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Bush intends to bypass Senate with recess appointments

President Bush
Bush's decision on recess appointments expected on or after January 3.  

By Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush White House intends to sidestep the Democrat-controlled Senate and place two well-known conservatives in high-profile posts at the Labor and State Departments during the congressional recess, two senior administration officials told CNN on Friday.

President Bush has made no final decisions, but administration officials have said he may use recess appointments to place Otto Reich in the post of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and Eugene Scalia as Labor Department solicitor.

A recess appointment is a constitutional feature designed to resolve an impasse between the White House and Senate. Recess appointees can remain in their posts until the term of Congress expires.

Senior officials said Bush is due to receive a final memorandum recommending Reich, Scalia and other potential recess appointments after Christmas. A White House announcement on the appointments will come on or after January 3, officials said.

Senior officials say the White House has grown weary of what it perceives as Senate obstructionism to the Reich and Scalia appointments. The president will also use his recess appointment powers to fill vacancies on the National Labor Relations Board and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Scalia is the son of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Democrats say they oppose the younger Scalia because of his position on work-related injuries and other labor matters. The White House has long argued that Scalia, nominated on April 30, has enough votes to win Senate confirmation.

Reich, nominated July 12, has yet to receive a hearing from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The White House contends it has the votes to approve Reich on the Foreign Relations Committee and from the full Senate. Democrats dispute that.

Liberal Democrats say Reich is too conservative for the region, and some cite his support of Reagan-era policies in Central America, which included support for the Nicaraguan contras and backing governments in El Salvador and Honduras. Reich is also considered hawkish on relations with Cuba.

Twenty members of the Bush foreign policy team remain unconfirmed by the Senate. Among those awaiting confirmation are State Department officials dealing with global refugee programs, global humanitarian relief, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the ambassadorial nominees to the Philippines, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil and Norway.

Fleischer: Nominations 'languishing'

During a White House briefing Friday, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer criticized the Senate for delaying confirmation of many Bush appointments.

"When the Senate left town for the holidays, they left close to 170 nominations languishing in the Senate," Fleischer said, adding that 49 of those nominations have had hearings and have been approved by committee and only need a vote on the Senate floor for confirmation.

In addition to Reich, Scalia and other agency appointments, many of the vacancies are judgeships on the federal bench. Only 43 percent of Bush's judicial nominees have been confirmed, Fleischer said.

"The president deserves to have his team in place, particularly during a time of war," he said. "And the American people deserve to have their government fully staffed and they deserve a court system that can carry out justice."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, released a statement saying the White House criticism is unwarranted. The Senate has confirmed 28 federal judges in the six months of Democratic control this year, he said, and four more confirmations are on the calendar. He said none of Bush's court nominees were confirmed during the first six months of the year, when Republicans held power in the Senate.

"In fact, the 'vacancy crisis' is a creation of the Republicans who now bemoan it," Daschle's statement said. "The Republican-controlled Senate oversaw some of the lowest rates of confirmation in history."

Asked if there would be recess appointments during Congress's winter break, Fleischer told reporters, "There may be. I'm not going to guess what steps or actions the president may take."

"The president always prefers to follow the usual process, and the president always prefers for the Senate to honor its responsibilities," Fleischer said. "He does have the right to make recess appointments. If he decides to avail himself of it, we'll keep you posted."

-- CNN's Manuel Perez-Rivas contributed to this report.


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