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Senate Democrats lashed out Wednesday over President Bush’s handling of dozens of judicial and executive branch nominees, who they say are being held hostage by the White House in exchange for allowing Senate confirmation of a single controversial nominee, Steven Bradbury, who Bush has nominated to be assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.
On the eve of a major conference for conservatives, Senate Democrats also accused the White House of manufacturing an issue to stoke its GOP base.
“The president is looking for issues here, and he sort of has to fabricate them. ... This is the most bogus issue they have found yet,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), charged Wednesday.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) agreed, pointing out that a planned breakfast between Bush and a handful of nominees scheduled for today coincides with the start of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which draws hundreds of hard-line conservative activists from across the country.
“There’s a political convention in town that’s important to a small portion of their base,” Leahy said, adding that Bush is simply looking to “throw red meat” at the GOP’s conservative base.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has been holding up the nomination of Bradbury because of what he says is Bradbury’s position on the use of torture in interrogations.
In a floor statement Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) disclosed that in December, he held talks with the White House on moving dozens of nominations, including three Federal Election Commission nominees.
Reid said he offered to agree to a host of recess appointments to positions that would extend beyond the president’s term, as well as nomination votes on a number of other administrative positions.
“Before the Christmas holiday, I attempted to work out a deal with the White House that would have given recess appointments or confirmation to nominees that the president will host Thursday morning,” Reid said in his floor statement.
“For example, I offered to allow the president to recess-appoint nominees to the Federal Aviation Administration, to the Chemical Safety Board and to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. These are all nominations where we will be unable to confirm the nominees for a full term. That’s because to do so would greatly limit the ability of a new president to change the direction of those boards through new appointments,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
But, according to Reid, the White House rejected that proposal, in large part because Bradbury’s nomination was still being held up. “Do you know how the president responded to this offer? He said that unless I would agree to allow him to recess appoint Steven Bradbury, he wouldn’t make a deal — he didn’t care if that meant no one got confirmed.”
Reid prevented Bush from making any recess appointments over the winter break by gavelling the Senate to order in a series of pro forma sessions that prevented it from being technically adjourned, the scenario required to appoint a nominee without Senate confirmation.
Reid said Bush “was willing to forgo the 84-plus nominees and the offers of recess appointments if he couldn’t install Mr. Bradbury.”