Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee pummeled veteran Republican politician Ellen R. Sauerbrey yesterday over her qualifications to head the State Department's refugee program.
Sauerbrey is a two-time candidate for Maryland governor who served 16 years in the state House of Delegates. She is currently U.S. envoy on women's issues to the United Nations.
But Democrats, evoking the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina by inexperienced political appointees, charged that her resume is too slim to handle a sprawling bureau that assists displaced people around the world. Nongovernmental groups have criticized the appointment, saying the post is generally filled by an expert, not a politician.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she supported Sauerbrey for the U.N. post but has "strong reservations" about placing her in charge of a nearly $1 billion program. Boxer suggested Sauerbrey was picked only because she is a GOP loyalist and thus could not handle her duties.
"I don't think we see the requisite experience that we've seen in other nominees," Boxer said.
Sauerbrey responded that she has significant management, budgetary and humanitarian experience, noting her role in managing the U.S. Census in three Maryland counties.
"I do have experience managing resources. I do have experience in managing people," Sauerbrey said. "I think these are highly transferable skills."
Boxer shot back: "I'm talking about a resume for this job, not about the census or other things."
Nevertheless, Sauerbrey is expected to win confirmation in the GOP-controlled Senate, with a committee vote expected next week.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), whose staff played a key role in organizing opposition to Sauerbrey, named previous holders of the post, noting that many had extensive expertise in refugee matters. "It's really raising the question about the qualifications that you bring to handle this refugee issue," he said.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said: "I think the concern here is just that the issues of refugee relief are a very specific and extraordinarily difficult task, and it doesn't appear that this is an area where you have specific experience."
Sauerbrey countered that her involvement in women's issues for the United Nations allowed her to travel widely and work "personally with women who have been the victims of conflict, of trafficking, of extraordinary degradation."
But Boxer said that Sauerbrey has shown "outright hostility" toward women's human rights and abortion rights at the United Nations.
Meanwhile, the committee, by a vote of 10 to 7, approved the nomination of C. Boyden Gray to be ambassador to the European Union. Gray, White House counsel for President George H.W. Bush, earned the ire of Democrats when he headed a group, the Committee for Justice, advocating conservative judicial nominees.
The group sponsored newspaper ads that showed a door labeled "Judicial Chambers" covered by a sign reading "Catholics need not apply." The ads said a candidate was attacked because of "deeply held" Catholic beliefs; several Catholic Democratic senators said yesterday that was over the line.