ITWASSOOTED: Recess appointments:Michael ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") Brown?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Recess appointments:Michael ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") Brown?

President cleverly skirts Senate, but that doesn't make it right

With the Hurricane Katrina fiasco still fresh in many minds, President Bush's appointments are a sticky subject. Remember Michael ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") Brown?

So the president's decision last week to bypass the Senate in filling posts at the State Department, Federal Election Commission and the National Labor Relations Board has spawned bipartisan protests. The qualifications of several appointees are being questioned. And though White House press secretary Scott McClellan claims the appointments were needed to fill vacancies lawmakers were keeping empty as they "played politics," administration officials seem to be ones really playing politics here.

Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the regular confirmation process should have been used to ensure that the nominees were qualified.

The Katrina disaster aptly illustrates what can happen when politics trumps qualifications in filling jobs. Michael Brown's shortcomings became starkly apparent as he botched the federal government's hurricane relief efforts as head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A lawyer and former horse association official, he lacked the skills to lead a mobilization to quickly help the people in the devastated regions. He appeared clueless, uninterested and ill-prepared.

When President Bush praised Mr. Brown despite his incompetence, he too seemed out of touch. The FEMA director had to be relieved.

Some of President Bush's recess appointments raise the specter of Brownie redux. Selecting former prosecutor Julie Myers to head the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is one. Her nomination had stalled in the Senate because of concerns that she lacked the experience needed to head the federal government's second-largest investigative force.

President Bush has a constitutional right to make recess appointments. But he creatively exercised it this time, seizing on the fact that the Senate held a pro forma session on Tuesday and then adjourned. The White House declared the meeting the start of the second session of the 109th Congress. With it in recess, the appointments were viable. The 20 appointments would be valid until the session ends in 2007.

The confirmation process can give nominees the thorough examination they need before assuming important duties. The president was wrong to sneak this past Congress in this manner. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., aptly notes: "The recess appointment power should be sparingly used, and not merely to avoid having to put administration nominees to a vote." He's right.
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