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Contested Bush Nominees Bypass Senate

Politics: Leading Democrats criticize a pair of controversial recess appointments made by the president.

January 12, 2002|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Bush appointed two controversial nominees to senior administration jobs on Friday, using his executive powers to skirt a recalcitrant Senate that had refused to act on the nominations of Eugene Scalia and Otto J. Reich.

The appointments, made while Congress is in recess, further strain a worsening White House relationship with Democrats, which was growing all the more rocky Friday over questions about administration contacts with Enron Corp. executives.

Without fanfare, the White House announced that Bush was placing Reich in the post of assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs and Scalia in the job of solicitor of the Labor Department.

Both took office Friday.

The two men have been magnets for criticism--Reich for his role during the Reagan administration, when he oversaw a covert program seeking to gain support for the contras who were fighting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and Scalia for his opposition to ergonomics regulations for workers.

The Senate had refused to hold a committee hearing on Reich's nomination. Scalia's nomination narrowly won committee approval, but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) had delayed a full chamber vote on him.

White House to Press for Confirmations

Under the Constitution, while Congress is in recess the president can appoint individuals to serve for the remainder of a congressional session. Thus, Reich and Scalia will serve, without Senate confirmation, until the conclusion of the congressional session that begins this month and is likely to end shortly before the November election.

The White House says it will still press the Senate to confirm the two, allowing them to serve beyond the end of the year.

Their appointments had been telegraphed by the White House, and Bush's action drew only muted criticism in the Senate, even from some of their most vocal critics. They drew quiet praise from longtime supporters.

Daschle said Bush's decision to make recess appointments was "regrettable."

He said Democrats had promised to schedule a vote on Scalia but that his "record of hostility toward worker protections would have made his confirmation unlikely."

Ann Womack, a White House spokeswoman, said the Senate's failure to act on either Scalia or Reich "left the president with no other options."

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) was among Reich's most outspoken critics, and he said Friday that there was little chance Reich would win confirmation to his new post as long as Democrats control the Senate.

Dodd, a veteran member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the assistant secretary would be "a lame duck as soon as he takes the position."

He said Reich's appointment meant that U.S. policy in Latin America "is being sacrificed for a narrow domestic political agenda."

This was a reference to the support Reich has received from the Cuban-American National Foundation, a conservative, anti-Castro group with strong political roots in South Florida.

The nomination of Reich, who was born in Cuba, has been a cause celebre among many in the politically active Cuban American community.

Both Nominees Are Conservative Favorites

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called Reich, a former ambassador to Venezuela, the most important among the State Department's unconfirmed nominees.

"He has done nothing--nothing at all--in his career in government that should be seen as disqualifying for this job," Powell said recently.

Scalia has also been a favorite among conservatives, in part because his father is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said: "I regret the administration's action. I continue to believe that Mr. Scalia is not the right person for this important Labor Department position. His record and experience do not reflect a commitment to the rights of America's workers."

In a more blunt reaction, John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said Scalia's appointment is "a slap in the face of American workers."

The solicitor of the Labor Department is responsible for enforcing about 180 laws governing workplace safety and health, unemployment compensation, minimum wage provisions and job training, and is the department's third-highest position.

Conservatives lauded Bush for bypassing the Senate with the two appointments. Thomas L. Jipping, director of the Center for Law & Democracy, said Senate Democrats played "vindictive partisan games" with the nominations.

In modern times, as the size of the government has grown, presidents have often resorted to recess appointments to fill positions while the Senate is out of session.

During his two terms, President Clinton used the power 140 times, according to a tally by the Congressional Research Service. Bush's father made 77 recess appointments in four years; President Reagan made 240 in eight years.

Most recess appointments are not controversial. Senators shrugged this week when Bush appointed John Magaw to head a new transportation security agency in an effort to place him in the job quickly.

Clinton Used Power to Fill Key Post

But some attract notice, particularly when presidents use the power to go around obstacles to confirmation raised by an opposing party.

Clinton, in his second term, was thwarted by the Senate Republican majority when he sought to appoint Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general for civil rights. But ultimately Clinton found other means to put him in the job, including a recess appointment.

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Times staff writer Nick Anderson contributed to this report.

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