President George Bush has thrown down the political gauntlet:
Senate Democrats are livid over what they view as President Bush’s illegal maneuver to bypass the Senate confirmation process and appoint controversial nominee Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium while Congress is away on recess.
Democrats find the recess appointment — a common maneuver by presidents whose nominees stand little chance of getting through the standard confirmation process — particularly egregious since Fox’s nomination wasn’t even pending. The White House withdrew the nomination last week, anticipating it didn’t have enough votes for approval.
And, indeed, news accounts last week chronicled how the White House yanked the Fox nomination. Yes, there have been controversial recess appointments before (e.g. John Bolton to the UN) but the TIMING of this one is particularly significant:
Given the huge controversy surrounding Fox, Bush’s decision to appoint him AT THIS TIME as a recess appointment cannot be seen as anything other than throwing down the gauntlet. If Democrats expect cooperation from Bush or his administration, this perhaps is a harbinger of what is to come on other matters (so do the Democrats have contingency plans ready on what to do if he refuses to cooperate or listen to Congress on a variety of issues such as global warming and others?). MORE:
When it comes to Fox, Democrats see red. A wealthy businessman and mega GOP donor, Fox gave $50,000 to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that smeared Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) Vietnam record and helped doom his 2004 presidential quest. Kerry led the fight to quash Fox’s nomination, though he never got the chance to declare victory after Bush withdrew the nomination.
To fight the Fox appointment, Democrats are questioning the Bush administration’s plan to have Fox serve in a voluntary capacity — receiving no pay for his duties as ambassador. This is an important legal technicality, as federal law prohibits “payment of services” for certain recess appointments. However, if the recess appointee in question agrees that he or she will take an unpaid position and not sue the government at a later date for compensation, then the appointment can go forward, at least as the White House sees it.
So as long as Fox — a multi-millionaire — agreed not to sue the Bush administration later for not paying him, the White House would be comfortable with giving him an unpaid, “voluntary service” recess appointment as ambassador to Belgium.
But the Democrats consider it outright illegal:
But here’s the rub that makes Democrats view Bush’s recess appointment of Fox as a major-league no-no: Federal law prohibits “voluntary service” in cases where the position in question has a fixed rate of pay, as an ambassadorship does. That’s how the Government Accountability Office, an arm of the Democratic-controlled Congress, interprets the law.
The bottom line is this: seldom in American history has there been an administration that seems to have hold Congress (even when its own party controlled it) in such low regard as another branch of government with legitimate advise and consent functions.
Nominating Fox was a provocative act, given his controversial role with Democrats (you figure there HAD to have been other, less-polarizing, choices, but Bush chose the most polarizing one he could find); his recess appointment will be seen as a virtual declaration of war.