Angry Senate Democrats are mulling a two-pronged strategy to retaliate against the Bush administration for appointing three controversial figures to key executive branch posts during last week’s recess, including possibly shortening the August recess to no more than 10 days and blocking all future White House nominations.
The Democrats’ countermove is still in discussions, but sources say top Senate leaders already have begun eyeing their options and will meet to vet their next move once lawmakers are back in full swing today. Either way, the Democrats are looking to get the upper hand against the Bush administration after it made the appointments while Senators were on their spring break last week.
“The administration hasn’t heard the last of this,” said a senior Democratic Senate aide. “What they did — in particular with Sam Fox’s nomination last week — is absolutely outrageous. They managed to make a whole bunch of Members mad and it doesn’t bode well for future attempts to move nominations through the Senate.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his fellow top Democrats are considering revamping the Senate calendar, which Reid already attempted to structure to avoid Bush recess installments earlier this year. Under past practice, the White House would refrain from making recess appointments unless the Senate was on break for more than 10 days, but Bush sidestepped that tradition with the naming of Fox as ambassador to Belgium, as well as two other controversial nominees.
As it stands now, the Senate has scheduled one-week recesses with the exception of the August break, which is currently slated to last a month. By shortening it to 10 days — and then having the Senate meet in a pro forma or non-voting capacity during the remaining two-week period — Senate Democrats may not avoid recess appointments altogether, but they would make it more difficult for Bush.
The Democratic aide said that change is “one of the ideas” being considered. It would provide that no recess spans more than those two weeks.
On Tuesday, Bush appointed former Mercatus Center Director Susan Dudley, an anti-regulation activist, to head the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, as well as Andrew Biggs as the deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
Neither Biggs nor Dudley had any chance of passing the entire Senate, although Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) had planned on moving Dudley out of his committee this month.
Bush also appointed Fox to the Belgium post even though he had withdrawn the nomination just before the recess. Fox was expected to be defeated in committee, in part because he was one of the main financial backers of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an organization created during the 2004 presidential campaign that attacked Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) record in Vietnam.
Senate Republicans, who have defended the recess installments, have been preparing for the Democrats to come back at the White House and said late Tuesday they expect the majority party to pull out all the stops to prevent the White House from getting its nominations through the 110th Congress. So far this year, the administration has sent some 197 nominations to the Senate for consideration ranging from high-profile Cabinet and judicial posts to and low-level, largely ceremonial, slots.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.