By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010; A20
President Obama made four recess appointments Thursday for nominees that have waited an average of 303 days for confirmation, the White House said.
"At a time when our nation faces so many pressing challenges, I urge members of the Senate to stop playing politics with our highly qualified nominees, and fulfill their responsibilities of advice and consent," Obama said in a statement announcing the appointments. "Until they do, I reserve the right to act within my authority to do what is best for the American people."
The most contentious of the appointments is Maria del Carmen Aponte, the administration's pick for ambassador to El Salvador.
Senate Republicans questioned her during a March confirmation hearing about a former romantic relationship with a Cuban national connected to Cuban intelligence.
She denied any contact with Cuban intelligence officials but said she met some Cuban officials socially over the course of the relationship.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and other Republicans later placed a hold on Aponte's nomination as they sought additional information about her background.
"The White House continued to deny senators information, despite numerous requests, and then recess appoints her to circumvent the advice and consent process. So much for transparency and accountability," said DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton.
Aponte runs a consulting firm; previously ran the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration; and sat on the boards of the National Council of La Raza, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the University of the District of Columbia.
Obama also recess appointed Elisabeth Hagen as the Agriculture Department's undersecretary for food safety, Winslow Sargeant as chief counsel for advocacy at the Small Business Administration, and Richard Sorian as assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
As of Thursday, the administration has filled 417 top executive branch positions (not including judges, ambassadors, prosecutors and federal marshals), according to The Washington Post's Head Count. Obama has made a total of 22 recess appointments, including the four announced Thursday.
George W. Bush made 23 recess appointments by the end of his second year in office and Bill Clinton made 139 recess appointments during his presidency, according to the Congressional Research Service.