Bush bypasses Senate to name ambassador
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 4, 6:28 PM ET
President Bush named Republican fundraiser Sam Fox as U.S. ambassador to Belgium on Wednesday, using a maneuver that allowed him to bypass Congress, where Democrats had derailed Fox's nomination.
The appointment, made while lawmakers were out of town on spring break, prompted angry rebukes from Democrats, who said Bush's action may even be illegal.
Democrats had denounced Fox for his donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign. The group's TV ads, which claimed that Sen. John Kerry exaggerated his military record in Vietnam, were viewed as a major factor in the Massachusetts Democrat's election loss.
Recognizing Fox did not have the votes to obtain Senate confirmation in the Foreign Relations Committee, Bush withdrew the nomination last week. On Wednesday, with the Senate on a one-week break, the president used his power to make recess appointments to put Fox in the job without Senate confirmation.
This means Fox can remain ambassador until the end of the next session of Congress, effectively through the end of the Bush presidency.
"It's sad but not surprising that this White House would abuse the power of the presidency to reward a donor over the objections of the Senate," Kerry said in a statement.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he plans to ask the Government Accountability Office to issue an opinion on whether the recess appointment is legal.
Recess appointments are intended to give the president flexibility if Congress is out for a lengthy period of time, such as the four-week adjournment in summer. But Dodd said the law was not intended to circumvent lawmakers' approval.
"This is really now taking the recess appointment vehicle and abusing this beyond anyone's imagination," said Dodd, a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. "This is a travesty."
Bush also used his recess appointment authority to make Andrew Biggs deputy director of Social Security. The president's earlier nomination of Biggs, an outspoken advocate of partially privatizing the government's retirement program, was rejected by Senate Democrats in February.
Presidents since George Washington have made appointments during congressional recesses to fill positions in the executive and judicial branches. Bush has used the authority more frequently than some — but not all — of his most recent predecessors, making 171 so far, compared with 140 for President Clinton over two terms, 77 by his father in one term and 243 by President Reagan during two terms.
Some of Bush's more notable recess appointments include John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton arrived at the U.N. in August 2005 after being appointed during a congressional recess because he twice failed to be confirmed by the Senate. Still unable to get Senate backing, he stepped down in December.
Others include include William Pryor and Charles Pickering (news, bio, voting record) as federal appeals court judges, in 2004, and Otto Reich as an assistant secretary of state, in 2002.
Fox, a 77-year-old St. Louis businessman, gave $50,000 to the Swift Boat group. He is national chairman of the Jewish Republican Coalition and was dubbed a "ranger" by Bush's 2004 campaign for raising at least $200,000. He is founder and chairman of the Clayton, Mo.-based Harbour Group, which specializes in the takeover of manufacturing companies.
Fox has donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates and causes since the 1990s.
In answer to questions about the Swift Boat donation, Fox has said he gives when asked, insisting he was not involved with the writing of the ad scripts and never saw them before they aired but had been aware of the general thrust of the group.
Fox issued a statement saying he is "delighted and honored" to accept the ambassadorial appointment.
"As the son of a man who fled Europe to find freedom and a better life, I am especially humbled by the opportunity to return to that continent as this nation's representative," he said.