "Laundry, huh?" replied Bush. "Y'know, I've never asked that. I usually just wear the same thing all day, but if I need to change, there's always a room I can go to. Laundry, huh? Is this the interview, Geldof? It's certainly a different technique!"

"Jed," Bush said to the man doing the ironing in his private cabin on Air Force One. "How do we do the laundry on this thing?"

"We use hotels, sir."

Home on the Ranch

Mark Knoller, the CBS Radio News correspondent who keeps the best statistics on presidential travel, reports that Bush's past weekend in Crawford with the Danish prime minister was his 70th visit as president to his Texas ranch. By Knoller's count, Bush has spent all or part of 452 days of his presidency there.

That makes for an awful lot of brush cleared.

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