Republicans Vow To Punish Clinton If He Appoints Lee
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Dec. 14) -- Republican leaders on Capitol Hill say they'll make President Clinton suffer if he sidesteps the U.S. Senate to make Bill Lann Lee the nation's top civil rights attorney. But Clinton apparently is determined to do just that.
"If they make a recess appointment, then I have to say, it's a finger in the eye of the Senate," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told FOX on Sunday. "I think you'd find there would be an awful lot of repercussions from that."
Hatch chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has refused to allow Lee's nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights to go before the Senate for a full up or down vote. Republicans object to Lee's views on affirmative action. Democrats managed to keep Lee's nomination alive through a parliamentary procedure.
The White House says it would like to see the Senate put Lee's nomination to a vote, but that Clinton is adamant about putting Lee in the post.
"A president's got to do what a president's go to do," one official reportedly said.
Short of a Senate approval, Clinton is left with at least two options.
Sources tell CNN the president will likely give Lee a recess appointment. It could happen as early as Monday, but sources say it'll probably happen at a news conference scheduled for Tuesday. A recess appointment would put Lee in the post through 1998, until Congress convenes in January 1999.
Another option would let Clinton put Lee in the job in an acting capacity. That would enable Lee to hold the post until the end of Clinton's second term, but it would not give Lee the authority that Senate confirmation brings.
Hatch told CNN on Saturday that naming Lee acting head of the Justice Department's division "would not be the same finger in the eye" as a recess appointment.
Presidential authority to make recess appointments dates back to the 18th century, when Congress did not meet regularly, and presidents needed a way to fill vacancies.
Clinton has made just 38 recess appointments during his five years in office. George Bush made 78 during his four years as president. Ronald Reagan made 239 over eight years.
Few of the recess appointments made by Presidents Reagan and Bush were made after the Senate refused to confirm the nominee in question, however.
Republicans say if Clinton makes the recess appointment, he'll have a difficult time getting his agenda through the GOP-controlled Congress.
"I think there'll be a slowdown on a lot of things from the president," Hatch said Sunday. "I think you're going to have difficulty getting judges through. They're going to have difficulty on the appropriations process. I think there'll be attempts by some to ... really let the president know you don't do this."
Clinton said Friday he believes Republicans have "made a terrific error" in blocking Lee's nomination.
Lee said last week that he'd seriously consider taking the position if Clinton made the recess appointment. If he ends up with the job, he'll become the first Asian-American to head Justice's civil rights division.
Lee's father came to the United States from China during the Depression, faced racial discrimination, and never stopped pursuing the American Dream.
Lee, now 48, attended Yale on a scholarship, and has waged courtroom battles against discrimination for 23 years. He recently headed the NAACP's legal defense and educational fund in Los Angeles.
"No one would question my qualifications," Lee has said in recent weeks. "Many people have had kind things to say about my qualifications."
According to Attorney General Janet Reno, Lee doesn't want to scrap affirmative action. He simply, like Clinton, wants to amend the law.
Both the president and Lee believe the law should be changed "to get rid of the last remaining aspects of discrimination in this country. I don't think that is wrong," Reno said last month.
"His whole life has been living and breathing civil rights and knocking down the walls of discrimination," Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., told NBC on Sunday.
"I think it's unfortunate that we have an outstanding Asian-American recommended for this position, and that the majority Republican party -- which is basically anti-civil rights, anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-worker -- are utilizing procedures of the U.S. Senate to block an outstanding individual from serving all Americans."
Correspondent Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.
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Weekend Dec. 13 & 14, 1997
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