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Republicans denounce Obama's recess appointments

This year produced a number of winners and losers -- from the tea party and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski to President Obama and the House ethics committee.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 5:09 PM

Republicans are denouncing President Obama's appointment of what they say are questionable nominees to key jobs while Congress is away for the holidays.

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Obama made appointments on Wednesday to the posts of deputy attorney general and ambassador to Syria, taking advantage of the congressional recess to push through nominees that Republicans had previously blocked.

The most controversial among them were James Cole, who will be second-in-command behind Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., and the new ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford. The so-called recess appointments avoid the normal Senate confirmation process, allowing the appointees to serve without the Senate's approval until the end of the incoming Congress.

On Thursday, the GOP began to fight back, issuing some strongly worded statements critical of Obama's action.

Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Cole's appointment sends the wrong message.

"The appointment indicates that the Obama administration continues to try to implement its dangerous policies of treating Islamic terrorism as a criminal matter," King said, citing the recent furor over plans to try accused terrorists in civilian courts.

Republicans have criticized Cole for writing in 2002, as a private attorney, that the attorney general's role is to prosecute criminals rather than fight a war. They have also pointed to his work as an independent consultant to the American International Group (AIG) before its collapse and subsequent bailout in 2008.

"The recess appointment of such a questionable individual who so clearly could not be confirmed by the Senate for a position of this importance is unacceptable," said Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.), who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee with King.

Ford's nomination also irked Republicans, many of whom would prefer the United States not appoint an ambassador to Syria at all.

President George W. Bush had pulled his ambassador from Damascus in 2005, after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Syrian intelligence officials were suspected in the killing; Syria's president has denied any involvement by his country. The United States has not sent an ambassador since then.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, said late Wednesday that Ford's appointment represents a "major concession to the Syrian regime."

"That is the wrong message to be sending to a regime which continues to harm and threaten U.S. interests and those of such critical allies as Israel," she said.

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