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Obama makes 6 recess appointments

By Ed Henry, CNN Senior White House Correspondent
  • NEW: House Republicans Ros-Lehtinen, King criticize appointments
  • The appointments include a deputy attorney general and four ambassadors
  • The recess appointments override Republican objections to some nominees
  • In total, Obama has made 28 recess appointments as president

Honolulu, Hawaii (CNN) -- Taking time out from his Hawaiian vacation to assert some executive authority, President Barack Obama on Wednesday used a series of recess appointments to override Republican objections to several nominees.

Obama used his constitutional power to appoint six people who have had their nominations pending for an average of 147 days, according to White House officials.

White House officials said privately that Obama acted because of Republican obstruction of the nominations, which include the posts of deputy attorney general and ambassadors to Turkey, the Czech Republic and Syria.

The recess appointments essentially allow the nominees to serve in their posts in a temporary capacity for about a year. If the nominees are not confirmed by the end of the next session of Congress, which will likely be in November or December, the post will become vacant again.

Senate Republican aides did not have any immediate response, but some Republican House members raised objections.

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who will take over as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January, criticized Obama for sidestepping congressional approval of Robert Stephen Ford as ambassador to Syria. Ford currently works in the office of the State Department's Office of Inspector General.

"I am deeply disappointed that the president decided to make such a major concession to the Syrian regime," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Using this congressional recess to make an appointment that has far-reaching policy implications despite congressional objections and concerns is regrettable."

The list of recess appointees includes James Cole, who was nominated to be deputy attorney general. A longtime Washington attorney, he is best known for serving as special counsel in the House ethics investigation of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican.

A major reason Cole's nomination had been held up was because of concerns raised by Republicans that he once had worked as an independent consultant for the insurance giant AIG.

Later Wednesday, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called Cole's appointment "one of the worst" by Obama during his presidency. King accused Cole of diminishing the significance of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Other recess appointees were:

-- Norm Eisen, for ambassador to the Czech Republic. He most recently served as special counsel inside the White House on ethical issues.

-- Matthew Bryza, for ambassador to Azerbaijan. He is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service.

-- Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., for ambassador to Turkey. He has served most recently as deputy ambassador and charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

-- William J. Boarman, for public printer of the United States. He has served as president of the Printing, Publishing & Media Workers Sector of the Communications Workers of America.

White House officials noted that Senate Democrats have been forced to seek a supermajority of 60 votes to confirm 21 of the president's nominees because of Republican roadblocks, while former President George W. Bush only needed to seek such so-called "cloture" votes on four of his nominees in eight years.

In all, 18 of those Obama nominees were subsequently confirmed with 60 or more votes or by voice vote in the last two years.

Obama has now made 28 recess appointments, only five more than the 23 Bush had made at this point in his presidency, White House officials noted.

The Obama officials also pointed out that at the end of Bush's first two years in office, there were only six nominees awaiting a Senate vote. By contrast, Obama had 79 nominees pending on the floor when the Senate adjourned last week.