President Carter's nomination of Republican Sam Zagoria to the Federal Election Commission drew strong opposition yesterday from 132 House Republicans who said Carter "has chosen to ignore his agreement with our party's leaders."
"The selection process used by the president and the White House staff can only be categorized as reprehensible." Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.), leader of the protest, told the Senate Rules Committee.
Stressing that he did not oppose Zagoria as a person, Vander Jagt said Carter violated two agreements with Republican leaders that the nominee for the Republican seat on the FEC would only be chosen after "full consultation" with the party's representatives.
Zagoria was not one of the three suggestions forwarded to the White House by Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (Tenn.) and House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes ( Ariz).
"If the president is allowed to breach an agreement, what can we expect in the future?" Vander Jagt asked. "Simply stated, who will be allowed to determine who is a representative of the Republican Party, the congressional leadership of the Republican Party, or the White House?"
The House Republicans expressed their opposition to Zagoria's nomination in an open letter to Sen. O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), a member of the Rules Committee. Vander Jagt distributed copies at yesterday's hearing.
Zagoria was first nominated to the FEC post later October, but a similar Republican protest at the time prevented action on the choice. President Carter resubmitted Zagoria's nomination in April.
Carter's nomination of John McGarry for a Democratic seat on the FEC also has run into trouble. The Senate Rules Committee has asked for an investigation into financial dealings by McGarry, a special counsel to the House Administration Committee and friend of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.)
Jobs on the election commission are particularly sensitive because the FEC polices presidential and congressional campaign finances and hands out public funds to presidential candidates. The commission is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, appointed to staggered, six-year terms.
McGarry appeared before the Senate Rules Committee two weeks ago, but was not present yesterday. Both nominees are expected to attend another hearing this morning.
Earlier protests against Zagoria had questioned his commitment to the Republican Party, particularly because of his ties to organized labor. Zagoria, a former administrative assistant to Sen. Clifford P. Case (R-N.J.), once served as president of the Washington Newspaper Guild and is director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Labor-Management Relations Service.
Yesterday, however, Hatfield said that "Sam Zagorie is a genuine Republican," and Vander Jagt agreed that party loyalty was not an issue.
Nonetheless, Vander Jagt insisted that "the process is more important than the man," and said Zagoria should not be confirmed for the FEC post because he was not selected by the Republican leadership.
Sen. Howard W. Cannon (D-Nev.) asked Vander Jagt if he weren't suggesting "that we do indirectly" - by refusing to confirm a selection not made by congressional party leaders - "what the Supreme Court said we couldn't do directly."
In 1976 the Supreme Court struck down a law under which Congress controlled four of the six nominations to the FEC, saying it violated the seperation-of-powers doctrine. The speaker of the House and the Senate president pro tem each made two nominations, based on recommendations by the majority and minority party leaders.
Vander Jagt said he believed the president "has an obligation - if not in law then in the spirit of fair play - to nominate Republicans who represent the leadership's views."
If the president disapproved of the party leaders' suggestions, Vander Jagt said, he should ask for more suggestions rather than nominate someone else.
Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.) said that is what Carter tried to do, but the Republican leaders "stonewalled" by adding only one name to the two previously suggested.
"I don't think there are any facts or law on your side." Ford said, adding that he thought Vander Jagt was just "raising Cain."
Zagoria would fill the FEC seat formerly held by William Springer, whose term expired. Two of the commission's six spots are currently vacant.