US President George W. Bush has defied Congress again by placing a slew of controversial political allies in key national security and foreign policy posts, circumventing the requisite approval process in the Senate.
Bush resorted to the same recess appointment procedure he used in August to install John Bolton as US ambassador to the United Nations, despite Capitol Hill’s strong opposition to the nominee.
On Wednesday, the bureaucratic maneuver was used to fill key vacancies in the Defense, State and Homeland Security Departments with officials whose approval by the Senate was in doubt.
The White House said Bush had appointed Gordon England, a former Navy secretary, to the post of deputy secretary of defense left vacant by Paul Wolfowitz, a leading architect of the Iraq war, who resigned the second-highest Pentagon job last year to become president of the World Bank.
A former General Dynamics executive, England was designated acting deputy defense secretary in May, but his Senate confirmation hearing hit a roadblock when at least two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Trent Lott of Mississippi, put it on hold over his decisions concerning the local shipbuilding industry.
The recess appointment, which presidents can made when Congress is in recess, will allow England and others to remain in their jobs until January 2007, when the current congressional session ends.
However, England’s appointed was expected to generate less controversy than that of Dorrance Smith, who was named assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, or the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
In November, Smith penned an article for The Wall Street Journal blasting all major US television networks and the government of Qatar for cooperating with Al-Jazeera in showing gruesome battlefield footage obtained by the Arab television channel in Iraq.
He decried what he called “the ongoing relationship between terrorists, Al-Jazeera and the networks” and asked if the US government should maintain normal relations with Qatar as long as its government continued to subsidize Al-Jazeera.
The outburst prompted Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, to ask whether Smith, a former media adviser to ex-US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, “should be representing the United States government … with that kind of attitude and approach.”
Levin also announced he was putting a senatorial hold on the nomination, which remains in effect.
Under Senate rules, a single senator can block a presidential nomination by adducing serious concerns about the candidate’s fitness for the job.
The recess appointment list also includes Ellen Sauerbrey, who has now become assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.
A former unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate in Maryland, Sauerbrey has infuriated most women’s groups by her staunch opposition to abortion rights in her current job as ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Her nomination was being fought by Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer, Barack Obama and Paul Sarbanes, with Boxer charging Sauerbrey had displayed “outright hostility” to women’s rights at her UN job.
But if most of the latest recess appointees were opposed on ideological grounds, the naming of Julie Myers to the job of assistant secretary of homeland security in charge of immigration and customs was likely to revive charges of lax ethics.
The 36-year-old lawyer from Kansas lacks significant management experience, her critics said, but has the distinction of being a niece of the former chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff General Richard Myers, who retired from the Pentagon last year.
Even The National Review, a leading conservative mouthpiece that rarely disagrees with Bush, editorialized last September that Myers’ appointment “smacks of cronyism.”